I met with some pastors a few weeks ago to see if I could help their congregations begin the titanic turn towards missional. I’m not sure if I was a little too tired or what, but I found myself irritated and a tad ornery within the first hour. I apologized for my attitude but then proceeded to identify why I was getting a minor headache from our meeting. These well meaning leaders seemed to be fishing for the “big catalytic innovation” that would “unleash a movement”; meanwhile the ordinariness of a communal/missional shaped lifestyle was seemingly unimpressive to them. These pastors humored my crankiness and I eventually warmed up to their eager questions.
I’ve never been more convinced that
it’s the ordinary stuff that we fumble because our eyes are darting elsewhere. The most ground-breaking missional excavating is in the unattractive
details of our rhythmic ongoing lives. Addressing these details will bring about a collision with the primordial-ordinary ways we need
to recover dwelling in our communities. I won't get into what those specific ordinary rhythms are (I have in past posts). I'd like to point out, sorry it might come across a little preachy, some observations that I sense are lingering underneath the surface. These issues threaten to make the dynamic of "ordinariness" uninteresting.
One of my frustrations is the knee-jerk thinking “how are we going to spin
this to create excitement in our congregation”. We are bit too tickled and
consumed with making our mark. We could benefit from
losing some interest in ourselves. Under the mantra of "casting a vision" we begin to push buttons to manipulate corporate energy. When we lean into “being missional” it should not be attached to larger presentations. This bent deludes the authenticity demanded of us in Post-Christendom. It also
perpetuates the obsession with landscaping while neglecting the major shifts occurring on a plate-tectonic level. We need patience to wrestle first with what’s going on in the backroom before mocking up the display window. Image management creates "cool" churches
with poser sensibilities. These sensibilities smell of self-importance to
those not yet convinced of Jesus. Swaths of churchy-stuff has been paraded in public which inadvertently has eroded
relational credibility on the street. Our grand language
should lag way, way behind our action. American life can feel like an insane
asylum pulsating with noise, technology, information, and competition. The
church does not need to add to that sub-static buzz.
We all have the tendency to let
our talk outpace our practice. It takes discipline to move beyond the viral
chatter we participate in. Sometimes the missional conversation is reminiscent of my time in youth ministry when I'd eavesdropped on a pack of Jr High boys
talking like they were Casanova’s. The Missional conversation is in jeopardy
of merely hovering at pontificating status. We need integrity in our speech. Integrity is forged in
testing. The best diagnostics and valuable conversations are squeezed out of real-time
practices that have survived the harsh elements. In my own trembling faith plunge, Missional
Ordinariness has taken me to task, tempered my adolescent exuberance
and caused me to “bring it down on a notch” when speaking about how dynamic
missional living can be. Over the years a more weathered passion has formed in
my gut from the trial of submitting my ideas to a flesh-and-bone community.
A good half of my ideas were half-baked and blinded by idealism. For example,
I’ve been part of the multicultural conversation for years, advocating
for racial reconciliation, but it is one thing to be passionate about an issue
like a “diverse church” and another reality to build solidarity in trust-soaked,
diverse friendships. The same ethic goes for “Justice”, instead of trying to
drum up a Justice initiative that makes large sweeping projections, instead,
loyally and quietly, immerse in a couple relationships with impoverished people around you. This ethic again goes for "community", stop wishing the people you've connected with online were your "community" and dive deeply into a spiritual family for hell-or-high-water. It's honorable to want to “save the city” but it's humbled by learning to “love your neighbor”.
The word “impact”
has connotations of a meteor slamming into a region, leaving a massive hole
behind. Instead redefine success around sustainability. Don’t turn missional into a
program, a weekend city event with a magnetic slogan or a sermon series to get
things moving. Resist the urge. This is Pseudo-activity and is only cosmetic. I
relate with an imagination that longs to be part of something significant but
I’ve observed how our dreams cause us to brush off the most essential ordinary
habits needed. It takes a certain measure of rebellion to fight off the
undertow to fabricate energy. When we claw for self-importance outside
localized community our fragile egos are exposed. Pursue self-awareness: Are we emotionally detached from our neighborhood? At this precipice
in history, earthy traction will come from seedling communities that
inhabit with a rooted, open-handed, sacrificial, unassuming presence in the wake of Jesus, the Servant King. Missional is not a four lane
paved highway rather it's an overgrown dirt path forward. There is no
missional fast track and there shouldn’t be one. It’s not a martyr syndrome I'm advocating, just a marginal one.
