Its said that there is many a serious word spoken in jest…
sydney white free at ‘what’s next’ in Church World and one of their offerings was that the next ‘big word’ (following on ‘post-modernity’ and ‘missional’ I am guessing) will be ‘post-missional‘.
It was only as I read further that I realised it was satire… but that is because it has tapped into something I have been feeling increasingly over the last 12 months or so.
Maybe we are
getting into a ‘post-missional’ stage. By that I mean a period where our emphasis shifts off provoking the church to be missional and on to something else that needs attention.
Its been a worrying thought (a splinter in the mind perhaps…) that maybe we have so emphasised and drilled home the need for the church to be ‘missional’ that we have negated other aspects of discipleship in the process.
I wonder if anyone else has had this similar feeling?
Kinda like a ‘what now?’
I feel like I have been reading and writing, practicing and reflecting on this same issue for the last 7 or 8 years and to be honest I’m a little weary with it all. As I write this I am conscious that this could even read as a betrayal of all that I have been focusing on and given my life to, but its not that.
I believe we were very much on the money to call the church back to its missional agenda and now it seems that the message has very much taken root and that some are even acting on these ideas. I know there is a long way to go to see the church truly embrace its missionary identity and I am not advocating we stop leading in this way, but I am beginning to wonder if maybe its time to turn down the heat here and turn it up somewhere else?
I realise I may just be reflecting on my own personal journey, but I take the risk of sharing this publicly because I wonder if others may feel similarly?…
I still have a deep sense of calling to be a missionary in the western context, but I am sensing some changes coming in my own focus and trajectory. No doubt some will see this as co-inciding with my return to meat & 3 veg church life, but I think its much more than that. Please don’t write me off with that simplistic suggestion.
I remember back in the 80’s the Vineyard called us to re-engage with some of our core identity as the church – signs and wonders – intimacy with God – the poor – the kingdom of God and to many their message was radical and ground-breaking. Yet within 10 years the uptake of their message was huge. Now its uncommon to find an evangelical church that hasn’t been significantly influenced by the Vineyard in some way – at very least to acknowledge that there could be a sane approach to signs and wonders and that it is ok to feel things when we engage with God.
I feel the ‘missional’ message is heading a similar path. Most have accepted it as vital and normative for a church to be engaged in mission – not just ‘mission-s’ (read ‘overseas’). Many leaders have picked up the language of mission and we seem to be well beyond the critical mass indicator for acceptance of ‘missional thinking’ as mainstream. Hopefully behavior will catch up and I have a feeling that for many it will.
My own journey into this arena began a long time ago with a sense of discontent at how we failed to be able to develop church communities where those from outside typical middle class backgrounds could feel at home. I saw many younger Christians leave the church because it was so stodgy and conservative and culturally foreign. And I was determined to find ways to help them connect and feel at home. My time in youth ministry involved a lot of work on this front – but it was about ‘getting the meeting right’ so that people would come.
Then around 7 years ago I realised that I had basically become a professional church leader with few friends outside of that environment. Even if the meeting was good it still didn’t scratch where most of the world was itching. I knew I needed to address that and began to take steps to get more involved in my community, but I found the local church environment too constricting and demanding to be able to re-orient my behaviour. There were too many expectations and boundaries already in place that I needed to conform to. I realise others have been able to change within, but I am not wired that way and so I jumped out completely to learn from scratch what it means to be a missionary in Oz society. It was probably one of the best things I have ever done.
I feel like after 7 years of serious practice and reflection I have a pretty good grip on it now – not just intellectually, but practically. I have moved from dissatisfaction with my engagement in the world to a position of genuine satisfaction. I feel like I have been re-learning how to be a Christian again with mission as the guiding motif. It is a great place to be.
However as with many new learnings there comes a time when they become second nature or automated and now I don’t feel the need to ‘push myself into new places’ or attempt new things in the name of mission. I feel like I have come to appreciate how God has shaped me as a missionary and where my spheres of influence are. It has been so woven into the fabric of my life that I don’t need to consciously ‘do some mission’. (I also realise that for some there has been no need to go on this journey as this is how they have always lived their lives)
I have a small fear of becoming a church manager again but I think I have moved too far to go back and honestly if it ever did happen I imagine I’d jump ship again very quickly.
But now that the missional issue is very settled within me I have less passion for reading and reflecting on it. I am in a sense listening to God and asking ‘where to now?’
I have a sense that I am being taken to a place of more healthy balance as I am conscious that in the pursuit of mission activity we have at times done it at the expense of community or at the expense of spiritual formation. I know we would argue that these things ought to be happening in a genuine missional context, but I think we did them in quite small proportion to what we called mission. So sometimes we had fractious communities trying to love and serve their local neighbourhoods – often fractured because a disproportionate amount of time was given to mission compared to that given to growing a healthy community. Or sometimes we would have people with no spiritual depth or strength ‘doing mission’ and then either burning out or having a moral failure because they were pure activists and were not well connected with God in scripture and prayer.
Calling the church to mission is a necessary, even essential correction, but lately I have found myself drawn to exploring more intently how we nurture really strong and healthy communities of faith as well as wondering how we move beyond lip service in spiritual formation and development.
At Upstream we agreed that the life of discipleship really boiled down to 3 things – loving God – loving one another and loving the world. If you can imagine a diagram with three intersecting circles then I would say that at times we need to place emphasis on different aspects and recently ‘loving the world’ has (quite rightly) been the place of greater emphasis.
If I were to ask you which one was of greater priority I honestly don’t think you could pick one ‘imperative’ above the others easily. Maybe we aren’t supposed to.
So are we moving to a ‘post-missional’ era?
Not an era where mission is off the agenda – not at all – but perhaps an era where the emphasis shifts?
I have rambled here for long enough.
Hopefully long enough to convince my friends that I have not ‘abandoned the ship’, but equally I hope the length of this post will serve to frame my inner disturbances in a way that makes sense.
So over to you.
Some of you have been as deeply engaged in the missional journey as I have and may have similar inner questionings. Or you may see that I am just tired and in need of that long holiday we have scheduled for April this year…
Either way let me know your thoughts…