What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and to be part of the Church in today’s society? I suspect Christians have been asking that question for two millennia, and today’s Christians are no different. What is different for today’s people are the answers, renewing a focus on Luke 10 and the role we have in how God is bringing about the kingdom of heaven. Within contemporary missiology, a term has arisen called “missional church” and within the last 15 years, the body of written works on the subject has rapidly grown. The subject is too large to summarize here, but it is my hope that this may whet some appetites and provide a catalyst for further conversations.
During the 20th century, North American culture began to change in radical ways. Some have argued that we were encountering situations that presented adaptive challenges in addition to technical problems (Ronald A. Heifetz & Donald L. Laurie, “The Work of Leadership”). The answers to the former are easily identifiable, while the responses to the latter are elusive. It is key to recognize the difference if any organization is going to appropriately respond to the changing context.
At the same time as western culture was changing, there was a paradigm shift in the Church of North America. Christendom had come to an end. More and more people within the Church began to discern that God was up to something big, not just stirring the pot, but calling upon the Church to prepare a new meal. This “something” is wonderful and life-giving, as well as daunting and, at times, overwhelming. For many Christians and churches, learning to live in this new paradigm has, and continues to be, challenging. That notwithstanding, it is the belief of an ever-growing number of Christians that God is calling us out — out of our buildings — out of our complacency — out of our old attitudes about mission, and sending us into the world. This movement is now referred to by many as missional Church.
Although Jesus has always been sending us into the world, the roots of this current movement can be traced to two major events in the 20th century. First, significant development occurred at the International Missionary Council (Willingen, 1952). It was here that missio dei (mission of God) theology reached theological consensus. A more detailed accounting of the history can be found in Michael Goheen’s paper (http://www.missionworldview.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Historical-Perspectives-on-Missional-Church.pdf).
A subsequent milestone of significant importance occurred in 1998 with the publishing of Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. It was this publication that first introduced the conception and language of missional Church in a series of papers written by various theologians seeking to bring the discussion of missio dei and the work of Leslie Newbigin to the North American Church.
The argument presented is that the Church in North America was focused on its own internal needs in an effort to maintain its privileged place in our culture. This had been the “Christendom model” of Christianity. However, with Christendom coming to an end, some within the Church began to see the futility of those efforts and to discern that God was calling us into something new, that is, the opportunity to reimagine our identity as people of God being sent into the world, partnering with God in God’s redemptive mission in the world.
It needs to be mentioned that the term “missional” has been overused and one must be careful when deciding what to read. As Reggie McNeal has said, if you title your book Missional Cat Grooming, it will sell a million copies. McNeal, one of the most prolific speakers at the moment, can be found at missionalchurchnetwork.com/reggie-mcneal-video/. Other noteworthy authors include Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, and Alan Roxbourgh.
Being a missional person or being part of the missional Church is all about relationships: building relationships with the people around us, around our home, within our parish, within the city, and in the world. Although outreach is an element of being missional, the terms are not interchangeable. The former is vitally important and is often the bridge to becoming missional, but it is not the same thing.
As I travel about and engage in conversations, I hear stories. One parish in our diocese has recently initiated a breakfast club in a nearby school, where relationships are being formed with students and faculty. Another parish that distributes food on behalf of Winnipeg Harvest has opened their hall to all that come. Coffee, tea, and some light refreshments are offered. Relationships are being formed with people; it is more than a handout. Still another parish has started a reading club in a local school.
It would be wonderful if everyone started to tell stories. There is a group of people who meet regularly to learn and discuss their experiences. The next meeting is set for March 14, 6:00 p.m. at the Folio Café on Grant (in the new CMU Library building). Please feel free to stop by and share.