Monday, August 17, 2009

Missional life -- Outside the Box?

Like many congregations mine is talking about becoming missional. We want to move in a new direction, take hold of God's vision for our congregation and our community. It's not easy for a long established congregation, one with a rich history, of moving that way. If you're starting from scratch you don't have the legacies to consider. You just do what needs to be done. I expect that most outside the box congregations, or as Gary Nelson calls them, Borderland Churches, are of recent vintage. We're celebrating 30 years in our current location and 81 years as a congregation that goes by the name of Central Woodward Christian Church. Once we were a cathedral like church -- residing in a neo-gothic building on Detroit's Piety Row. That's no longer who we are, but its hard to let go of legacies!

I'm very interested in the discussions that go on around this topic, especially those that emerge from more liberal or progressive circles. Many mainline churches have eagerly embraced their call to serve the poor and the marginalized. They've been much more reticient to preach the gospel, with the intent of bringing those outside the faith into the faith (also called evangelism).

This morning I ran across George Bullard's posting, a posting that asked the question -- What does it take to become a missional congregation?" He first offers his definition:

A missional congregation is one who, out of their worship of the triune God and their passion around fulfilling the Great Commission in the spirit of the Great Commandment, seeks to make the world more loving and just through actions focused on spiritually transforming the lives of their neighbors and modeling the gathering of these neighbors into healthy mission outposts called congregations for the scattering of these same neighbors through their own missional efforts.

I kind of like this definition. For one thing it recognizes the importance of worship. It also speaks to issues of justice and mercy (a progressive concern) and it speaks of transformation of one's neighbors.

He offers a briefer version that goes like this:

A missional congregation seeks to make the world more loving and just through spiritually transforming the lives of neighbors.

He then offers 3 ways in which congregations try to become missional. He calls these versionis: Push, Pull, and leap. By his estimate 80% of so-called missional congregations are of the first type, a type he believes is not truly missional. At the very least, we must become a Pull type congregation, by which he means, congregations that are:

[S]eeking to understand the neighbors to which they perceive God has called them, and then equip disciples within their congregation with the skills needed to be received by those neighbors.

It's not just a matter of sending people out to make disciples (push type), but it involves seeking to understand our neighbors and then equipping our people to touch the lives of those neighbors. It is more intentional and thought through.

The last form takes the congregation into parts unknown, to neighbors we don't usually take notice of. They may be in our back yard, or may be not. Still there is intentionality here.

The question that emerges from the discussion -- at least from a more progressive/liberal perspective -- concerns the issue of coercion or maybe triumphalism. Do we go out into the world believing that we have the answers to every question, and that if peoples lives are to be transformed then they need to look like us, or at least think like us? I guess the question at this point is -- what does spiritual transformation look like? What does it mean to be more loving and more just?


Anonymous said...

Just putting together my report for Outreach for tonight's council meeting when I saw your post. WOW - I love "outside the box" thinking! am looking into Troy area information - people will need to identify 'neighbor' - individually, & as a congregation. I look forward to seeking a more missional approach to how we 'are' a witnessing church. your post may be included in my report...

Anonymous said...

Funny.. I think the church (lib and cons) fail to even live in the box. They cling to the world they enjoy, people the relate to, and hold strong to all the material possessions they own. (I speak as one in this group)


Country Parson said...

I'm part of a group struggling with this very issue in our diocese and found your post to be helpful in many ways. Thanks.
CP (Fr. Steve)

Steve said...

To be a Christian is almost impossible in America. For Christianity requires one to become least of all, and a servant of all. American capitalism is all about rewarding the individual for personal accomplishment. Transformation is all about converting one from self-service to other-service. Most congregations exist for themselves, so don’t look there; we’ve been preempted by the materialistic American Dream. “Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.”

Emergent Christianity (read “nascent” Christianity) truly understood is an effort to replow the ground so that the thorns of our culture lose their chocking power.

Anonymous said...

I like the contrast between Dianna, Chuck and Steve(s). Keeps things balanced and real.

"Do we go out into the world believing that we have the answers to every question?"

I think we need seek input from those around us to strengthen and validate our answers, and mostly to find the questions. Yes, I think we might know the answers. And they're needed just outside our box.

We’re a small congregation, but with room to grow/ share. Secrets (who we are) are fun, but maybe this blog could help us be who we should be. David Mc

Anonymous said...

In the meantime, we're pretty strong here. I'm wondering if it's for me too- David Mc

Stephen Ministries is a program of lay pastoral counseling and caregiving founded by Rev. Kenneth C. Haugk at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri in 1975. It is now active in more than 9000 congregations in over 100 denominations.