‘Post-Missional’ – More Than a Dash of Truth?

Its said that there is many a serious word spoken in jest…

The Out of Ur blog recently posted a satirical look alien raiders download free

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…

21 thoughts on “‘Post-Missional’ – More Than a Dash of Truth?

  1. What’s next?

    In a word: Discipleship

    Or in two words perhaps: Missional Discipleship

    What’s been brewing in my thoughts is that the church needs to get discipleship right before missional is going to really translate into broad action. Leaders love Missional but I think its yet to have its day with “the people”

    Here are a 4 random things that have been floating around in my head but have yet to coalesce into a unified blog post:

    1. Mike Frosts – Yellow Fever “dullness of understanding” talk from Grassroots – this goes to the core of the churches failure with discipleship. We are not giving people (particularly young people) a rhythm of life that sustains fulfills their faith. To use Mike’s words:

    “I hear it, I know it, I can sing about it but I’m not going to do anything about it.”

    To me this is about discipleship

    2. Mark Sayers – talked about FAILING TO UNDERSTAND LOW FUEL TANK FAITH In his post “5 Things We Got Wrong in the Emerging Missional Church” http://marksayers.wordpress.com/5-things-we-got-wrong-in-the-emerging-missional-church/ I think this hits the nail right on the head.

    To quote Mark:

    “All across the Evangelical/Charismatic world Christians are struggling to live out their faith.”

    3. Brian McLaren’s book Finding Our Way Again – I’ll just cut to the quote:

    “Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief… I would want to get Christian ministers thinking about how to rediscover their own faith as a way of life, because that’s what people are searching for today. That’s what they need most”

    4. http://missionalorder.com/ – an attempt at moving beyond a system of belief to a more lived out faith.

    As I said I have not yet fleshed it out for myself to the point of a clear statement but the general direction I am heading is:

    “It’s the discipleship, stupid”

    Well I’ve rambled here more than you did in the OP but that’s my thoughts.

    BTW – I understand that Alan and Deb Hirsh are writing a book on Missional Discipleship so that’s encouraging.

  2. i’ll be interested to see what “comes next” for you after your world trip – whether you will rejoin the crew at Quinns and continue to flesh this out, or whether you find yourselves in some other context. Maybe this conversation will be continued then with even more clarity (or maybe just more confusion 😉 )

    either way – peace to you and yours, Matt

  3. Ben wrote some good stuff above, so I guess I’ll just say that yeah, I was under the impression that a “missional” church is more than just missions, but is about using mission as a way to launch into a holistic church – mission is important in and of itself, but it is also a useful discipleship tool and a means of worship. Not a “by itself” thing, sure, but thinking missionally is supposed to mean thinking contextually about the place in which one’s … ah, congregation finds itself and listening to their issues and forming creative but biblical responses. I guess I always just sort of lumped that all into the term “missional.”

  4. I think mission is intended to be the lens thru which to develop holistic discipleship.

    I imagine some have done this very well, but I tend to think it is our human tendency to emphasis one focus over the others

  5. Hi Andrew, I really appreciate this look into your head and heart, thanks. I’ve found getting the balance right pretty difficult. I firmly believe that the primary purpose of the church is mission – that’s why we’re still here and not in heaven yet. I believe the church exists to serve those outside it FIRST. But those inside must be served too. In fact effective and sustained mission can’t be done unless people are spiritually healthy and cared for. I find that a difficult balancing act. Looking forward to reading more from Backyard Missionary in 2009.

  6. Thanks for these thoughts Hamo …

    My journey at the moment is very similar – trying to discover the radical middle – between Emerging, Missional and Established, this is the tension I exist in at the moment, well … ever since I came across FORGE.

    I must continue to practice purity in the midst of this fallen world and yet live in proximity to this fallen world. These truths I live in tension through the power of God.I do not want to become indistinguishable from fallen culture and useless in God’s Kingdom nor do I want to become pietistic, separatist and conceited.

