one striving for God's reign to come to earth, bringing his peace, wholeness, completeness, and health to all aspects of life.

The Missional Church

So I read a book called The Shaping of Things to Come by Frost and Hirsch a while back, and I am going through it with some friends right now.  I wrote out a few thoughts pertaining to the first section of the book, and I thought I would share those thoughts here as well.  The book certainly has some ideas that I don't wholeheartedly agree with, but on the whole it hits the nail on the head and makes some very important challenges to the way the church in the West is currently operating.  I invite and encourage you to get this book and work through it.  There is a link to buy it at the bottom of this article...

Thoughts on The Shaping of Things to Come through page 107

This book was like a breath of fresh air for me.  It addressed many areas I have been working through and trying to come to grips with.  Though it didn’t answer all my questions, and though I didn’t agree with every point or resonate with every idea, I was incredibly refreshed by the authors’ fresh vision for the Church.  This book introduced me to the idea of the “missional church,” which is summed up very well by Rick Meigs on his website  Part of his description says: “At its core, missional is a shift in thinking. This shift in thinking is expressed by Ed Stetzer and David Putman in their book, Breaking the Missional Code (Broadman & Holman, 2006) like this:
From programs to processes
From demographics to discernment
From models to missions
From attractional to incarnational
From uniformity to diversity
From professional to passionate
From seating to sending
From decisions to disciples
From additional to exponential
From monuments to movements”

This is a good way to introduce this stream in the church that is moving in a powerful way.  It is in part a reaction against the institutionalized church, and I feel that Hirsch and Frost have summed up its main thrusts very well in this book.

My journey has played a large part in the ways that this book has challenged me, shaped me, and set me on a path toward being involved with a new kind of church.  For my entire life, I have always been an integral part of whatever church I have attended: I was a leader in my youth group as a student, I was at a small church while at college where I was well-known and then was a youth pastor after that.  I was always sort of in a privileged position, and it was easy for me to get to know people—in fact, people were seeking out relationships with ME mostly! 

Then we moved down here to Kentucky, not really thinking about the transition to finding a church.  We had a very difficult time.  We went from church to church trying to find a community of Christ-centered people who would embrace us and whom we could embrace.  We signed up for welcome classes that got cancelled, we signed up for small groups and were never placed in them, we sought out friendships and were turned away.  We felt like we were finally encountering what it must be like for people who are trying to “break in” to the culture of the church.  It was tough!  Because we are committed followers of Christ, we kept looking and eventually settled on a church merely because we were able to get into a small group there.  We have become hungry for community, a genuine community of Christ-followers who are focused on loving God, loving each other, and loving the world.  This has been hard to find, and this vision is what I feel the authors tapped into for me.  I am so tired of churches worrying about sustaining themselves (as institutions), focusing on the building of buildings and the budget and the maintenance of the programs of the church.  I know these things have their place, and I certainly have played my part in sustaining these aspects of the church.  But they seem to take over and mask the entire nature of the church!  The church is not an institution—it is a living organism, a community of people, a family.  I personally feel like this nature is hidden in the vast majority of churches by its own programs and goals and budgets and passions.

All of that is introduction, believe it or not!  J  Let me move on to talk specifically about the book’s first 107 pages and what struck me the most.  I found the discussion at the beginning about the Burning Man festival interesting.  Of course such a festival is not the church, but I resonated with the authors’ connection between this festival and the longings of humanity, specifically in our postmodern world.  The most powerful longing I think this festival displays is a longing for belonging.  We all want to be a part of something with others, to be in community, and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  I also resonated with the festival’s focus on the experiential and on celebration—I think these are longings that the church too often ignores…

I really appreciated their discussion on Christendom, and from my education in church history I found them to be right on target.  They said that through the shift under Constantine, “Christianity moved from being a dynamic, revolutionary, social, and spiritual movement to being a religious institution with its attendant structures, priesthood, and sacraments” (8).  This is key to me, and points to the source of many of the problems in the Church’s focus and understanding of its nature and mission 1700 years later.  We must regain our focus on being a missionary movement rather than an institution.

