Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why is missional seemingly so foreign to progressives, and why each need the other in the conversational community

Pay attention to this quote from "Understanding North American Culture" chapter two of Missional Church; this section written by Craig Van Gelder:

"Freely choosing, autonomous individuals, deciding out of rational self-interest to enter into a social contract in order to construct a progressive society, became the central ideology of modernity."

Read it again.

So much of so-called mainline and progressive church, including my own tribe of Unitarian Universalism on the far spectrum of that but squarely in the center of having created and shaped American spiritual landscape, fits that description to a tee. Our churches in the progressive and mainline mode are embedded in modernity. What happens when that is no longer the air around us in which we must breathe? We bottle what we can of it and subsist on it? But for how long? At what cost of cutting us off from the new air and lifeblood of new creation emerging around us.

Missional church is embedded in a different culture, though still navigating through the wreckage of modernity. In this postmodernity missional church finds its DNA not in Reformation and Renaissance and Enlightenment, but in the DNA of premodernity which shares more with the current and coming culture(s) of our context than does modernity. As a Christian I can say that the roots of my faith are back with the murky missional ways of the Jesus communities before and after 70 CE, and so though I am born once into modernity because of my age and location, I am born again, through the missional church, into deeper sense of relationship and inheritance and belonging with those earlier times, fully realizing that our call is not to go back there, because we can't and wouldn't want to go back to that home again. But it can nurture us and help us use the developments of the renaissance reformation and enlightenment without having to be used up by their ghost.

Until progressives become born again of a different source, missional will seem a far land they have been exiled from.

Progressives can, however, draw from our own church history to feel supported in missional work. Witness the Cambridge Platform of 1648. Two major things occurred in the creation of the founding document of American congregationalism that shaped our whole civil society as well as a few religious movements. The Puritans gathered and without ado adopted theologically the confessions of orthodoxy of Westminster; this in a way freed them to do the second thing, to be groundbreaking and experimental in adopting a new kind of polity and ecclesiology (new, but one that they were at pains to point out were rooted in the early church, and in the inspiration of the Hebrew scriptures). Of course you can't separate ecclesiology from the theological web and so that new polity over time and with other influences affected the original orthodoxy as well. So progressives have precedent at plunging into the waters of reforming ecclesiology.

The mainstays it seems of the missional church are doing a similar two-step dance today. They are saying we are not going to address theological confessions of orthodoxy and adherence on creeds which have given us our identity and connected us to many of our brothers and sisters in Christ; we are going to accept those and move on, and not get caught up in the cultural battles over role of women, for example, or gay and lesbian et al, but will focus on the reformation or at least extension of what it means to become the church. However, at the root of the missional worldview, is the primary context not of the church for itself but of the world as it is waiting for the service of the church to change itself so it can change the world and bend it back toward the lovingkindness and justice of God. Progressives have gifts of how to engage with all of the world, in all its pluralisms, that the non-progressive missionals need in order to better know and love the world and become the church in the process. Otherwise so much of the world to be missional within will be left behind. And part of that progressive gift is the gift of theological pluralism itself surely as much a challenge to missionals, as the challenge of postmodernity is for the progressive church that can only see itself as a church of modernity.

So, not freely choosing but Chosen; not autonomous but inherently and primarily relational and communal, and finding deeper definitions of freedom in that; not individuals but persons, with personhood possible only as a relational self that is formed in community; not entering into community out of rational self-interest but to give up ego and to give one's self to all that the culture of consumerism and self and nationalism says does not make sense; covenanting to imitate and in doing so help initiate the "empire of God" or beloved communitas, taking a central stance in the new context of postmodernity.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A diverse set of resource links on the missional church

A whole semester's worth of reading through the link above :) but a good way to search and find conversation partners and how missional church is being lived out, thought out.

Women Voices in the Missional Church Movement

Someone asked for missional links from women in the these below from a great source of all links missional:

Two of the six essays in the foundational anthology Missional Church ed. by Guder, 1998, are by women: Mennonite Lois Barrett and United Methodist Inagrace Dietterich. And also important especially in feminist perspectives and missional church is Cathy Ross of the London School of Theology.

