Category Archives: rant

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?

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.

Church blueprint

Vision Don’t Kill People, Instructions Do

Back in April 2013 a few of us were sent on a visit to the Woodlands Church communities in Bristol. They have 11 communal houses across Bristol with about 150 people living in community (and growing). We stayed at one of their community houses on the Friday evening and joined them for a whole day conference about community the day after.

They impressed me at how they’ve kept both fresh and focused over the last twenty years. Their focus is on one stable and simply defined vision. From this vision come their practices and principles which have been kept flexible in order to stay true to their vision, their calling. Calling & vision is like the wine for which principles and practices are a wineskin.

Pondering this some more I came up with this list of primary and secondary things in church life:

Primary things
(Must be remembered & protected)
> Secondary things
(Must be kept fresh & flexible to be true to what’s primary)
Identity
Calling
Vision & values
DNA
Relationship
Wine
>
>
>
>
>
>
Activity
Outworking of calling
Practices & principles
Skeleton, structure
Law
Wineskin

Now, in the church it can be tempting for us to insist people follow a blueprint, this seems safer. A blueprint is everything in the right hand list.

However no one gets as inspired about a blueprint as much as a vision. People will sacrifice greatly for a vision but not for a blueprint. James Normal recently said “People will sacrifice a great deal for a pioneering vision; less to maintain a status quo; hardly anything just because they’re told to.” And a vision can grow into so much more than any rigid blueprint.

All these primary things can produce these secondary things, but secondary things can’t produce primary things. Primary things are from God and secondary things are generally more man-made.

Regarding “vision mentality” over “blueprint mentality” Neil Cole commented:

“When we start putting together systems to make sure that future generations obey, what we end up doing is building an institution that conforms people to a pattern. They don’t have their own faith, they’re living off the residue of faith of a previous generation.”

To a degree today’s radical Christian should look different to a radical Christian twenty years ago. Radicality is relative. Same heart, new expressions.

If you’ve got to the end of this article and you’re thinking “yes, but…” or even a “no, because…” write your “yes but” or “no because” in the comments below.

God Make Me Weak, God Give Me Lunch – The Enemy of God pt5

God loves to stack the odds against Himself and His people.

God loves to put all His eggs in one basket, and He asks us to do the same with Him- throw everything recklessly in to His kingdom. Faith is impossible without trust Faith is trust.

Think of Gideon’s army- God whittled them down from 32,000 to 300. That’s, like, 0.9% of their original number. He deliberately and openly thwarted their natural strength because He wanted to be their strength.

Then think of the incarnation- Almighty Creator Eternal made visible, touchable. And how does he choose to arrive on the scene? As a weak, naked baby, born to a couple of nobodies who soon become asylum seekers.

And ultimately, let’s consider the cross- just some middle eastern carpenter hung on a tree, at the very turning point of history. Again naked, weak, bruised and torn with a heart turned to wax (See Psalm 22, the prophetic poem Christ invoked as he died).

God’s moment of greatest victory is His moment of greatest weakness.

Triumphalists and people looking for an easy, self serving God will put that statement the other way around- “God will change your weaknesses, He will make your life lovely again.” And of course, they’re right in part- Jesus heals the broken.

But lean closer, here’s where it gets interesting.

God doesn’t simply succeed or help us succeed despite our weakness, he succeeds through weakness.

Why? In part, because that’s truly poetic and beautiful, and in part because God winning with and for us through weakness and suffering allows Him to change us fundamentally inside through it in a way nothing else can.

And maybe it’s also because God loves a challenge, He loves to rescue us. I’m sure God sometimes engineers adversity to throw His church back to Himself. God wants a people who don’t trust their natural strength but who work to be strongly-weak and dependent on Him.

As God has all the resources of the universe at His disposal but needs our willingness; He can do less with our resources than our empty, open hands. In fact, it’s possible for us to edge God out with organisational efficiency; we no longer need Him because the machine rolls along happily. But the machine is dead. God is not in the machine but out on the water, where we’re too weak to walk out of the boat without His authority, given through His call.

And walk we will, because He’s calling, and because that’s the only way to follow Jesus.

Let’s get back to a place where we need God, where we’d actually go hungry, poor, stuffed without His help. I’m not joking. Then watch Him show up and provide for us, redeem us and immeasurably bless us because that’s what He’s been longing to do for years.

Now let’s make it practical.

If we don’t learn to trust God in small, everyday things, how will we manage to trust Him with bigger things when He leads us into the risky place He’s pulling us with benevolent delight? How about not taking lunch (or lunch money) to work for one day every week, and asking God to get you some lunch?

Of course, it’s best not to tell anyone you’re doing it, that would be untrusting!

Just trust God and see what happens 🙂

We Are David. Safety- The Enemy of God pt4

This is pt4 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 pt 1- man to monument cycle, pt 2- skunkworks & pt 3- a Jean Vanier quote.

God made me realise something recently, or to use christian jargon- “I had a revelation”.

My generation is David struggling to put on Saul’s armour before battle.

child-armour

The teenager David’s dad gave him the day off tending sheep to deliver a lunch of bread, cereal and cheese to his elder brothers in the paralysed Israelite army (see 1 Samuel 17).

Horrified that the army sits motionless in fear before this giant who’s daring to curse God David offers to take down the warrior, who’s breastplate alone weighs 9 stone, maybe not much less than David.

King Saul sends for David and remarkably hears him out and offers David his own armour, which proves too heavy for him.

There is a generation stepping up to fight in the battle, stepping up to take their place in extending the rulership of the kingdom of heaven on this dark earth. Of course, individuals graduate from this rising generation but this generation always exists, it’s perpetual.

My generation is the young David.

When the David generation unelegantly heaves their elder’s helmet over their head some older onlookers in the church may say “look at them, are they really strong enough to fight for what’s dear to us?”

When the David generation strains under the weight of a heavy breastplate some will say “give them more, they must grow stronger.”

When the David generation discards the clunky armour with relief some may cry “they don’t want to get their hands dirty!”

Just give us five small stones and send us out.

David Lion

No, we don’t trust our own strength either, but there’s a giant in the land and we know a God who loves to stack the odds against Himself and His people so He can win through for them.

That’s a word to my elder friends, now a word to my younger friends.

That giant is our future on this earth and beyond him is what we’re fighting for- the future, eternity, our promised land. We’ll never defeat the giant with our hearts set solely on him, we must keep eternity in our hearts.

Now, it can be easy for us youngers to feel encumbered by the administration and heavy provisions of the church, the slow moving beaurocratic systems that aim to keep us safe. It’s easy for us to despise what we haven’t built. It’s easy for us to want to throw off the heavy, restrictive helmet. But can we echo David when he told the King of how he’d learnt to trust and rely on God?

“Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.’
Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the Lord be with you.’
1 Samuel 17:34-37

Those of us who are young, can we say we know God’s heart, that we’ve been communing with Him like David did, psalming with his lyre while tending sheep in the hills? Can we say we love scripture, that we love the word of God, that His word runs and grows in our hearts and we’re filled to overflowing and passionate about living out His call on our lives?

If we can then we can drop the armour and go with a few small stones of faith and take the future.

Let’s know God and let’s be bolder than lions.

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.