I think our intellectual egos are the greatest barrier to the Missional movement right now. To quote Dallas Willard, we are all educated way beyond our obedience. We read a book or go to a conference, hear and idea, get an intellectual high off it (literally) and then go home thinking because we connected to a concept that we are changed. This is not how transformation happens and it is a very dangerous practice, cognitively speaking.Read More
For a long time I believed the “missional conversation” was universally understood as intrinsically theological. No doubt this was due to the fact that I encountered the conversation in a seminary context and projected that encounter out into the wider Christian world. Sadly, the best missional thought has largely been sequestered to the world of Christian academia, impoverishing the Church. Much more thought needs to be given to appropriate strategies for helping church leaders transformationally encounter and appropriate the insights of missional thinking and practice.Read More
In this 5-on-5 series, we've asked 5 missional thinkers and practitioners 5 questions about the state of the Missional movement. Part 3 is today, and here is the question we posed:
How are things unfolding in the Western Church differently than you anticipated?
Part 3: Things unfolding differently than anticipated:
Alan Hirsch, 100M:Actually I am amazed at the adoption of missional ideas in the last decade or so. Our very best leaders and thinkers now assume its correctness. The problem is that for many who fail to truly grapple with the implications of it, it will turn out to be another church fad. The problem with this is that the Western church has no Plan B. We cannot go back to either traditional church liturgy or church growth theory to solve our problems. In fact they might turn out to be part of the problem. We are overly attached to outmoded forms of the church.
David Bailey, Arrabon:I believe it was Tim Keller who said, “Whenever we make a good thing a great thing, we've made an idol." Within the American Church, the good thing of being able to vote for our president and other elected officials has become a greatest thing in many cases, so many of us in the American Church have made some significant compromising sacrifices at the alter of politics. This has caused a generational divide and rupture within evangelicalism. I think there are a lot of Boomers and older folks that don’t even realize what has happened. I didn’t see that coming so soon and I’m discerning what’s next.
Jessie Cruickshank, 100M:I guess I expected there to be a bit more urgency from church or denominational leaders at this point. From long-term financial viability, to the incredible leadership gap in pastors rushing down upon us, to the significant aging of our congregation. to the increasing number of people in our country who have never heard the gospel, there are many continuing trends that are flashing red lights saying how we do 'church,' how we think about discipleship, and how we think about leadership needs to change. There are organizations and denominations responding to the present and coming reality, but I continue to be amazed at how few thought leaders, conferences, or conversations discuss these realities. I thought by now there would be more urgency in the Western Church.
JR Rozko, Missio Alliance:Honestly, my first reaction to this question is simply, “We’re a lot worse off than I ever thought.” It seems that nearly every day brings a new sense of awareness of just how thoroughly the mainstream, Protestant Church lacks the resources and integrity to contend with the issues, pressures, and challenges of our day. The election of Donald Trump (I’d be saying the same thing with a different slant if Clinton has been elected) has been massively revealing about the sad state of evangelical Christianity in the US on a number of fronts (race, religious pluralism, gender & sexuality… just to name a few). In light of all we’re seeing, I would have expected greater expressions of “soul searching,” openness, and outright repentance on the part of the Christian community. Sadly, we are seeing far more polarization, ideological entrenchment, and castigation of “the other.”
Neil Cole, 100M:Our voice was heard and then stolen by non-practicing celebrities that redefined the words to suit their status and identity. In a sense, one of the worst things to happen to us is that we became successful at getting the message out, but the message sold better than any true practice.
Part 4 of this 5-on-5 series will post on Monday of next week and will explore this question: "What’s one thing you think you’ve been wrong about or missed as it relates to ‘Missional'?
In this 5-on-5 series, we've asked 5 missional thinkers and practitioners 5 questions about the state of the Missional movement. Part 2 is today, and here is the question we posed:
You’ve been a key voice in this conversation and, I’d argue, really important to the shaping of the future of the Western Church. If you had to choose the idea you’ve added that’s the most important for the church at large, what would it be and why?
Part 2: One big idea and why:
Alan Hirsch, 100M:I would say that what I have contributed is perhaps threefold: firstly in helping to land some of the more technical and heady missiology in the average church and so spark the actual grassroots missional movement. The other is in showing that the movement form is the quintessential missional expression and that the future of Western Christianity depends largely on whether we can recover it or not. The third is to show how Eph.4:1-16 (APEST/Fivefold) ministry is critical to the health and impact of the church.