It's not pragmatic to shoot for ordinary. We've been lulled into thinking extraordinary is where the real world-changing happens. I contend that the West is fried over on ambition; tantalized into comatose. What beckons us now is a supernatural, subversive ordinary; one where the mustard seed offers us a template for the everyday. Call out those little thieves that come to steal away your enjoyment of missional ordinariness. Embrace the ordinary way of being in
16 May 2013
01 May 2013
As a missional practioner, I am always looking for help, real help. Pioneering communities in a very Post-Christian context is a daunting task. What I'm not looking for is the commodity of Missional. So I was deeply delighted to discover that this book was anything but a "product". Prodigal Christianity by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw is saturated in their tangible work of forging ahead and beyond the exhausted conservative, liberal, and even emergent brands of Christianity.
In this context where old lines are blurred and new challenges are being posed, its hard to orient your whereabouts. I continually ask these questions on my search “Has anyone else been here before?” “Can this be done?” “Is there a way forward?”. Prodigal Christianity seems to be listening in on my haunting questions and humbly submits keen responses. At the heart of Prodigal Christianity is a deep wrestling with how to be the missional presence of Jesus as the last vestiges of Christendom's influence crumble. This is no easy task and David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw do not give simple steps. Instead they give signposts that are drenched in their own pastoral practice. These signposts point beyond worn paths and attempt to contour a new one. Even though there is a freshness to their “Signposts” the authors do not claim to have discovered the next new thing. Hovering over this book are their gleanings from the Anabaptist expression. These are crazy times and much of the political polarization and religious institutionalism we now face are not all together new. Sometimes we need to dig deep into our past to make out the future. I don’t want to get all epic on you but this book potentially could be considered a Missional-Anabaptist Magnum Opus, if there is such a possibility.
On the outset what I love the most about this work is it’s accessibility. In many ways I sense the missional conversation is a bit bottle-necked by its desire for academic credibility. Prodigal Christianity is not academically weak by any stretch but it is certainly written to move us beyond the ruminating space of our minds. The book feels like you're walking through the streets of a Post-Christian city and along the way you begin to gather up all kinds of contextual questions. Fitch and Holsclaw gradually assemble Ten Signposts to cause us to pause, look around, discern, converse and then step into the future. Those Ten signposts are: Post-Christendom, Missio Dei, Incarnation, Witness, Scripture, Gospel, Church, Sexuality, Justice and the Good News. For as systematic as the table of contents appear, the book reads like an engaging conversation through this strange new world.
The New World
Post-Christianity is the best place to start when talking about the missional frontier. Much has been pontificated on about Post-Christendom, but in the introduction and first chapter Post-Christendom is explored through the lens of their own journeys as missionary pastors in the West. This is important. Post-Christianity is felt. It is not just a study of social anthropology. Something is very different on the ground. When I speak of Post-Christendom I often get “yeah whatever” but when I talk about how it smashes up against my real ongoing life people begin to say “hey I’ve felt that too”. Fitch and Holsclaw do not take a combative approach to the reality that “God is fading in the social conscience”. They apply a gracious discipline to navigating through the clutter. Some of the primary clutter is the shrapnel from the neo-reformed/conservative movement and the emergent/progressive/postmodern movement. This takes serious carefulness to address these passionate tribes. It is unavoidable, but along the way they do step on some landmines. Opening up the comparisons and labels however, is necessary for understanding the story we are in. My own journey through these encampments was foundational for picking up needed items but eventually I realized they were not substantial enough for me to live on. Prodigal Christianity provides a template for a more nourishing means beyond.
My favorite signpost out of the ten is the Missio Dei. I personally bump into the sentiments in this chapter the most regularly. Fitch and Holsclaw push to the surface the lack of consensus on what the word god means. They do not ignore that the air is thick with communication that "God seems to repress intellectual growth and that God has been used to guilt people into medieval moralism". They are sympathetic to these thoughts. As is the rhythm of every chapter, they explore what the more conservative responses have been, then the more progressive responses and then they work through a more discerning remedy that moves beyond the left or the right.
I could certainty do a blog-post on each signpost in Prodigal Christianity which would make David Fitch and Geoff Holscaw very happy, but I won’t because I get bored easily. Anyhow this book is a gentle but searing way forward for those who love the church. For those who have experienced discomfort with the fundamentalism projected from both conservatives and progressives, this book will draw you in. When facing pluralism, our poverty stricken neighborhoods, the political heat of sexuality we need to find some sense of bearings in our missional immersion. Don’t be fooled, this Prodigal way is not a four lane highway. Over the years I’ve known it to be marginal and full of tension. Working my way through the book, for as breath-taking as it is at points, it also feels a bit frightening. Frightening in the sense of; who on earth wants to be misunderstood so violently as they move past entrenched Liberalism and Conservatism? That's why I think the authors are onto something significant.
We need to be rigorous about gathering discernment as we inhabit our neighborhoods. One of the treasured items I would toss into my backpack would be Prodigal Christianity. In many conversations, pastors ask me for a book that describes the Missional-Anabaptist expression. Well, I’ve already handed out a few copies so I think I found my answer.
Purchase the book here> Prodigal Christianity