This post was published in January at Missional Tribe and is a combination of the post I wrote for last summer’s Missional Synchroblog and a part two I wrote here @ kinnon.tv. Things have been a little quiet @ Missional Tribe of late – something that will change in September – at least from me. There will be a number of new videos – plus the completion of the Stetzer/Fitch conversation. (My year has been a little more hectic than anticipated.)
In may of ’08, my wife, Imbi and I spent a number of weeks in the UK shooting a documentary on Fresh Expressions – the mission-shaped church movement that is significantly impacting the Verdant Green Isle. One of the things that struck us was the long view of the people. Theirs wasn’t a “just add hot water and stir” approach to “growing the church”. They had a real understanding that re-establishing the church in a post-Christian nation might well be a Hebrews 11 experience.
We spent a number of days with Pete and Kath Atkins in Lincolnshire. (We could have easily spent weeks with them – gracious hosts that they are.) Pete drove us around the area, introducing us to the new life of the church that is being planted in the towns and villages of rural England. He also shared the incredible Christian history of the region – the reality that expressions of the church have existed in Lincolnshire since the 2nd Century. And that sense of history informs the FX approach to mission-shaped church. They recognize their place in the continuum of time.
Those of us brought up in North America normally often lack a sense of history. We live in the immediate. We expect instant gratification. Fast food, fast cars, high-speed everything – we want to get to the future, now. Our approach to the kingdom reflects this. That is to get as many people to accept a “ticket to heaven” as quickly as possible using the most modern Methods-Time Measurement techniques. If putting on a show will get them to accept that ticket quicker, then dammit, we’ll rival Las Vegas in the shows we put on. It’s all about the efficiencies of delivering services that convince people to accept their tickets.
A missional understanding of the church places us within a historical context. It removes the ticket to heaven pressure that the Western Evangelical Church has placed upon itself. Missional people recognize that God is on the move in our villages, towns and cities. We need to engage with Him in what He’s doing. Rather than building big box church warehouses that “vacuum cleaner up all the surrounding Christians” (to paraphrase AlRox @ the end of the mkpl.tv produced video, Three Churches and a New Age Mall) and calling that the Church, we are to be the leaven that permeates our neighborhoods with the lived out good news of Jesus Christ.
I was struck by this comment from Kevin Kelly riffing on Freeman Dyson (in the NYTimes).
…while progress runs on exponential curves, our individual lives proceed in a linear fashion. We live day by day by day. While we might think time flies as we age, it really trickles out steadily. Today will always be more valuable than some day in the future, in large part because we have no guarantee we’ll get that extra day. Ditto for civilizations. In linear time, the future is a loss. But because human minds and societies can improve things over time, and compound that improvement in virtuous circles, the future in this dimension is a gain. Therefore long-term thinking entails the confluence of the linear and the exponential. The linear march of our time intersects the cascading rise and fall of numerous self-amplifying exponential forces. Generations, too, proceed in a linear sequence. They advance steadily one after another while pushed by the compounding cycles of exponential change. [emphasis added]
Missional communities have within them the potential to exponentially infect the communities where they have been strategically placed by the hand of God. As they live out their lives now, embedding themselves into the very warp and woof of the community life – they embody the profound possibility of working as leaven – permeating the entire “loaf” of their community.
This way of thinking runs counter to the ROI mindset of much Western church planting. (We have an expectation of Return on Investment when we provide funding for church plants.) The McDonalds/Consumer Church mindset of numbers now is what kills the spirit of missional church. As Dave Fitch writes, (blogging about missional leaders)
In my opinion it takes at least 5 years of “seeding a community” before one even begins to see an ethos of community and new life develop that can be a cultural carrier-transmitter of the gospel.
Only a long view allows us live in the midst of the now and the not yet. We have a real expectation and hope of seeing the Kingdom lived out in our communities – but we recognize that we may be like those in Hebrews 11 who do never see the fruit of their labour. Does this mean we abandon the life and return to a consumer church model? God help me, no! As I’ve said before, Hudson Taylor and David Livingston did not see the overwhelming harvest that continues to come from the seeds they planted as missionaries in China and Africa, respectively – but they lived with both an expectation and a hope for that harvest.
As the Christendom model of church wheezes to an end, not with a bang but a whimper, this next reformation sees us following the Spirit of God back into the neigbourhood – realizing that He is on the move – building his kingdom amongst the people in those neighbourhoods. As both Stetzer and Fitch affirm in their conversation, this still means we must be able to effectively communicate the Gospel story – but much of the communication will come in how we live our lives amongst our neighbours. Might I again suggest that Luke 10 provides us with the Jesus-model of neighbourhood “ministry”.
Kevin Kelly reminds us that “long-term thinking entails the confluence of the linear and the exponential.” We must live our lives faithfully amongst our neighbours. Not avoiding gathering as believers as we live our lives out day by day, but realizing that we, the tangible Kingdom of God in the midst our neighbourhood – exist for those very neighbours. And though we may not see it in our own lifetime, we have a real expectation for the exponential growth of the Kingdom of God in our neighbourhoods.
Fitch says this at the end of the aforementioned blog post,
Like a fermenting revolution evolving out of a tired and reified ancien regime, these tiny bands of Christians have come on the scene committed to live a life together of worship, spiritual formation, community, hospitality and service to the poor (of all kinds). In ways never imagined by the machinations of the mega church, many of these bands are already infecting their neighborhoods with an embodied gospel that cannot be denied, only responded to. Knowing Christendom is gone, they carry no pretension. Instead they embody the gospel in its most compelling, authentic, non-coercive form. This new wave of Christians is small in number and possesses little to no resources financially. Most do not impress with their grandiose visions. They do not hang in the halls of power. They do not make a show of their successes. Yet their vision of a simple Christian habitat as witness in the world reminds me of the Irish missional orders God used to effect a profound conversion of European society in the 4th century. We have seen the world changed like this once before (read How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill). Could we be in the early stages of seeing God move in a similar fashion once again? Let us pray it be so. [emphasis and link added]
Pete and Kath Atkins turned us on to the Academy Award winning animated short film (made in Canada, no less) called The Man Who Planted Trees. They see this film as the almost perfect metaphor for how mission-shaped believers will be the leaven in our neighborhoods. (Pete and Kath Atkins feature prominently in the mission-shaped leaders documentary coming from Imbi early this fall (2009). I’m actually working on that section of the documentary today – just as soon as I close the laptop and plug the Mac Pro in, here on Snake Island.