David Bailey, Arrabon:I would say, applying cross-cultural engagement and contextualization skills within a local domestic context. Prior to the missional movement, most of the innovative thinking in cross-cultural engagement and contextualization was happening in an international missions context. The attractional church growth movement adapted Dr. McGavran’s homogenous unit principle to contextualize an experience that would lead to rapid church growth. The missional movement responded to to that and thought about contextualizing the gospel incarnationally within their community, but in most cases, they didn’t cross the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic barriers that exist within every community. My work has been helping people to keep on pressing towards that important Kingdom calling.
Jessie Cruickshank, 100M:Perhaps two things: First, we can't really understand the bride without the feminine voice. I don't think many men know what is means or feels like to be a bride. I do, and there is not small amount of revelation in that understanding. Sons and Brides: we need each other to know who we are called to be. The second is an understanding of how we learn. God created us with specific pathways for transformation. As teachers or disciple-makers, many of our practices are centered around what is convenient for us but work specifically against the biology of the mind and how God made us. If we submit to God's design, we can be vastly more effective.
JR Rozko, Missio Alliance:At 37, I like to think that I am still on the younger side of things in this conversation, so anything that I might contribute a) is primarily me standing on the shoulders of others and b) will have to be vetted by the test of time. That being said, if pressed, I’d say that I've sought to contribute a "theological idea" as well as an "embodied idea." The theological idea is that our loss of a missional understanding of God and the church has severed how we understand the relationship between salvation and discipleship. I have sought to show how a missional theology helps to rejoin them and how a missional ecclesiology would embody this radical alternative. I'd also point to Missio Alliance as an “embodied idea" related to advancing the "missional movement." Coming together in 2012, this initiative is creating a "space" for Christian institutions, churches, and leaders across the spectrum of Christian traditions to connect, partner, and learn from one another predicated on a common desire to explore faithfulness in God's mission beyond Christendom.
Neil Cole, 100M:Making the reproduction of disciples a central mission of the church, and showing them how it can be done by everyone. Getting the church out into the marketplace and out of the meeting space. Setting the tone for multiplication movements. Questioning of practices that take the church away from her true intent and calling. Elevating the priesthood of all believers and subsequently questioning the clergy status and professional ceiling of ministry.
Part 3 of this 5-on-5 series will post on Monday of next week and will explore this question: "How are things unfolding in the Western Church differently than you anticipated?"
In this 5-on-5 series, we've asked 5 missional thinkers and practitioners 5 questions about the state of the Missional movement. Part 1 is today, and here is the question we posed:
I guess you can debate the real “start” of the Missional movement in the Western Church. But let’s say it started roughly 15-20 years ago. What do you think is the biggest positive change that’s happened in that time as a result of the Missional shift?
Part 1: Biggest positive change as result of the missional shift:
Alan Hirsch, 100M:Yeah, the discipline of missional theology traces back to the early 20th Century, but the movement to apply its insights to our understanding of the church and how we engage in society is a much more recent affair. I am always amazed that for so long the church had managed to factor it out of its thinking. The biggest change is that we can now no longer think of church, theology, discipleship without having to take into account the mission of God in and through Jesus and our ongoing responsibility to participate in it.
David Bailey, Arrabon:When I talk about the “missional movement”, it’s important to make a distinction between the white evangelical Christian community and Christian communities of Color. What’s considered the “missional movement” is an awakening within white evangelical churches to see mission within their community and not only in an international context. In the African-American and Immigrant church communities, not being missional historically was never an option. Loving God and your local neighbor has been inseparable in these traditions. It’s good to see God awakening this in idea in the majority white evangelical church.
Jessie Cruickshank, 100M:I love that we are looking much more at the bible for our understanding of who the church is and what she looks like (practices, etc). The conversation about who God created the church to be is much more ubiquitous and that is great progress. Change starts by asking better questions.
JR Rozko, Missio Alliance: From where I sit, the most positive change that the missional conversation has brought about is the introduction of missional theology to a wider (more mainstream) group of Christian leaders, especially pastors. This actually represents a two-fold shift. The first shift is the (re)prioritization of theology as vital to the task of faithful church leadership. The missional conversation has helped us to see that faithfulness in our day is not merely a matter of adjusting our techniques and strategies to accommodate new cultural trends, but revisiting some of our most fundamental theological assumptions. The second shift is the (re)centering of missiology as the basis of how we do theology in the first place and how to employ theology in the life of the Church for the sake of the world.
