Meanderings: Missional Church

“The missional church believes it is God who is on a mission and that we are to join him in it.”

I’ve been reading and thinking about the term “missional church” recently and how it applies to the church setting we find ourselves in.

Small Boat Big Sea is a community in Manly NSW which has a missional focus. From the front page of their website, I see that they are, “simply a community of Jesus-followers who prefer people to programs, and worship-in-action to worship-in-a-building. We’re a tight knit bunch, deeply committed to working together in God’s mission in Christ to bring peace and hope and love to the world – including our own world in Manly as well as the whole world out there.”

On the same page is a section headed ‘Collide’ with links to teaching on missional themes from their monthly ‘Collide’ gathering. These are downloadable mp3 files which you can listen to at your leisure. The latest is August 2010 from Michael Frost.

Friend of Missional’s blog is a good start to get an idea of what being missional is all about. Here’s a clip from their main page:

Alan Hirsch rightly states that “the word ‘missional’ over the years has tended to become very fluid and as it was quickly co-opted by those wishing to find new and trendy tags for what they themselves were doing, be they missional or not. It is often used as a substitute it for seeker-sensitive, cell-group church, or other church growth concepts, thus obscuring its original meaning.” As a result, missional is often looked upon as just another phase or program. But we error when we do so for missional is more than just another movement, it is a full expression of who the ekklesia of Christ is and what it is called to be and do. At its core, missional is a shift in thinking. This shift in thinking is expressed by Ed Stetzer and David Putman in their book, “Breaking the Missional Code” (Broadman & Holman, 2006) like this:

  • From programs to processes
  • From demographics to discernment
  • From models to missions
  • From attractional to incarnational
  • From uniformity to diversity
  • From professional to passionate
  • From seating to sending
  • From decisions to disciples
  • From additional to exponential
  • From monuments to movements

And let me add a couple more to Ed’s list:

  • From services to service
  • From ordained to the ordinary
  • From organizations to organisms

Another great resource is the Missional Church Network which posts short srticles and, lately, a lot of video clips on various missional topics.

Bosco Peters in his NZ blog Liturgy writes on his blog about the difference between seeker services and being missional. While it is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject, it may provoke some thought. The comments are worth a look as well.

Finally in this roundup, I can’t say anything about missional church without including something from Alan Roxburgh who has written numerous books on the topic as well as producing video- and podcasts on what in means to be missional.

Following is a short excerpt from the book Introducing the Missional Church by Alan Roxburgh & Scott Boren.

There once was a people. They were neither significant nor exceptional nor privileged. In fact they did what most people of the time did: worked, married, raised children, celebrated, mourned and did the basic stuff of life. You would not think them unique because their dress, homes and professions were much like that of everyone else. What was different about them, however, was this strange conviction that they had been chosen by God to be a special people, a journeying people who were forced to discover, again and again, what God wanted them to be doing in the world.

This community is what the Bible calls “the people of God” and their stories are captured in Abraham’s leaving of Ur, the wilderness wandering of the Israelites, the partial occupation of the promised land, and the Babylonian Exile. We also have insight into their life through the stories of the early churches, partially told by Dr. Luke in the book of Acts. From these stories we see how God’s people were sojourners, like their father Abraham, who sought a home like strangers in a foreign land, looking for a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:9-10). At every stage of the Biblical story there is always a hope for a future reality toward which the people are moving. Being missional today means that we join this heritage and become wanderers who enter a journey without any road maps to discover on that journey what it means to be God’s people today.

First-Century Wanderers

In many ways the church that was founded in Jerusalem right after Pentecost failed to recognize the nature of this call to wander. These new Christians very quickly settled into a pattern that they thought exemplified the mission of God. They met at the Temple in Jerusalem much as good Jews had done for many, many years. They met in extended households to serve one another and work for each other in a building sense of belonging and fellowship. At the heart of it all, however, they saw themselves as basically a Jewish movement on steroids that was the completion of God’s people.

If this mindset had remained, this Jesus follower movement would have been little more than a branch of Judaism rather than the Church. What transpired next wasn’t a choice of these Jerusalem believers. Persecution arose in Jerusalem forcing many of the believers to flee their precious home church. At first the leadership in Jerusalem instructed those who fled to go to the synagogues to teach about Jesus. They had a fixed imagination about how the Gospel worked and who could get in, and it did not include the Gentiles.

Then the Spirit took some unknown Christians from Jerusalem north toward Antioch where they encountered Gentiles who had heard about Jesus and wanted to learn more. What happened next could not be controlled by Jerusalem because as these unknown Christians were speaking to them about Jesus, the Holy Spirit fell upon them and a new kind of church was birthed in Antioch, comprised mostly of Gentiles.

Nobody expected this turn of events. This did not fit the plans and paradigms of the early church establishment. The Holy Spirit came and broke the boundaries that had been set up to define what it meant to be Christian. The church was forced out of the box it had created and into a space it had never imagined and would never have entered by itself. In other words, the church was compelled by the Spirit to enter on a journey they would never have expected and would never have taken by themselves. This was a move from getting like-minded people to attend something that the establishment had defined to the church beginning a journey outside of itself in order to engage the surrounding context.

These first-century wanderers were moving from a clearly defined attractional way of doing church into a missional imagination of being the church in the world. The church in Jerusalem was an attractional model of church life as it sought to draw people into the center of a predetermined understanding of what it meant to be God’s people. It was a Jerusalem-centered movement shaped by the assumptions of Judaism. They saw Jesus as the Jewish Messiah who had come to fulfill the promises for the Jewish people. They did not understand how the Spirit was about to take them beyond their attractional center and lead them to wander on a mission they did not fully understand. This shift to wandering is exactly what is happening within congregations across North America as the Spirit leads God’s people away from being an attractional center to a new journey of mission.

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