April 10, 2013 by cbbeard
Trust me, I get it. Church leaders are tired of getting hoodwinked. Church members are tired of being taken through the latest and greatest campaign guaranteed to grow the church. Many ministers have multiple stories that go kind of like this: went to the conference, read the book, bought the church campaign kit…had the same results as before.
That’s why I can identify with Brian Jones’ article, “Why I’m Not Joining The Missional Church Fad.” It seems that every time something like this builds momentum among churches that it reaches its peak and flames out because it just didn’t have the substance to be any more than a fad. So I can identify with the skepticism and the tendency to dismiss this movement in particular as a “fad.”
But what if “missional” is more than a fad?
What if “missional” doesn’t mean what you think?
One of the weaknesses in the missional movement is that the terminology is not clear. Ask five different church leaders what “missional” means and you are likely to get five different answers. This has led to a good deal of misunderstanding of the missional movement, and in turn has caused people to reject a concept without understanding what they are REALLY rejecting.
For example, one of the points Brian Jones makes is that church can be both focused on the gathering of the church, as well the intense disciple-making and sending the Bible teaches. He wrote:
It’s not either/or, but both/and.
The insinuation here is that “missional” means either/or, and that you must take one and at the sake of the other. Well Hugh Halter and Matt Smay would like to have a word with you:
If we want to honor God’s intentions, we must recognize that it’s not really about gathering or scattering. It’s about both. (Halter and Smay, 2010, p. 12)
Sounds kind of similar doesn’t it? Halter and Smay happen to be two of the leaders of Missio, which is one of the missional movement tribes, and they seem to agree.
The point here is that it is easy to make assumptions in order to draw quick conclusions. But I think it is important that before we reject something, we understand it enough to authentically do so.
What if “missional” isn’t a program?
One of the characteristics of most church development fads over the years is the plug-and-play mindset. If your church only does these three things that this other church did, you will experience the same kind of growth! The reason that hasn’t worked consistently and in a way that lasts is because God has equipped our churches with gifts (check out Ephesians 4) that will allow us to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead directly for our context. That doesn’t mean we don’t learn from others, but it does mean that we should be leery of any cookie cutter solutions to our local congregation’s struggles.
If you spend time examining the missional movement, you will quickly see that there are no cookie cutter shortcuts. In fact, there are sizable differences in methodology from tribe to tribe. Soma uses missional communities, as does 3DM, but they are not identical. Missio likes incarnational communities, and Neil Cole from CMA does the organic church thing. Forge doesn’t tie itself down to a certain model, they like missional communities or communities of missionaries; either one works!
I’m sure there are many more examples, but the point is, “missional” is not just a program that you can purchase and execute in your church. While some may attempt to turn “missional” into something that fits into the old wineskins of program, in the pure form, “missional” is a way of life and church based on the teachings of Scripture. Which leads me to ask:
What if “missional” is a return to the ancient ways of Scripture?
I heard Francis Chan say one time, something to the effect of “If you spent your entire life on a desert island and only had the New Testament to read, and then suddenly you were rescued and taken to an American church, would it look like you expected based on what you read in the New Testament?” Of course, if we are honest with ourselves, there are some discrepancies. The missional movement is attempting to align the church more with God’s intentions.
At the center of the missional movement is a call for a biblical definition of discipleship and mission. If we simply understand these things the way Christ did, and live that out in our lives, not only will we be “missional,” but we will also be “disciples” as Jesus called us to be.
This discipleship thing isn’t part of the missional movement it is the missional movement. A couple of years ago, Mike Breen of 3DM wrote an important article titled “Why the missional movement will fail” and in it he wrote, “If you disciple people well, you will always get the missional thing. Always.”
Can we be honest and admit that the Western church is weak in discipleship? But all hope is not lost, we serve a God of second chances. All he calls us to do is to follow his word and follow his lead. That could never be a fad.
I have found the missional conversation to be quite consistent with Scripture, and even more importantly, driven BY Scripture. As 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, we should take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ. By all means, we should test any and every influence of our church leadership against the truth of Scripture! But once we find that God has spoken, we must follow his lead. Speaking of following his lead:
What if “missional” is Holy Spirit led?
In my short time of involvement in the missional conversation, I have been struck by the “coincidences” of people’s hearts being pointed in the missional direction. Long before I read any “missional” book or attended any “missional” conference I felt a spirit of discontent as a church leader. I felt something was missing, and I practically begged God to help me see clearer. Little by little, God placed on my heart a desire for a revitalization of koinonia within the church and the importance of moving off-campus and being the church as a sent people. Then I came in contact with missional conversation and I felt as if what God had laid on my heart was being put into words.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Verge conference in Austin, Texas. It is a gathering of missional-minded people led by the various tribes of the missional conversation. One night I sat next to a couple with whom I struck up a conversation. It seems that God had led them to start a community of faith that resembled a missional community, and when they came in contact with the missional movement, they couldn’t believe that there were others out there doing the same thing as well!
This, and other evidence tells me that “missional” as God intends it is a Holy Spirit inspired movement. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to label God’s leading as a “fad.” So finally:
What if calling “missional” a fad lets church leaders off the hook?
One of the quickest and easiest ways to avoid dealing with an issue is to simply discredit and dismiss it. It will always be easier to continue on the same comfortable path than to acknowledge that the path we are on might be the wrong path. Changing paths isn’t very much fun. It’s difficult and messy.
The truth is that the Western church is slipping into a state of irrelevance in our culture, generally speaking. The rise of the “nones” and the undeniable statistical decline of the church is a matter that should greatly concern us as church leaders. As Hirsch and Catchim wrote, “We are perfectly designed to achieve what we are currently achieving” (Chapter 1, “Perfectly Designed,” para. 1).
We need to review our design. We need to return to Scripture to discover God’s plan and intentions for his people and church. We need to be willing to honestly evaluate who we are and what we do against God’s plan and intentions. And we need to be willing to do whatever it takes to be obedient to God’s call, even if that means a dreaded “paradigm shift” in our churches.
Calling something a “fad” allows us to dismiss the inherent claims and challenges of that “fad” and keeps us from the messy and uncomfortable job of being impacted. Can we be so sure that the missional conversation is fad that we give each other permission to dismiss it out of hand?
I’m reminded of what Gamaliel said in Acts 5 in regards to the early church…the first “missional” movement if you will. He said, “If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
If “missional” is of human origin, then it is nothing but a fad. But what if “missional” is more than a fad?