Neil Cole, 100M: Church has questioned its true purpose and intent and aligned more with a healthy DNA (at least in word) since I started working. Church planting has increased. Talk of multiplication has increased. Discussion of disciple-making has raised.
Part 2 of this 5-on-5 series will post later this week and will explore this question: "You’ve been a key voice in this conversation and, I’d argue, really important to the shaping of the future of the Western Church. If you had to choose the idea you’ve added that’s the most important for the church at large, what would it be and why?"
By Neil Cole Imagine you are a character in an original series Star Trek episode on some strange magical planet and you are captured for the entertainment of the gods who inhabit the planet. You will fight like a gladiator against a wild beast. You may choose your weapon: a machine gun or a bazooka. You can also choose your foe: An angry mutant grizzly bear twice the normal size or an ordinary swarm of agitated killer bees. What choices do you make?
Even though the fierce bear may be terrifying in appearance and a single bee may seem small and insignificant (sans allergies), a swarm of bees is something you cannot stop with such weapons. The choice should be an easy one. [Note: no animals were hurt or injured in the writing of this blog post. This is only an analogy to make a point about vulnerability. I do not need any comments from animal rights groups because I would never shoot a bear with either a bazooka or an automatic weapon, and if I shot a swarm of bees with either I would not likely hurt or injure a single bee. Point made.]
I do not think persecution is so far off. What would it take? Not much. I believe the pieces are already on the board and being pushed into play. Truthfully, however, I think most churches can be taken out before any persecution ever occurs.
The large churches in the West are far more vulnerable than most care to admit. With the rapid rise of the mega church we have been watching the church become more centralized, more expensive, more personality-driven and consumer-oriented. In fact with the closure of so many smaller churches and their people being assimilated into the larger ones, we have actually concentrated all our people, resources and ideas into a few large targets rather than many smaller autonomous ones. We have also seen that the church is more dependent upon a single charismatic leader. Take him/her out (or compromise this person) and the whole church suffers greatly. We are regularly seeing some of these large “successful” churches struggle after the departure of their dynamic leader. It’s becoming a weekly occurrence.
For the sake of discussion let me simply map out a few feasible steps that would permanently alter church as we have known it. In fact, it wouldn’t take persecution to close many churches down, just a few legal changes that are likely already being considered.
If the following benefits were revoked many churches would close: the tax deduction for contributions, property tax exemptions and the parsonage allowance. I say this because the way we do church is so expensive that we rely upon these special privileges to survive. This is especially true in a struggling economy where our government is looking for ways to reduce its deficit and increase tax revenue to provide more services for its constituents––services, by the way, that churches no longer supply to the community.
If you are a leader of a church, as you read this I suggest that that you ask yourself how your church would survive if these three tax benefits were revoked. That is far better than to simply write off what I am saying by telling yourself this could never happen. Crunch the numbers. Do the math. It will be scary but may lead to some good sound steps to be better prepared.
Removing the Parsonage Allowance
Few ordinary citizens know about this special perk that pastors get. I have enjoyed this benefit and to be honest, I don't even know why it is afforded to me. All money spent on housing (rent/mortgage, utilities, furniture, home improvements/repairs/upkeep/supplies) can be taken off the salary of a paid church leader even up to the entire amount they are paid in salary. I actually feel like I am betraying our “special club” for even speaking of it publicly...like I might jinx it. Add to that the fact that church leaders are able to opt out of social security and you can easily see how pastors are able to get by on much less than the rest. If you don't think churches rely upon this your head is in the sand.
A pastoral staff can literally double with this benefit allowing a church to maintain a professional staff twice the size that it can actually afford. There are not many churches in the West that feel like they have more staff than they need. Most churches have far more ministry than they have leaders. The more a church relies upon professional staff the more vulnerable it is.
Removing Property Tax Exemption
What would happen if our churches were forced to pay taxes on their property? This would push most churches over the edge of viability, at least in their current form––especially if the other perks mentioned above were also removed.
Most cities are already openly hostile to churches and trying to prevent them from acquiring property because there is no income from these organizations. I cannot imagine that the city of Houston isn't glaring at Lakewood Church's $32 million/yr income and wondering what the property taxes should be. The Houston Rockets used the same space more often during the week and paid their fair share. This is how the world sees our special perks. Most city officials see the local Denny’s as more beneficial to the community than the local church. Why? Because the restaurant provides meals, jobs and taxes. The local church usually provides none of those things. No wonder there is an unapologetic hostility toward churches looking to purchase property increasing in neighborhoods across the US.