  7. See, I’d have thought that your link a few days ago about MINO (Missional In Name Only) reinforces the need for the missional conversation – and perhaps even more the need for demonstrated examples of what genuinely missional communities actually look like. Reading your “signposts for a missional church community” document (or whatever it was called) got me excited because I had laid out a real concept of what missional really looks like for a community of believers.

    I think in lots of respects, because the big loud voices have been of a more intellectual persuasion (Alan Hirsch being the key example I’m thinking of), the theological and intellectual groundwork has absolutely been laid out for why “missional” is central to the call of the global church. But I think what the MINO stuff demonstrates is that the work remaining is for people to see this stuff in action and (as crude as it sounds) to see this stuff “working”.

    In some ways, to buy into your Vineyard analogy, churches no longer subscribe to a cessasionist theology, but they aren’t yet actually incorporating the gifts of the Holy Spirit and signs and wonders into how they be the church.

    Sorry, that was longer than i meant!

  8. That’s a very fair point about Vineyards and cessationist theology in relation to mission.

    I appreciate your thoughts there Geoff.

    I actually wonder if we have made mission much more difficult than we need to?

    My mother & father in law are a prime example of people who have been living and doing the stuff we are speaking of for years – but have never named it as we do.

    Sure – they are less concerned for a missional ecclesiology, but they do get the engagement with the world stuff.

    I am guessing that many will stay MINO but then what can you do?!

  9. I reckon the problem only seems to be that people make programs and conferences out of things like Mission, worship, signs & wonders, teaching etc, as tho ‘this 1 thing needs to be at the top of your table now-now-now!!’ Usually, it’s because someone with a healthy dose of ego and an apostolic edge has had some joy in an area, and figures that everybody else needs to get on board now-now-now, or ‘miss out for ever’.

    All of these things are great in and of themselves, but make 1 more important than the other, and you risk making it a ‘program to deliver outcomes’.

    Teaching & practice in all these areas (the 3 circle idea is a nice easy picture, thanks) will build a church that is able to respond to the Spirit of God and what He is doing in the here, now, and later on within specific communities, be it communities that are Christian, secular, spiritualists – whatever! Teaching and practice in these tenents mean we are best placed to hear God, not to direct God to fit into our program.

    Your thoughts sound really good Hamo, but they don’t particularly resonate with me, but then – you’ve always been a few years ahead of me anyway! I’ll catch up in due course! For now, I’m feeling challenged aplenty with being a missional Christian who is connected with an established church, but doesn’t attend the sunday event. I’ve only been at it for a few months, so still plenty for me to learn in this realm.

    So yes – it DOES mean that you’re cleverer than me, but then – that’s no surprise to anyone! 🙂

  10. I’ve been thinking about this on and off today (with particular regard to my blogging plans for 2009) and as well as a renewed focus on discipleship itself (or spiritual formation) I also think I’m going to try and focus on ‘what I have done’ not ‘what I’m going to do’. That is in part in response my MINO post and as Matt Stone said in the comments of that post “More stories of where we have GONE, where we have answered the call.”

    Hamo – your point about your parents is well taken, we are not the first to do mission in the west but how common was a missional posture (albeit unnamed) among their generation do you think?. and even with all this talk is it really any more common among ours?

  11. Actually Grendel – I think a ‘missional posture’ is the way a Christian sits and stands after they remove the big old stick out of their butt.

  12. I guess I always assumed the two went together, mission & discipleship. That’s not to say it hasn’t been a challangr to learn how this works given our involvement with unchurched young people without “spiritual” tefeesmce points.

    I fond myself constantly assessing our fruitfulness and our approach. Ultimately time will tell.

    I agree though- discipleship is a key issue and goes hand in hand with the whole missional thing.

    Thanks for your thoughts Ben.

  13. Frankly I am getting tired of all the differnt movements that have come into Christianity. It reminds me of the pop music culture, what is hip one week is out of style the next.

    For me, when I hear “what’s next” I think “who cares”.

  14. Is this post saying, in a roundabout way, that there is value in a church leader stepping out of the Christian sub-culture for an extended period so as to get the carrot out of their arse?

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