Category Archives: Christianity

What Is A Missional Church? Probably Not Like Us.

95% of what I’ll say here will apply to 80% of churches and 5% just applies to my church, the wonderful, colourful, still needing to evolve Jesus Army. There’s definitely something here for everyone though.

Language is very important as it has a role in creating and influencing culture. Considering that, it’s worth noting two vastly different understandings of a phrase we’ve started using to describe ourselves: ‘missional church’. This one’s probably more important than we think.

To some of you I may be preaching to the converted, or teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, as they say, but I’ll just say it all.

What’s been called ‘the missional conversation’ is a reformation movement similar in consequence, I believe, to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement of the 60s – 90s, although far more hidden in nature; it’s changing things more like leaven than like fire. It’s not a fad or a mere method but a spiritual zeitgeist, central to many vital fresh expressions, as James Normal wrote in his recent post Lies, damned lies and church decline statistics.

So What Is ‘Missional’?

The well established definition of ‘missional church’ in this conversation is that it:

1. Puts Missionary Identity First

It understands the church’s ultimate purpose as joining God in His redemptive mission on earth, the missio Dei. The Father sent the son who sends the Spirit and the Church to make renewed disciples, so we’re all sent. We’re an apostolic church or a disobedient church. The church isn’t just a sending agency but a sent agency. ‘Missional church’ therefore, describes the very underlying nature of the church, not just some of its activity; it’s first an identity before it’s ever an activity. If we are to be a missional church everything we do must be brought in line with our mission, not have the tail wagging the dog, not seeing evangelism as conscription in order to find people to support the work of the church.

As C.S.Lewis said:

“…the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”

That’s the mission of church: discipleship. Note the distinction between ‘the mission’ and ‘missions’.

2. Emphasizes Incarnational Ministry

…versus attractional/extractional ministry. Attractional models, where evangelism = invitation, work OK in a Christian society where people don’t have to travel a great cultural distance from their context to ours, but incarnational missiology makes the missionary travel the cultural distance so is right on cue for our increasingly post-Christendom context. It’s more about “go and be” than “come and see [Jesus brotherhood]”, more about bringing Jesus to people than bringing people to Jesus.

We’ve been very good at doing “a light and city set on a hill” but not so good at being “the salt of the earth“, even though we clearly see salty friendships do more than lighty events. Attractional/extractional has been our traditional model with evangelistic events, large community houses we bring people back to, kingdom businesses (as opposed to business as mission) and our own different-rhythm diary. All of these things are good, but they’ve firmly been of the attractional and extractional emphases rather than of incarnational (among the people by default) and multiplicative (easily reproducible) emphases.

What Is ‘Missional’ Not?

In the video above Hirsch says most people jump to the conclusion that missional just means ‘more evangelism’. This prevalent misunderstanding has two barbs:

  1. People who aren’t evangelistic think “cool, but this isn’t me. I’ll let the evangelists get on and do it”, so they switch off.
  2. Evangelists think “I’m already doing it”, so they switch off. Or they get keen thinking everyone should be an evangelist then they plan a few extra evangelistic trips and events and miss the greater consequences of a truly whole-body-of-Christ missional mindset incorporating every ministry.

When we call ourselves a missional church we usually mean we’re a church that likes to go out on missions, rather than is missionary in nature with every ministry and form of church working together for that central purpose. Hence, the missional/incarnational impulse and disciple-making purpose that absolutely, categorically must inform all that we do will be blunted. This ‘only evangelism’ misunderstanding misses the greater implications by miles so threatens to impede what I believe God wants to do among us.

Although we have amazing foundations (seriously, I’m excited about our potential, we’ve so nearly got it, but so not quite) we’re not yet a missional church and I’m concerned that if we call ourselves one thinking we’ve arrived we’ll frustrate what God wants to lead us into by voicing His direction using misunderstood words.

What’s For Us, Now?

I believe Jesus’ salt and light metaphors in Matthew 5 express the paradox of a scattered and gathered church: engaged but not diluted, gathered but not hidden. All churches have unique emphases so some will specialize in one or the other (though all should manifest both) and God takes us all through seasons, sometimes deepening, sometimes reaping.

But like the groundswell of discontented dreamers around me I’m convinced we’ve only just scratched the surface of what it means to join a wild God in His mission on earth. We’ve only just scratched the surface of what it means for our Jesus communities to be truly salty, for mission and discipleship to drive all we do and for us to see genuine out-of-our-control Jesus movement rippling across the UK, Europe and to the ends of the earth.

