This post may offend. It’s not my intent, and I have held if for a couple of days before publishing it. (And added new material and re-edited, today.)
Missional – What exactly does it mean?
I’ve been struggling with the number of different interpretations of the word “missional” – and my sense that a number of good people want to write the definitive definition. It’s almost to the point that I would rather use the phrase, mission-shaped, rather than the word missional as the understanding of that word seems to become murkier and murkier.
Let me begin with a couple of stories that are helping me make sense of where we are in the missional conversation. The stories may seem a little odd at first.
The Walls Come Tumbling Down
In the interview that Al Roxburgh did with Brian McLaren about Brian’s new book, Everything Must Change, Alan talks about Vaclav Havel. (Note that this part of the interview won’t be up at Allelon ’til mid-November.)
As Al tell’s the story, Havel, in a conversation with American leaders, did not agree with their view that Ronald Reagan and his crew were responsible for the fall of Communism. The fall was for a lot more complex reasons than the power of the American Empire.
Havel described how there was no sense in Czechoslovakia in the sixties and sevenites that Communism would ever collapse. People had been born into it – it was the narrative within which they lived. But that system began to first change and then crumble as poets and artists began to write and paint a different narrative – in two and three line stories that were hand passed from person to person – or painted on subway walls. They were creating a new narrative – of freedom.
Who Tells the Stories
I’m a regular reader of Michael Rosenblum; considered by many to be the primary proselytizer of the VJ Revolution. (VJ as in Video Journalist.)
In Rosenblum’s latest blog post, The Ministry of Truth (adorned by an ironic picture of Lenin) he talks about the dawning of a truly free press – rather than the one we were led to believe we had. (Note I’ve changed his formatting for ease of reading – it’s a little less poetic, so please read the entire post at his site.)
We have not had a ‘free press’ until now. CBS v. ABC; Matt Lauer v. Dianne Sawyer is NOT a free press.
Up until now, we have had a very Soviet Press. It was controlled. Not by the state, but rather by a handful of paternalistic media corporations who we ‘trusted’ to make sure everything was ‘OK’.
Well, of course, for more than 40 years, it has very much not been OK.
The disaster in Iraq, (which I lay to a great extent at the feet of a passive media), is the result.
The very idea of turning the most powerful informational medium in the world over to Katie Couric, Brian Williams and a handful of network execs’ to entrust to them (the) content of our information and public discourse on a regular basis carries the seeds of cultural suicide.
Now, for the first time, we are at the precipice of a real Free Press. And you know what? Free presses are messy. They are supposed to be. We’re going to have a thousand voices saying a thousand different things. Good. Bring on the storm. We need it.
We have lived in the Soviet News World for far too long.
I read strong echos of the Cluetrain Manifesto in what Michael is saying.
A Little More Missional Shampoo
I’ve been following Ed Stetzer’s blog for the last couple of months. Ed strikes me as a great guy and as a brother deeply committed to the Kingdom. That being said, I’ve tried to understand why I’ve been uncomfortable with his posts on defining the term “missional” along side his posts on the 100 Fastest Growing Churches in America and his interview with a mega-church pastor who uses the term in a fundamentally different way than the folk I hang with would.
Then this morning Ed points to the Missional Network, from the Southern Baptist’s North American Mission Board. To them, “Missional is the adjective form of the word missionary and has been an approach utilized for decades.” The site features lots of resources – but strangely seems more focussed on the same old same old. Mega-church and church growth programs/worship materials/etc. They’ve just been baptized with the word missional. Check it our for yourself – and feel free to disagree as strongly as you’d like.
What the Havel is going on?
I think Al Roxburgh’s Havel story (which he also told at the Seabeck, Washington Missional Order event) has helped me come to a level of understanding. Many of those folk using (and defining) the word “missional”, work within the present North American system of evangelicalism. They are inside, looking out. They recognize the missional call, but define it from within the system. Their narrative, if you will (and I know how many of you hate the use of the word “narrative”), is defined by their commitment to 20th Century Church Growth strategies and Evangelical Denominationalism. Missional is defined in pragmatic terms (in my opinion) as another way to grow your church by “reaching the lost” – with an honest desire for folk to come to a “saving understanding” of who Christ is.
Brother Maynard and I spent a chunk of time talking about this at Seabeck. I think it is fair to say that both of us find ourselves outside of this “system.” And we don’t see the system as “The Bride of Christ.” (It is rather painful to be told that if you disagree with the present system of evangelicalism then you hate the church and thus hate Christ’s Bride.) It is no secret that I no longer believe in this system’s story – and nor do I believe that this system is sustainable in its present form. (Read the numerous voices in The People Formerly Known as series to get a further sense of this.) I think the Barna Organization’s recent report bares witness to this, as does the recent “confession” on discipleship failure from Willow Creek.
I recognize that it is arrogant to suggest that those of us in our particular missional camp are poets and artists in a similar sense to those in Havel’s story. It may also be painful for many brothers and sisters when I appear to liken the North American system of evangelicalism to a Soviet system – a top-down, paternalistic, leader-driven system that did not believe the people were either capable of thinking for, or taking care of, themselves. The Soviet system was fundamentally evil. I’m not suggesting that present day evangelicalism is similar to it in that vein.
And, I do not believe that those in my particular corner of the missional conversation even remotely have all the answers. But I do believe that many of us are sensing a fundamental shift in the Church and her engagement with the culture. To quote C.S.Lewis, Aslan is on the move. And he’s moving back into the neighbourhood. He’s not causing Christian warehouses to be built to house the faithful. He’s calling the faithful to enter the lives of the people around them. To receive hospitality from them and to be hospitable. (See Luke 10.) He is inviting us to enter into His narrative as He brings hope to the hopeless, life to the dying and love to the loveless.
I just don’t buy that you can slap the word missional on a system – and see that system become mission-shaped. Though I will pray that it does happen.