Category Archives: mission

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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Wesley Nails The Missional Stuff

I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.
John Wesley

I read this quote of John Wesley last night and I love it. It expresses my heart & vision in such a simple, holistically rounded and theologically rooted way. He sounds like a postmodern missiological church planter, but of the rooted kind.

What does all this mean for us? In brief: If we’re to see the fresh expressions of community which we need in order to engage our people and to speak to today’s society we need to start with a renewed vision of Jesus, for him to fill our hearts in a new way. There’s no other foundation, no other cornerstone, no other starting point. Both mission and community are born from the baptism of the Holy Spirit, not our mere intentions or man-made idea-buck-upping.

As we look at new expressions of community and new mission outings and opportunities let’s make sure we don’t stifle the move of the Holy Spirit with the inflexible wineskins of our own agendas, of our own efforts. Let’s be ready to drop it all as He leads, valuing the direction of his Spirit over every other safety and comfort.

The strapline of this blog is “Where are we going? Who cares; let’s go”. I didn’t mean it to covey directional ambiguity, although that is inevitable sometimes, I meant that to convey adventure and the unity of heart I’ve found with guys as we’ve started to explore an unknown future, led by a known Holy Spirit.

Booyah.

Enjoying Being With People

Well I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this weekend.

Saturday was a beautiful day of rest. Did some gardening, joined in an impromptu prayer meeting (the lively and worshipful kind where God speaks clearly) then we finished the day with a decent evening meeting.

Lunch time
Saturday lunch

As for today, there was a mixup with who was supposed to be leading our morning meeting in the eastern district of Northampton so after half an hour of gutsy and free worship we pulled into a nearby car park and started offering folk free car washes. Others picked litter or swept around the community centre while some knocked on doors to ask if there was anything we could do for them: mow their lawns, get them some swings, whatever.

image

After lunch 10 of us headed off to Peterborough in a minibus to visit the Green Backyard, which I’ve written about before on this blog. Some of us hadn’t been before.

image

Lovely time relaxing with the folk there. We had a little sing-song while René did what he did best: taught willow weaving. While Fred weeded Alan and I got stuck right in to a compost bay turning it all over, Alan just wearing his crocs!

I was bare shattered all throughout the evening meeting but perked up back home at supper time. About 22 of us in the lounge (most but not all of those being residents) celebrated Pat’s birthday with cake & big laughter. I think koinonia is the word: a New Testament Greek word meaning participation in fellowship.

Generally speaking I love this life, living for Jesus is Christian community. Weekends like this one make it extra precious.

When Churches Die

Interesting.

“My people in particular, when they tap into giving their lives away… their lives are transformed.”

These people are more interested in being fruitful than in maintaining what’s good, what’s worked in the past.

I’ve heard it said that people will sacrifice a great deal for a pioneering vision, less to maintain the status quo and hardly anything just because they’re told to.

Gospel events have typically been the go-to method churches have used to attempt to engage culture with the gospel. While I wholeheartedly believe in the power of gathered people I firmly believe both the increasing secularisation of society and the eagerness of younger generations to engage with church building demand that we start to engage culture primarily through our lives, not primarily through an event.

Christian community must be among the people. Missional community, not just community that goes on missions to invite people to an event.

How can we burst our community bubble?

Poor Church, Right Place

This is another guest post from a skonkworker, a friend of mine:

It’s estimated Jesus walked up to 20 miles a day to spread the Gospel. He travelled light. He wasn’t looking for earthly possessions.

Jesus was looking for a relationships. Jesus was looking for people. As a church we intend to follow the example of Jesus, sowing the kingdom of God, seed by seed among the people we interact with.

Money seems to bring with it a desire to expand personal space.

The more money the bigger your property. The wealthy generally have more land and property than poor people, and this isolates them from their fellow humans. The houses of the poor and the rich aptly illustrate this:

Property

The same principles seem to apply with the growth of a church. A church that exists primarily in big groups meets in big properties. The risk is that a church with a large turnover, properties and meetings can become distanced from the people it’s trying to reach.

I would rather see twenty poor, small churches that live among the people than one large, impressive and self-sufficient church that serves itself and protects its assets.

Large gatherings are good. Organised voluntary sharing is good. But treat money like manure, of very little use except when it is spread around (Francis Bacon Sr). Let faith and action always rule.

Lets address the balance, not too focused on being a city on a hill that we forget to be scattered salt. Money must never distract or block our connection with people. The church must reposition itself where the harvest is plenty but the workers are few.

Green Backyard Celebrations

Back in November I ticked one item off my not-quite-serious and only-in-my-head bucketlist- appearing in a newspaper, the Independent, none the less.

And today I can cross that one off again, this time for an appearance (well, about 10 pixels of my face) in a photo in the Peterborough Telegraph. A few of us (Josh, Shaun, Georgia, Sarah and I) joined the Green Backyard crew for their 5th birthday celebrations recently and it was a right hoot. I can’t exactly call any of us well-known Peterborough celebrities but it’s certainly good to see our faces with that varied and welcoming crew in a Pb publication (we’re the cool ones at the back-right).

The photo above only shows a sprinkling of the early arrivals that day, here’s a shot of one half of the room that day when it was in full swing:

birthday

Peace.