The future church is not large, uniform, distant (culturally or geographically) or rich. The future church is small, varied, very local and very generous. It’s simple. It devotes itself to the apostle’s teaching and to prayer. It grows vivaciously like mustard. I speak of this future church in present tense because it’s shoots are already appearing.

And ultimately our missionalisation (yeah I think I just made up a word) is more important than anyone’s personal preferences and dreams because today’s post-christian culture demands it. We will have a future as a sent people or we won’t have a future.

Let’s understand the language we use and God’s will expressed through it with unity of mind, as well as unity of heart.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43

What do you think?

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Thankful

To the hundreds of friends, family and strangers who have given support, given encouragement, helped here and there in a myriad of ways small and great, or simply given us space over the last six weeks, thank you. Thank you doubly.

Totally grateful to be surrounded by such generous and compassionate folk.

The thanksgiving service was amazing; warm, informal, truly hearty and packed to the rafters. One of my cousins expected the roof to lift off with the volume of the singing.

I don’t think we find real life by trying to squeeze everything out of every opportunity offered by our years. Real life is found when we give. Sounds a little cheesy, I know.

Jesus voiced this truth in a similar way when he said “if you try to find your life you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake and the gospel, you’ll find it.” Listening to the grateful crowd at his thanksgiving service yesterday, singing with heartfelt gusto, I think my dad kinda proved Jesus right. My dad gave himself. He lived in a bit of an unusual way, giving his years to his friends, his brothers, his community of faith, and in so doing he found a life worth living. Jesus is that life, and that’s why he had neither fear nor regrets in death.

If anyone’s interested in the background music that was playing before the start of the thanksgiving service it’s this:

God is good.

Coffin

Funeral For The Church

A few months ago I was asked to come up with some sort of prophetic drama thing for one of our events, our annual Sheffield Praise Day. As I’m neither the world’s most natural thespian nor content with coming up with something shallow I spent a few weeks not knowing what to do, wrestling with ideas.

Last year has been described for my church as a make-or-break year. Years dim our vision and wane our energy and over time we can find ourselves short of the driving, fiery love which once infused everything we are. We started 2013 widely acknowledging our need of God (what better way to start a year?) and gave ourselves a theme of ‘hearts on fire’, looking to regain our first-love for God again. 

The year was ‘patchy’. Green spots sprung up and it seems like God has been accelerating the pace of change. Getting back to first love inevitably means getting back to our core mission, back to a spirit of pioneering, of movement, of adventure. We don’t really know where we’re going, but hey, who cares? We know who’s leading us.

It was because of that theme that I read Church Transfusion by Neil Cole, a book about transfusing old, stale churches with the life of Jesus, exactly what we need. One of the ideas presented by the book was that senior pastors could hold a funeral for their church, then a baby shower the week after! Sometimes our own ideas, bold or traditional, cynical or hopeful can get in the way of Jesus’ dreams for his church. Categorically central to the goal of bringing new Jesus-life into a church is the process of putting Jesus back at the centre of things. That means every individual has a personal two-way relationship with Jesus and that we allow Jesus to speak into (or against) everything we are and do, our systems, routines and modes of conduct.

‘Life out of death’ is clearly a core Kingdom-principle, and so the idea was born. The dramatic item was to be a funeral for our church, with a coffin carried from the back of the congregation (so it’s about ‘us’ rather than a stage-only item), and we were to bury it in the stage somehow. I wrote a script. However, complications with a lack of coffin meant I had to delay the dramatic demo to our next major church event, the New Year Celebration held on 28th December.

Between that time two things happened that made life oddly turbulent.

The first event was an encouragement. I’d been following Dr. Gary Thompson’s blog posts for a while because he’s an old boy who’s saying some cutting edge stuff that old boy’s rarely say. A post of his called The Church Must Die? caught my eye, not just because it has a provocative title but because it expressed exactly my thoughts. A quote:

The church has a choice: to die as a result of its resistance to change or to die in order to live.

I started studiously learning my script off by heart, more intent than before on communicating the message. We established we’d bury the coffin by submerging it in our baptistry.

The second event was not an encouragement.