Removing Tax Deductions for Contributions
If people could no longer write off their contributions to churches I am sure that many churches would see their annual income drop severely. I would like to think it isn't so, but why else is it that we count on larger gifts at the end of the year? It’s because we know people are looking for a tax benefit. Granted, this is likely the last perk to be removed because so many other non-profits benefit from this.
How Will the Church Respond?
We already have earned a reputation of being intolerant in our society. Evangelical and fundamental expressions of Christianity that are too closely tied to the Tea Party and Republican agendas have consistently decried those who have what we call “special entitlements.” This will set us up for public mockery...something we should be used to by now. When these laws take our own entitlements away and we are found complaining louder than all others, our reputation as hypocrites will be confirmed in the eyes of the world and will only expedite passage of these laws.
It’s a simple scenario and as you can see it is not only possible, but there is movement to already enact some of these plans. Are your churches getting ready?
Like the Russian church prior to communism, our churches are dependent upon holy buildings (remove property tax exemption) and holy men (remove parsonage allowance) that perform holy practices in those buildings (remove tax deductible donations). Our vulnerability is quite obvious. These three areas of dependence will kill us. We must decrease our dependence upon buildings, budgets and big shots. We must also respond to our society with love rather than with lobbying for self-interested legislature.
Church leaders need to be considering these possibilities and take steps to be prepared. I firmly believe that the more we move toward an incarnational, missional and movemental expression of ecclesia the better prepared we will be. We must be aware of our vulnerabilities and shift toward a form of church that is less easily destroyed. We must adopt more of a swarm mentality to survive and thrive in the coming days. Then no weapon fashioned against us will be able to stop us.
By Neil Cole I’m often asked if I feel that our organic church movement has accomplished all that I had hoped. The answer is no. We are not the movement that I hoped for… yet. But that is partly because I have always felt that what we were doing was preparing the church for what is coming: persecution. I see our work as sowing seeds for a future harvest, and I believe that future is getting closer every day. Am I some fringe conspiracy theorist? I don’t think so, but I’m not impartial on the question. In all of history, the freedom we have experienced in our lifetime is actually an anomaly. The Bible makes clear that those who follow Christ will be hated and will endure persecution. I suspect there is good reason for my thinking, but if I am wrong and persecution doesn’t come, I have not lost anything. But if it does and we are unprepared then we have lost much. We have this generation to make a difference in and will give account of what we did with the time given to us. I feel called to prepare God’s people for a future that is less open and free, but far more fruitful.
One of the heroes of my faith is Watchman Nee. God used him (and others like him) to prepare the church in China before the Communist revolution took over. He launched the “Little Flock” movement, which was a radical departure from the Western church model that had been planted in China prior. It was smaller, simpler in structure, inexpensive and indigenous. The churches met in smaller gatherings in homes led by ordinary people with real jobs. He brought the same sort of preparation that I have been devoted to enacting.
When the communists took power they arrested the church leaders (like Nee), seized all church property, kicked out all missionaries and burned all Christian literature. The indigenous expressions of simple churches meeting in homes not only survived…they thrived. The Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong sought to eliminate all religion from society in China, but instead mobilized the church and it grew from about 2 million Christians in 1949 to over 60 million. It is estimated today that there may be upwards of 80 million Christians in China.
Contrast this with the church of Russia. The Russian Church was dependent upon three things: holy buildings, holy men in robes, and holy services performed by those men in those robes and in those buildings. When the communists took over Russia, they seized all the buildings and arrested, or compromised, all the leaders of the church. The church was devastated. It did not thrive. Granted, there was a remnant that struggled to survive underground, but the Christ followers were not able to see the exponential growth the Chinese church did.
I carry deep inside a feeling that everything I have been about for the past 20 years is just preparing the bride of Christ for what is to come. In fact, 100movements is birthed to prepare God’s church for what is to come. Like Nee, we have been striving to bring health and simplicity back to the church, and with that an ability to ride out any storm that may come.
In the next week I will post a few ideas on this blog about how vulnerable our churches are to persecution and what I think may take place in the next couple years to expose those vulnerabilities.
 Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006, p. 19
 Philip Yancey, “Discreet and Dynamic: Why, with No Apparent Resources, Chinese Churches Thrive,” Christianity Today, July 2004, p. 72