A Former Leaders Journey – BarbA Silly Poor Gospel – Peggy Senger ParsonsAdventures In Mercy – Molly AleyAuthor Intrusion – Lisa SampsonBeyond the 4 Walls – Lyn HallewellDecompressing Faith – Erin WordDry Bones Dance – Christy LambertsonEmergent Self – Judith Hougenemerging sideways – bobbieEmerse – CynthiaEternal Echoes – Sally ColemanGodspace – Christine Sinehappydaydeadfish – Holly Rankin ZaherHow God Messed Up My Religion – Pam HogeweideHeadspace – Lainie PetersenKingdom Grace – GraceLive With Desire – Heidi DanielsOnehandclapping – Julie ClawsonRedemption Junkie – Heidi ReneeRun With It – Cindy BryanSecret Women’s Business – Janet WoodlockSpiritual Birdwatching – MariaSwinging From the Vine – Makeesha FisherThe Best Parts – Tracy SimmonsThe Carnival In My Head – Kathy EscobarThe Margins – Erika HaubThe Margins – Erika HaubThe Virtual Abbess – Peggy BrownVikingFru’s Place – Lori Bjerkander

Monday, October 4, 2010

Missional Church Links: Where to Start

Begin at Lots of foundational blogposts and links from there to many of the authors listed down below in the starter books post.

See the basic frequently asked questions about "The marks of missional church" at by Ryan Bolger, now at

Also for a good place to use as a hub go to especially for the conversation about whether or not, or how, a "traditional" meaning modern-era church can become missional.


Also check out, especially the descriptions of the churches in the network over at,

Imagine connecting the insights here with the insights of the progressive Christian movement, or, or denominations on the cutting edge of theological engagement with pluralism in the 21st century.

For a Unitarian Universalist side of things, who works with different denominations, someone who gets it, check out the recent work of Michael Durall at

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A brief summary theological history and explanation of Missional Church

The missional church grows out of a new reforming movement in Christianity that began in both England and the U.S. in the 1980s.

At that time in particular church leaders realized that "Christendom" (an environment of a predominantly churched culture that set the cultural markers) was over. Most church identity and life had been molded in the world of Christendom where the church was seen as primary, and because of its primary influence in the culture little effort was needed to attract people who often inherited their faith and church loyalty. (This could be the case whether or not one was any particular kind of church or whether or not one was Christian; the cultural influence was the same). Any mission to others, especially in other parts of the world without churches, was seen simply and secondarily as a program of the church.

Thus were born individual missionaries of the church.

But in a post-Christendom world, as in a pre-Christendom world before the Roman Empire coopted the church, Church is not primary; instead now, as in the first 300 years, Mission is primary. However, it is not the church's mission; it is, rather, the Mission's church. This is the difference between missional church and a church that does outreach programs. The missional church is an effect, a creation itself, called into being out of a deeper identity and sense of mission. That mission comes from the very "missio" nature of God, using the Greek word for "being sent." God sends God's self into the world, which is also known as incarnation. And especially is God's self sent into the world of suffering, of the poor, the outcast, as evidenced by the presence of God in and through Jesus. As God is, then, so should be the church.

Rather than creating and sending out missionaries as before, the church at this point thus becomes itself wholly missionary.

But the forms and practices of most church life today in the European and North American context, because they have been created by and in the context of Christendom, often stand in the way of the church as a people being sent into the world together to gather with the suffering, the poor, the outcast. The missional church, which also comes in different forms itself, including more organic than organizational relationships of people, turns the Christendom model inside out and upside down. Now the church only exists when it is gathered from out of the midst of the very vulnerable ones where God is already at work. This is its mission: serving others, finding God at work there, and joining with God and all, and in gratitude celebrating through worship that refreshes the spirit for the cycle of more serving, more finding, more worship. See how that inverts the "usual Christendom model" of resources and identity and church life that focuses first on worship celebration, then the "finding" one another and belonging, being taught, only then serving others.

But if that is the case, that the church only exists when it is gathered in the midst of being with the most vulnerable, then all its forms and practices, its leadership, its resources of people and space, its activities, should be directed toward and reflected by that mission.

Finally then, as opposed to the centuries of Christendom culture and history, it is the mission that converts the church.

Friday, October 1, 2010

That Troublesome Word Church

So, the description says we are re-imagining and re-incarnating "church." Does that mean this blog is only for Christians, especially those of a progressive bent, or Religious Communities? Can you be a missional progressive and not "believe" in God? (I hope so, for even for this specific Christian Theist Jesus Follower, there are those days..., days I actually affirm my doubt).

I have wished at my own particular blog called progressivechurchplanting that I hadn't used the word church. It reflects a particular now a decade old mindset about "planting a church" even "planting a church that plants churches." I am now more interested in planting mission, planting communities, planting relationships, ones that may not, probably won't be, 501c3 or otherwise organizations, and may not be set up to "last forever" in a single identity, geared to grow the numbers of members of a group.

So while so much of this movement has been rooted in the soil of the Christian movement, and I suspect much of what we share here will continue to be in and of that movement which is itself undergoing so much change anyway, the portals are open for those progressives who are engaged in missional re-imagining and re-incarnating of communities and relationships, perhaps just their own life at the moment, without any theological tests. If you are in such a tribe, others of us who aren't need your learnings and sources, as you will ours. In the spirit of generosity and hospitality, we allow for "the shaping of things to come."