I realised that for any major prophetic word to the church like this there’s a responsibility for the prophet to embody what (s)he speaks, and a testing of the word in their life. I wondered (and other guys had asked me) what kind of death I would have to go through as part of communicating this word to the church?

A couple of weeks ago my Dad admitted himself to hospital with stomach pain and sickness. A few scans and drugs later and we found out my Dad probably has cancer, and secondary (more advanced) cancer at that. That even hurts just to type.

I found this out just five days before the event, so the idea of walking in front of a coffin in front of a thousand or so people talking about our need to die in order to live wasn’t my greatest ambition right at that point, to put it mildly. I wondered if it was even appropriate and sensitive to do the demo, but the burning I felt inside when I’d heard from God and followed His train of thought gave me the conviction to still try.

Burying the coffin

I asked a friend to be ready to step in on the evening (reading the script live) if I wasn’t in a fit state to do it and I was very grateful to receive prayer offered for God’s grace for my mum & I.

God is faithful, and I managed to lead the item.

“All things work together for good for those who love the Lord”, and I hope my grief gave the delivery a poignant sincerity.

I’ve published the script below.

I’m calling us to cross a line.
It’s a very unpopular line, not often crossed.
I guess it’s the ultimate line that all others point to.
It’s the only way to life.
I’m calling us to die.
And really, death is unavoidable. But it’s up to us which kind of death we choose.

If, as a church and as individuals, we commit the sin of faithless self-preservation we will follow the way of many movements of God greater than us from movement, to machine, to monument. However, if we allow the death of Jesus to work in us, His church, our coming days will be brighter than our first.

We have a choice: to die as a result of our resistance to change or to die in order to live.

See this coffin? In invite you all to join in your hearts with what’s happening here symbolically. We’re going to bury this coffin tonight.

I want you to place all cynicism, all your disillusionment, all your grudges in this coffin… Place all your dreams in there too, and everything you desperately long for. Put in there everyone you love, your hobbies and the work that you do. What is of God He will give back to you with added blessing.

But more than all these individual things and more than just us as individuals, together as His church we must die.

God has taken us on an amazing journey. We found an incredible richness in the body of Christ when those who were formerly a collective of individuals were melted by Jesus into the colourful koinonia fellowship of ‘a people’ following Him. Everything we’ve done as a church has come from that, but for every step forward God has called us to die.

Of course God has led us to die to bad things: to die to our complacency, comforts, prides and sinfulness, but He’s also led us to die to good things too: to surrender our grasp on all we’ve accomplished, all that we are and where we think we should go.

A church that has died to what it has been or what it hopes to be is a church that can become all that Christ desires it to be. Our clever ideas will not produce the church. Our schemes, plans and routines alone cannot produce the church. Only the life of Jesus in his church brought through our joining him in his death, burial and resurrection will produce the church.

And so here at the Northampton Jesus Centre on the 28th December 2013 we put to death ourselves and all the work of our hands. Before God we surrender all our traditions, all our routines, our plans, our schemes, hopes and dreams. We lay them at the feet of Jesus.

We renounce the sin of self-preservation.
We renounce the sin of flogging dead horses.
We renounce the sin of working harder than we listen.
We renounce the sin of trusting in our schemes, plans and routines to produce life and growth.

Having entrusted our church into the hands of God, we now commit ourselves to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died, was buried, and rose again for us. To Him be glory for ever.

God, give us Your dreams.

Amen

Feel free to modify and reuse this text however you wish, so long as the essence of it’s meaning remains intact. Attribution is unnecessary.

Accidental Poetry – Party Like a Christian

Sometimes accomplished orators accidently speak poetry. Or maybe poets just write the same music that orators speak.

Whatever. Anyway, below is a snippet of a message by Michael Frost about Missional Church, given Norway in 2011.

The whole extroardinary message is essential listening for anyone wrestling with working out the mission of Jesus and missional stuff. It’s in three parts but if you want a taste of the best bit jump to 28 minitues in to his first session on Missional Church to hear the story of Abraham, the “dude in the back row”.

I believe
A day is coming
When we will live in perfect harmony with each other.

Do you agree?

Where there will be no unbelief
Because every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.

I believe a day is coming
When we will work in the most satisfying fashion
Sleep in the deepest slumber.
A day is coming
When we will produce the most astonishing music
The most extroardinary art
The most fabulous films.

I believe a day is coming when we will party every night
And there’ll be no such thing as a hangover.

