Havel, the VJ Revolution and A Little More Missional Shampoo

kinnon —  October 24, 2007 — 12 Comments

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
HavelIn 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

RosenblumI’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

MissionalshampooonwhiteSo. Where does Missional Shampoo fit into this discussion. (Note that I previously blogged Missional Shampoo here and here.)

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.

UPDATE: Good discussion in the comments section. John Santic, who comments here, also writes a very good post, triggered by this one:
Discernment – A Missional Imperative.

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kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

12 responses to Havel, the VJ Revolution and A Little More Missional Shampoo

  1. Wow, Bill…I don’t have time to respond fully here, but I am right on the page with most of what you’re saying…especially about Aslan being on the move…and that some folks should be afraid–he has very sharp claws! I’m thinking about Aravis and Bree, particularly….

    Reply
  2. Wow, Bill…I don’t have time to respond fully here, but I am right on the page with most of what you’re saying…especially about Aslan being on the move…and that some folks should be afraid–he has very sharp claws! I’m thinking about Aravis and Bree, particularly….

    Reply
  3. Wow, Bill…I don’t have time to respond fully here, but I am right on the page with most of what you’re saying…especially about Aslan being on the move…and that some folks should be afraid–he has very sharp claws! I’m thinking about Aravis and Bree, particularly….

    Reply
  4. Wow, Bill…I don’t have time to respond fully here, but I am right on the page with most of what you’re saying…especially about Aslan being on the move…and that some folks should be afraid–he has very sharp claws! I’m thinking about Aravis and Bree, particularly….

    Reply
  5. Bill,

    I agree with you completely that the system of evangelicalism is broken. I also believe that God is doing a new thing.

    But – I think God is a lot more patient than we are. While God can raise up new structures and forms, I think he can also bring about radical change in the deepest of levels within existing systems as well. Whether or not he does may yet to be seen, but I do see hopeful signs.

    I celebrate the new – even while I hope that we are looking at real change, not just the same old in new clothing. But I still cling to hope that God can make existing systems “missional” without it simply being a label slapped on.

    By the way, working through Judges lately has been really helpful for me. You end up with a very pessimistic view of people, as well as amazement that God was so patient. There’s no reason why he should have put up with them so long. As someone’s said, Judges is one of the most relevant of books for a church that has become Canaanized (just like the surrounding culture). Maybe there’s hope for the church today.

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  6. As always, I like your insights though I may not agree with them all.

    Yesterday, I commented on Maynard’s blog:

    “If the mission of God can only be owned by one group of people, based on culture, music, meeting location, size of church, denomination, or race, than it is not really God’s mission—- it is ours.

    Yesterday, I was speaking to a group of mainline denominational leaders in St. Louis… and I encouraged them to engage their communities with the unchanging message of the Gospel…

    One of the basic premises of the missional church is that we join God in His mission. Doing that will take all kinds of groups and all kinds of churches—- it is a big mission and it calls for a broad commitment from all kinds of churches.”

    So, I choose not to give up on the vast majority of churches. But, I think God is also calling some to create new systems and communities– and I encourage you to be boldly biblical as you search out a new vision for church and community.

    I’m with you– Aslan is on the move. But, I just don’t think that He has been absent from the scene for 2000 years. And, I want to encourage people in all kinds of settings to be on mission…

    Will they all? Probably not. Will some? I hope. I see more and more asking the hard questions and recommitting to God’s mission.

    Anyway, press on in what you are doing and let’s both keep encouraging people to press on into God’s agenda.

    Ed

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  7. Bill, I appreciate your fair and perceptive assessment of the situation. You do a particularly good job of expressing the ethos of what is inherent in postmodern thought and happening all over in response to the authoritarian, top-down, paternalistic, system that has caused a disturbance in the ecclesial force (or in the hearts of God’s prophets and poets).

    I like the Havel story and have heard Alan tell it before – it echoes the discontentment with the framing stories of Jesus’ time, and our own. In my guts I just want to shake off the marriage of the Kingdom with Western values powered by progress, control, marketing etc…and embrace the openhanded trust necessary to partake in our FREE God’s movement of redemption. One sees the prospects of the Kingdom and the natural response to such uncertainty and wild trust in a God we can’t control or manage becomes a root of extreme anxiety for those of us currently living in the Western narrative.

    Should we expect churches do anything other than domesticate & co-opt the term “Missional” with Western values, given the cost of the type of discipleship the Kingdom demands?

    the tension

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  8. The Cluetrain Church is emerging. It doesn’t have a label to it. It is hidden. It is alive. And it is relational. It isn’t programed, marketed or systematized. Evangelicalism was born in a particular time and cultural context. And will fade as that context changes, as it already is.
    I spent the day with a group of Presbyterian pastors who are involved in university campus ministries. All we talked about was their missional focus. One of the campus ministers shared her work of taking students to Guatamala. She said that hardest thing to do is get them out of the task oriented, fix it and save them mindset. So, they divide their time between service, education and worship. Maybe this is the model for the future church.
    Don’t stop, Bill. Great thoughts.

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  9. “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.”

    Painful, but very true… I have been living in a former Soviet country (Ukraine) for the past two years, and this experience has shown me the truth of your statement. Unfortunately, it’s not only the North American system of evangelicalism that suffers from this affliction.

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  10. Thanks Bill for your perceptive insights. Excellent. May we stand together outside the system and trust that God is doing something new for strangers.

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  11. Larry Chouinard October 25, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    Thanks Bill — I too have my doubts that the modern expression of institutional church can shift their driving paradigms from an attractional model to a missional model. The very notion spells the end to the mega-model. Perhaps the best they can do is support indigenous movements that don’t have to reproduce or look like the mother ship.
    Bottom line is we need new wineskins with the elasticity for adaptation, not the old wineskins that will enevitably burst and make a mess of things. But let’s face it, and this may seem harsh, if you’re going to make a living with the missional brush, you’ve got to convince the megas and the traditional churches that adding a missional tint will only enhance their reputation as cutting edge. So in the end it’s still about sustaining the local church and enhancing its image. You simply cannot put new wine in old wineskins.

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  12. Bill, I’ve been reviewing some of the various Seabecker participants’ posts, and came across yours on Havel, missional, et al and etc., again.

    On the interrelated topics of “making do” and no longer believing in the story of the modernal-institutional-hierarchical-etceteral church … I recalled an example of “making do” from the former Soviet Union. Two main newspapers from early on in the Soviet period were Pravda (The Truth) and Izvestia (The News). One of the samizdat scribbles and with-friends whisperings that made the rounds said, “There is no pravda in Izvestia, and no izvestia in Pravda.”

    Aren’t we who are critiquing the existing order – whether we identify with missional, emerging, emergent, postmodern ministry, any of the above, all of the above, none of the above – similarly saying, “The Emperor has no clothes”?

    Sad to say, in the ways we have often used the terms in American churchianity, in reality … There is no missional in *missionary,* and there is no Kingdom in *christendom.*

    We need to ensure there is truth in our terms, or come to terms with our “truth.”

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What do you think?