Monday, June 23, 2008

What Is Missional?

This is my contribution to the synchroblog coordinated by the Blind Beggar. See all the other contributions here.

What is “Missional”?
This is an intriguing thing; this “synchroblog”. A large part of me is very excited to participate and to read what other people have to say about the latest evangelical buzzword. I’m counting on a wide variety of perspectives and insights.

At the same time there is something strangely egocentric about there being 50 of us who have self-selected in the belief that other people could care at all about our unpolished ideas and commentary. There is something rather odd about it…

But anyway; I am a former pastor who now has no regular outlet for my ranting that used to be encapsulated in 28 minutes every Sunday so here goes:

I am simultaneously excited and skeptical about this missional thing. In so many ways it seems to be what’s really missing in the lives of most Christians and congregations I know. It has the potential to be truly meaningful in the community where I live (a middle (upper-middle) class suburb about 45 minutes west of Toronto); and offers perhaps something more than just a needed corrective program to the current expressions of Christian dullness.

But is it really that big of a deal?

I have my suspicions that to some degree this is a “movement” that is, and will be, almost entirely concentrated on clergy and Christian academics; like so many before. I wonder if what we’re supposedly catching as the lead wave of something special is just the book writers and conference speakers finally lifting their collective heads from their holy books just long enough to catch a whiff of the things the laity have known and lived for years; the faith of the pews simply doesn’t really relate to real life.

I may be having a cynical day, but it’s the pastors and professors who face the most change if this thing takes hold. For the vast majority it will remain the ongoing issue of trying to figure out how a 2000 year old book and a God-man who’s been missing for just as long can have any meaning in the carpool, corporate ladder, cable tv, and nod at your neighbor reality we’re immersed in.

Don’t let that sound like I’m disparaging the common Christian. Exactly the opposite! These are the people who have something to say about “missional”. They spend their days a part of the culture and community where the scholars are only now beginning to pay attention.

Most people aren’t concerned with the theologically dangerous issues raised by Newbigin. They (we?) aren’t all that concerned about coming up with a definition that requires the luxury of so much reading and reflecting. And they have little time or use for the antithetical arrogance that seems to so often colour the pronouncements of the experts.

But for the clergy this is monumental.

-What does it mean to a career pastor to “move into the neighbourhood” (thanks St. Eugene!), where our profession actually creates immediate distance and distrust from our neighbours?

-What happens after 5 years in the same congregation when the familiar bag of tricks have been used up and the system says it’s time to move on?

-How do we retain our spiritual leadership roles if we acknowledge that we are very much the amateurs when it comes to actually engaging the culture?

-What good are all our diligently developed skills in a world where authenticity trumps excellence?

-How do we lead churches when we’ve realized that in many cases the parachurch are the ones who really “get it”?

-How can we be evaluated (or evaluate ourselves!) when sincerity counts for more than performance?

-What happens when the theological trump cards lose their power?

It’s a scary world for the experts when the amateurs are out in front.

(Yeah, this is a skewed view and far from balanced or complete. Isn’t that what blogging is all about?)


AbiSomeone said...

Great questions and observations. Thanks for joining the conversation around missional!

Mark Petersen said...

Chris, loved this!

Today I spent the day trying to define 'missional' to our board. I fear I muddled up their thinking more than clarified. Maybe that's another example of a theologically-educated person trying to define what is natural and self-evident to business people. :-)

Sometimes we are paternalistic with the way we flaunt our elevated theological concepts. Cynical, nah. Truthtelling.

Scott said...

Chris - Thanks for the post. I think you are on the right track...people in the pews just don't care about the things we (the "professionals") care about.

If we have fallen down on the job, so to speak, it's at the junction of where they are living it and where we have failed to adequately fund their imagination about how what they do every day can be missional.
Thanks for the questions. They made me think.

Anonymous said...

Very articulate, well phrased, and great questions. Hopefully these, and other posts, generate some wonderful conversation, but that it moves beyond talk and translates into action that is kingdom driven and motivated by the call to the church to be Christ in the world (whatever that really means)

chris wignall said...

After reading the rest of the posts in the synchroblog I am both somewhat inspired and a little disappointed.

There were some amazing contributions that showed creativity and personal insight; but they were interspersed among more predominantly academic (historical/linguistic/theological) essays. I'm afraid that may have just confirmed what I was writing about here...

Old Pete said...

As an 'outsider' I have been looking at the synchroblog with considerable interest. I found the following comment particularly interesting:
a “movement” that is, and will be, almost entirely concentrated on clergy and Christian academics;
I'm over 70 and I've never had a leadership role within the church. I have been exploring the emerging / emergent church scene for several years. I feel that your comment is applicable to both the missional and emergent scenarios.

Why is it that those in church leadership can see that there is a lot wrong with the 'church' as we know it, but insist on using their own scholarship in order to maintain their own leadership positions?

As you say, it's the clergy and the academics who have the most to lose by facing up to reality!

I would suggest that we need to look again at the history of the 'church' and ask ourselves whether traditional churches and hierarchical leadership are really pointing to the truth of the gospel message.