This is one of those frequently asked questions of missional progressives. I am sure there are others to come.
Ron R.
(who will try to remember to sign posts that come from me, as i hope we soon have other major post threads originating from others)

Common Misperceptions of Missional?

For some the word missional itself will conjure up images of colonial imperialism. We intend to use it actually as the very opposite. Not as ways to seek power over, but as a means of serving the powerless. As ways communities, relationships, can undermine the "Empire" of The American Dream of Affluence, Achievement, Appearance, The Corporate Culture of Individualism and Coolness that influences church as well as state. We use the word in its Greek sense of missio, being Sent, being Sent to Serve love and justice.

In The New Conspirators, Tom Sine creates a spectrum or river that includes such streams as "emerging" "mosaic/multicultural" "missional" and "monastic". For missional see his article here at Basic missional characteristic, from Sine and Reggie McNeal's work (see book list below) is a turning inside out of time, talent, and treasure from building up "a church" to which people come, to building up "the church" which goes to become itself in the world. Particularly the world of the poor.

Have you encountered other common misperceptions? Issues in trying to "explain" it other than "come and see"? Wouldn't it be, really, so much easier if there were a "red pill" to take? What or who has been your "red pill?"
Ron R.

A Few Starter Books on Being Missional

Just a few of the many, many out there. Generally missional, not all progressive. But definitely places to begin from the realm of recent books. Check out their bibliographies and footnotes for many of the ones that have laid the various groundwork. Comment and add your own I haven't.

The Shaping of Things To Come, by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost
Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal
Missional Church, ed. Darrell Guder
The New Monasticism by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
Organic Church by Neil Cole
The New Conspirators by Tom Sine
The New Friars by Scott Bessenecker
Living Missionally, by Scott Bessenecker
Exiles by Michael Frost
The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch
Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, Alan Roxburgh
Tribal Church, Carol Howard Merritt
Right Here, Right Now, Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford
Wide Open Space, Jim Palmer
Divine Nobodies, by Jim Palmer
Revolution by George Barna
Change The World, Michael Slaughter
Discontinuity and Hope by Lyle Schaller
churchmorph by Eddie Gibbs
The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
The gathered and scattered church, Halter and Smay
The Almost Church Revitalized, and Church Do's and Don'ts by Michael Durall
Let Justice Roll Down; With Justice For All; Welcoming Justice, all by John Perkins
Take This Bread, Sara Miles
Jesus Freak, Sara Miles
Emerging Church, Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger
A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren
Inside The Organic Church by Bob Whitesel
The Small Church at Large by Robin Trebilcock
Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor
An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor
Under The Radar, Bill Easum

Introduce Yourself and Your Missional Lifework and Dream

I will start us off. I am Ron Robinson. You can follow my particular missional church experiences via here in Turley/NorthTulsa, Oklahoma. We transformed from small attractional oriented church to an incarnational oriented church in 2007, creating a community center for our 74126 and neighboring zipcodes, and meeting for worship gatherings inside the center or out wherever we were doing "small acts of justice with great love" in our area.

The dream continues. We are about to move again, we hope, soon into an even bigger space, with a dedicated chapel space, along with community center and health hub, food justice center, and more. Even the chapel space will primarily be oriented toward the wider community. We also just bought a block with abandoned homes and are turning it into an outdoor community center space for gardening, kitchen, play and parkspace here. You can follow also our community renewal focus at, but look for a new website for it soon.

Introduce yourself first in the comments here. I may then move them into posts of their own for more specific followup commenting.

Contribute To The Conversation

Besides commenting to posts here, or simply sending to me at links to share here from your own blogs, consider also writing and sharing pieces originally for us. Just send them to my email address and I will make a post for them here. Of course, be a follower, and share us with your social and email networks and link to us.
Ron R.


We are in that "hinge of history" when new incarnations of "church" are being grown all over, or are sprouting in the hearts and minds of many people of diverse backgrounds. This is simply a place to connect with one another to help tend this common garden for one another. We hope it helps our seeds of mission wherever and however sown.

But why specifically for progressives? So much of the inspiration, and experience, of the missional church has come from the more theological conservative end of the spectrum. God bless them for this. We need their companionship and inspiration and even challenge still. But we need a place to be unapologetically progressive in our sharing too; where we know it is the norm to be affirming of diverse religions, sexual orientations, genders, ethnicities, etc., so we can channel our energies not into these issues but into the creation of relationships and communities of all kinds that reflect these core progressive values.