After 8 years in the Yanchep place its time to fix up that ugly bathroom – the one we have grimaced at for years, thinking one day we will get around to it… But then never did. It’s easy when you don’t use it. The kids and guests see it, but I rarely set foot in there – except to fix leaky taps and the like.
But after several winters (my slow time) of saying ‘we must do it’, we committed to making this winter the time when ‘we’ – yeah Danelle and I – would rip the old stuff out and re-do it.
Then we looked closer – and we looked at the time we had available… (I have plenty but now she is working flat out) and we decided to get John in – because what will take us 6 weeks and end up ‘not bad for beginners’ will take John 4 or 5 days and will look schmick. And the beauty of it is that when we head over east in two days time he will have the house to himself and he can bang, crash and demolish to his heart’s content followed by re-newing and restoring.
As I write he is in there ripping the old tiles and gyprock off the wall to see what lies behind – moisture? Mould? White ants?… We wanted to be here for this part – to see what actually is behind our walls and whether we have any cause to worry. (Good news… its all fine…)
The fact is though – if you’re going to ‘re-build’ it involves some destruction – some smashing things up before you can actually create beauty again. Someone asked me recently what I thought of my days with Forge – a time of fairly brutal de-construction and at times demolition.
I remember when we first started Forge and there was no such thing as a ‘missional church’, and the idea took some time to get traction, but once it did… seriously – try and find a church or denomination anywhere that hasn’t now got the word ‘missional’ (if not the practice) somewhere in its core documents. It doesn’t actually mean they are practicing ‘missional’ stuff but they have at least learnt the language.
That said, it took some ripping down to rebuild – some smashing apart of church as we knew it before we were in a place to rebuild without the old ideas in place and limiting our path. For some that was more brutal than others. Our own journey took us to a fairly ‘extreme’ place as we created Upstream and moved 5 families into a suburb together to be a missionary community – to start again from the ground up with mission as our guiding principle. In the process of doing that we forced ourselves into a place of having to genuinely grapple with the questions of missiology and ecclesiology we had previously taken for granted. One simple decision – to not meet on a Sunday for at least two years – was itself a significant circuit breaker for those who were in a lifetime of routine.
When I look back on Upstream it is always with a sense of failure – because we didn’t achieve what we set out to achieve (success would be actually achieving what you set your sights on), but along the way there was the accidental / unintended achievement of permanently re-wiring my own mind in such a way that I could never again just think ‘church’.
When we left Upstream in 2009 to go and lead Quinns Baptist our team had shrunk to just 2 or 3 families and we were running out of puff. The decision to join Quinns was made with the idea that as we led these guys we would take them on a missional trajectory – we weren’t up for just ‘running church’. But two years of in-fighting and silliness wore us down. We ended up just ‘running church’ to survive. It was a dark time but we didn’t sense we had ‘permission’ to leave or we would have been out of there in a flash. So we hung around and ran church and just did what we could to try and make the ship seaworthy again.
In that time we were not intentionally missional – but we were ‘missional’ because the ideas and practices had so deeply embedded in our own psyche that we couldn’t be anything other. We moved to Yanchep in 2011 to enter a new stage of life in a place we hoped would be refreshing and renewing – it has been all that and more. Again we didn’t come here intending to be missionaries – but I don’t think we know any other way to live now.
I remember seeing the video of the guy with the ‘unridable bike’. He reversed the handlebars so that to turn right you actually had to make what would normally be a left turn. It’s impossible to do – at least not without many many hours of practice. But once you learn to ride a bike ‘in reverse’ it’s then equally impossible to go back. (Watch the video – you’ll get the idea.)
I am no longer connected with Forge or the ‘missional’ movement in any significant way. I no longer read ‘missional’ books – it would be like reading books on how to drive a car. There’s no animosity there and no ill will. It was one of the most significant and formative times of my life – but it has done its job. I am riding the bike differently now – and I doubt I will ever venture back.
In the midst of our time with Forge my mate Stuart told me that he felt Forge was a ‘prophetic’ movement – in much the same way as the Vineyard was (his own tribe). The Vineyard ‘called us back’ to core ideas like worship, the kingdom of God and the place of the poor (how did we veer from that stuff anyway?…) and once churches had embraced this stuff the Vineyard started to look like everybody else – or – everybody else caught up and adjusted their own priorities to accomodate some apparently ‘new’ concepts.
As a prophetic movement Forge called the church to refocus on mission as central to the heart of God and it framed up various practices and core ideas that would identify us as being on that journey. I ‘swallowed the red pill’ and never looked back. And I’m so grateful to those who did the initial demolition and ground clearing to make it possible. Now we have many people claiming to be ‘missional’, but honestly… I’m not sure that reading the books and speaking the language is the same thing as actually doing it.
Unless you get on the bike and try to ride it differently all you are doing is giving the ‘old bike’ a new coat of paint – or ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ as we delicately called it some years back. If you want to be ‘missional’, then the first step is identifying that you’re not – and realising why you’re not. Then there’s the will to change – unless there is a will to change (and a community to do it with) then you will not do it. Some people will make it on their own – but not many.
But if you’re going to make a significant change then chances are you will have to peel back the layers that are there and then check out what is holding it all together. It will involve some demolition – whether that’s gentle or more aggressive is up to you… But there is no changing without shedding the old. It’s just how life works.
I do wonder about the whole missional thing.
As a teen I took part in evangelism explosion and some fairly hardcore youth outreach, then in my 20s covered streetwork, door knocking and ran a missional (wasn’t called that in those days) housegroup, moved to another area & helped plant a church that was determinedly outward looking, helped lead a ‘missional’ church that had been planted by a couple of evangelists in a deprived area. Now we’re part of a small ‘missional’ community.
My observation is that missional church is doomed to failure in terms of successfully reaching the world in radical ways. People follow people, usually just a very small number of highly charismatic leaders who may or may not be annointed by the spirit of God to do what they do. It’s been most noticeable here in the UK in the last 15 years as all the key leaders who founded the ‘house church movement’ have retired or died. The guys they discipled to take their places are not the same, do not draw people to themselves, are not inspiring, have not held their organisations together.
Some of the original guys were great, full of integrity. Some were not, but the same gifting was at work in them as in the good ones. If I mention the words ‘prosperity gospel’ then you’ll know who I mean.
This is a pattern we see from church history, where the early church leaders drew vast numbers, but as time went on the people other people wanted to follow died or were prevented from leading and it became like a large civil service.
I’m still trying to develop an understanding of what makes churches grow and thrive, what makes them effective in the world. I’m certain that having people with a strong missional drive and committment is a very tiny part – almost irrelevant – and that it’s down to having the right people in key leadership positions. I’m not sure yet whether the gifting is a ‘spiritual’ one or just simply natural human ability, if it’s possible to separate those things out. I’m sure that if Terry Virgo, Bryn Jones or Barney Coombes had been commited to the Church of England and given support & freedom to work then we’d have seen a massive resurgence in that organisation instead of planting of 3 separate and extremely influential church movements in this country.
This post is probably jarring – sorry for that. I just see the missional thing as a red herring that tries to get everyone working their nuts off for very small return, while many of the committed get ignored, unfed, uncared for and unwanted because they don’t have mission at the heart of their being.
I found the ‘missional thing’ really valuable for addressing a time when we had dropped the ball badly.
I agree that often churches are built around charismatic leaders and that is a major trap – but that can’t really be the fault of ‘charismatic people’ either.
They are gifted as they are and need to use their gifts.
I don’t think there is any one formula – except perhaps always returning to Jesus as centre – but that’s easier said that done