While I disagree with their sweeping assessment that the church planting movement has gone bust to a large degree, I agree with them on their point that most church plants are merely carbon copies of the dominant Christendom model, “duplicating a failing system” (18).  They seem to still be advocating church planting, in fact, although a missional type of church, one that abandons the Christendom assumptions and sees the nature and purpose of the church as a church sent “to bring healing to a broken world” (18). 

Their summary of what this missional church will look like is spelled out on page 22, and overall it’s a vision I get very excited about: it places a high value on communal life, has more open leadership structures, and values the contribution of everyone in the community.  It is experiential and participatory in worship and is deeply concerned for matters of justice and mercy.  These are the things I have been longing to see the church focus on, moving away from its “come to us” mentality and its institutionalized focus.  I believe existing churches can begin to make these changes, but it will take serious shifts in the way we look at ourselves and the purpose and function of our churches.  We must begin to see the church we attend not as a club you can join but as the corporate community of individuals following Christ…

Their focus on the church becoming incarnational was a little confusing for me as I read back through it, but I appreciated the descriptions on page 38 of what they meant—we must truly become a part of the people group we are trying to reach, identifying with them in real ways as Christ identified with humanity in his incarnation.  In other words, we must not stand apart from our neighbors or call out to the not-yet Christians among whom we live, telling them to come to church!  This has been the attractional model: we have the goods, and you need to get with the program and come to us if you want those goods.  Instead, we must enter into real relationships with them and identify with them in true ways if we ever hope to invite them to know Christ. 

Beyond this, the church must turn its gaze toward this incarnational stance; we must not stand apart from our culture or neighborhoods but must become enmeshed in them.  “Jesus moved into the neighborhoods; he experienced its life, its rhythms, and its people from the inside and not as an outsider” (39)—we must also do this if we hope to do the work God has called us to.

The graphs on page 41 sum up the difference between attractional and incarnational: the mission mode and impulse in the attractional model is inward, seeking to get people to “come to church,” while the mission mode and impulse in the incarnational model is outward, seeking to go and share life with the communities of which we are a part.  Through this shared life we can invite our friends to join us in the journey of following Christ. 

Frost and Hirsch say: “We believe that the web of relationships, friendships, and acquaintances that Christians normally have makes up the net into which not-yet Christians will swim.  We believe the missional-incarnational church will spend more time on building friendships than it will on developing religious programs” (44).  This is a beautiful challenge to me, and a needed one.  We need to regain (as individual followers of Christ who are a part of his body, the community, the church) our focus on relationships with others, in the process sacrificing some of our focus on programs and planning and productivity.

One more thought and then I'll stop.  The authors provide a very powerful discussion about the way we view the Church and the world, ourselves and our neighbors.  They express that for too long Christians have bought into a faulty way of thinking, which they refer to as the "fence" mentality.  In other words, those who follow Jesus are "in" the fence, and those who do not are "out" of the fence.  This in/out, us/them mentality has led directly to the institutionalization of the church, to viewing the body of Christ as something you can become a member of, a sort of social club.  Rather, we ought to view the journey of faith in terms of a "well."  Jesus is the well, and there are no fences.  Some are close to the well, connected with Christ on an intimate basis, and some are far from the well.  But all are on the journey, and it is our role as Christians, as the Church, to draw those who are far from the well toward it.  We are missionaries, going to all who are far from the well (not-yet-Christians, rather than "unbelievers" or "non-Christians") and inviting them to know Christ.  We are not an institution, waiting for those who are "out" to come to the source and get the goods...

I again invite you to buy this book and read it.  At the very least, it is challenging and insightful.  If you have thoughts about the book or about what I've written here, I'd love to hear your thoughts...


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