As someone who helps lead a local church, and as someone who regularly coaches pastors wanting to learn how to lean into this whole 'missional' thing, one of the most frequent questions I hear is, "How do I start a Missional Community?"Read More
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 Doug Paul A few years ago, I wrote a short article called "The Alexander Syndrome" that’s been coming back to my mind a lot lately. In fact...I'm not sure I've ever been more convinced about an argument than I am about this one.
This was the basic premise: At the age of 30, Alexander the Great looked upon his Kingdom and wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer (do yourself a favor and never watch Oliver Stone's film of this. Do yourself an even bigger favor...don't watch the 3 times longer director's cut. You'll thank me later). Back to the point...Using that as the dominant metaphor, in the last 20 years of evangelical culture, we were constantly inundated with stories of 'wildly successful churches', helmed by pastors who are almost surprisingly young (late 20s to early 30s). These stories have slowly seeped their way into the subconscious of many young pastors (myself included), and there is an unspoken pressure that says, “By the time you’re 30, you need to have done something ridiculously significant and made your mark on the world.” As a millennial myself, I feel this deep in my bones, as it is riven into the American mythos as well.
What this can inevitably lead to is a frenetic, stressed way of living for many of these young pastors who find themselves not measuring up and constantly “behind” the curve (at least in their minds).
There are two things in particular that have brought this to mind:
- In the last year, it feels like we might seen more evangelical poster-boys 'fall from grace' than in the last 10 combined. When this is the "curve" people are grading their success on...it screws with the curve. (to say the least)
- A little while ago, Elizabeth and I had the privilege of having 16 people over our house who have all been faithfully serving in local church ministry for 30+ years (some in a full-time capacity, some not). What struck me was not just that they survived, but how energized they are by where we are as a church (East End Fellowship) and where we are going. They've come out on the other side of their roaring 20's, raised kids who love Jesus, and are serving in urban ministry in their 60's, and still have marriages that flourish. And they still ready to go at it. It's astonishing, quite frankly.
So here's what I've been thinking about lately:
What if the most fruitful ministry years are really supposed to be when you’re between the ages of 50-70?
For quite some time, there has been a paradigm that has said a senior leader’s most significant time of ministry would be between the ages of 35-45.
You've probably heard this before.
In a traditional church setting, often the senior leader’s most important contribution is the teaching they give on Sunday morning. Furthermore, within a particular model, a speaker can usually attract people who are 10 years older and 10 years younger. The ages of 35-45 would mean you’re attracting people who are newly married (pre-kids) all the way to empty nesters whose kids have recently gone to college. That means you get couples from their 20s to their late 50s AND all of their kids.
At least that’s the thought.
Now for me, my thoughts have always been fixated on the idea of movements of God. I don’t have anything against traditional church models at all. We see so much of their fruitfulness every day and I've served in several churches that are an incredible expression of God's mission and his enduring faithfulness. But I think most of us would agree that while there are aspects of the Kingdom in the New Testament that have some organized elements (worship gatherings, patterns and practices, etc), many things tended to be far more movemental in their properties than institutional in nature. Ultimately, this led to disciples who made disciples who made disciples who made disciples.
And what did that lead to? A LOT of disciples. Which, through the amazing power of God, has me writing this article and you reading it. We are the beneficiaries of the movemental properties of the New Testament Church.
Now I’ve had the opportunity to study sustainable, meaningful movements. I’ve also had the opportunity to work alongside a few folks God has used to catalyze movements of discipleship and mission (the most significant ones led by people most of us have never heard of).
And here is my question: Can you really lead a meaningful Kingdom movement before the age of 50? You could maybe plant seeds for it. But in terms of leading one, growing one, sustaining one...I wonder if you have to be 50 and older.
Because I wonder if the accrued wisdom needed to lead a multiplying Kingdom expression is simply not possible for someone who is younger. For instance, at least in my opinion, I'm not sure Paul was really contributing to a sustainable Kingdom movement in training and sending out his team until the beginning of Acts 19 in Ephesus. At that point in his life, Paul is probably well over 50. Furthermore, I'm more convinced than ever that Paul saw more sustained breakthrough as a broken down, old man in a prison cell, writing letters and warring in prayer for the young pastors he'd invested so much of his life into. The seeds have been planted, the ground had been watered and the Lord was making the thing grow.
This wasn't sexy work. This wasn't work that many people saw. But it was Paul bearing the most Kingdom fruit of his life.
Through a lot of brokenness, substantial failure and a smidgen of success, I've learned that at the end of the day, Kingdom work has very little do with IQ, smarts, and charismatic gifting. The best strategy and powerful preaching and even hard work is needed, but still incredibly limited. (In fact, I hear that if it can be explained by my own human effort, it's not really Jesus: "Apart from me, you can do nothing.)
The most powerful Kingdom leadership comes from the wisdom of trying at something for more than 30 years, and all the failure that this entails, and all the way that life in the Spirit for this long a time grows someone. This kind of wisdom and leadership come from people whom the Lord has taken through the crucible of long term, sustained faithfulness and all the pain that comes with it, and all the sanctification this produces.
Our culture and our young leaders may gravitate towards overnight success and people finding it at a young age, but these things aren’t reproducible. And sometimes I think God is just gracious that way. Plus...even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.
I’m starting to find certain things incredibly reproducible, and every day, my ability to do them grows…often most powerfully in the midst of my own mis-steps and failure. I expect that will lead to a lot of gained wisdom in the next 20-40 years, right?
I certainly hope so, or my posture as a disciples of Jesus (a learner and the humility that should come with that posture) is all a sham.
I say this as someone who is 35. And to be honest? For me, I find this liberating.
Increasingly, the pressure to perform, achieve, and prove my meager existence outside of Christ wanes. What it does is allow me to simply listen to what God is asking me to do and to constantly reflect on what I’m learning as I respond to what he’s saying…in both success and failure, knowing that the more experience and reflection I have, the more capacity I have to lead faithfully in the future.
This isn’t me trying to skirt responsibility but to process the nature of human development and growth as I’m observing things around me. Can God use someone who is 30 to catalyze and lead a movement of God? Of course he can. He's God and I'm not. But do I think that's his normal pattern as he's concerned more for my character? Probably not.