I believe a day is coming
When there shall be no poverty,
No loneliness,
No fear.
When a person who’s a hundred years old will be considered to be a young man.
When no babies will die in childbirth.
When you will build your house and no one will take it from you.
You’ll plant your crops and eat of the fruit of your vine.

Sometimes I desire this so much I almost can’t bear it,
But in this epoch of history
The closest we get to it until Christ returns
Is the fashioning of foretastes of exactly that.

So you party better than anybody else in this town.
You love more than anybody else in this town.
You announce the reign of God more clearly than anybody else in this town.
Because that’s the mission to which you’ve been called.

The Church Needs Skunk Works

I consider this post as pt2 of the ‘Safety- The Enemy of God’ series of posts that I’m writing to express several threads of thoughts that God’s weaving together in my spirit, a growing conviction. Read part 1 about busting the man, movement, machine, monument cycle.

I want to be a part of a movement, not just an organisation.

The point of a movement is that it’s moving. When Jesus talked about his earth-impacting heavenly kingdom (which was most of the time) he often used analogies from nature- mustard seeds, leaven, fishing, a farmer scattering seeds or ploughing, a vine & branches, a vineyard, a bride, an engagement, a wedding, his own body. Paul used the illustration of a building (traditionally a dead structure) but this one has stones that are alive! These illustrations clearly and overwhelmingly describe the kingdom as something that grows, that lives, that is connected in sap and blood and bears fruit.

The church (as an expression of the kingdom) must never become an inflexible wineskin that isn’t fit to contain the new wine of God’s always-new effervescent life. The kingdom is bigger than any church’s view of it so churches must always be building on the foundation of Jesus, not the foundation of their own traditions. Except for God it’s dead things that never change. To live is to change so we must change or die.

We must keep envisioning the future, but vision is not enough- we must actively venture into it. How do we venture into new vision? I recently read this brilliant little true story explaining ‘Skonk Works’:

In 1943, at the height of World War II, the engineers coming from the same schools being taught by the same professors were not producing the technological breakthroughs that were needed. To get faster and better results, Lockheed decided to try something different. The company selected its most creative engineers and put them all in a tent set up at the end of a runway next to a plastics factory in Burbank, California. The engineers were told to think together outside the box on a specific project.

The members of this group began to push boundaries and try new things. Without all the red tape of the standard business bureaucracy, they were able to get things done much faster, usually ahead of schedule, and often with nothing more than a verbal agreement and a handshake.

They became known as “skunk works” because of the smell of the plastic factory wafting into the tent. The name came from the Li’l Abner comic strip, and it stuck. Today skunk works has become a technical term in research and development and in the diffusion of innovation. It is widely used in business, engineering, and technical fields to describe a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, often tasked with working on advanced or secret projects. The original Lockheed Skonk Works (which still exists) is responsible for some of the most notable advancements in technology in aerospace and defense. Such things as stealth technology and smart bombs were developed there. The Macintosh computer was developed in a skunk works project under the demanding leadership of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The first laptop was designed and developed by a skunk works group that was literally kept secret from the very organization that made it and had determined that it was not a worthy investment—Toshiba.
[ source ]

The truth is that the church in the west has needed skunk works for some time.

The church must always be open to formerly hidden visionaries rising from within their ranks, pushing the boundaries of what it means for the kingdom to be incarnate among us. We mustn’t stifle any discontent that is motivated by lack of fruitfulness but must allow it to provoke what’s dead and dying in our churches. The prophetic spirit will always be creatively subversive and must not be confused with cynical, loveless opionionation but must be championed, encouraged and given breathing room by those in positions of official church leadership.

For any new generation of Christians to take the baton of the church they must pay their own price to win it and must have the freedom they need to work out it’s wild and unruly call on their lives. Otherwise we will well-meaningly propagate a halfbaked, mechanised, soon dead church.

In short- let’s pass on a vision, not a blueprint. Let’s allow those with positive vision and initiative about what the church could be to dream their God given dreams and make them reality. It’s less safe but it’s alive and will grow into something we’ve never dreamed of.

I’ve been reading, praying, listening & chatting to co-conspirators. Interestingly a few Skunk Works have been popping up (Jesus Army Action, a Franciscan Southampton trip…) that are pushing the boundaries of mission.

Movement is stirring, a generation is prophetically pregnant.