Just Another Program? Is “Missional” Doomed?

Is “Missional” doomed to being just another overlay upon the existing structures of U.S. American church structures? Is it doomed to become another brand within the consumerism that has become so prevalent in American church?

I think we (the missional movement) have a problem. And I would like to see us have some substantive discussion about it. We, the missional church, its thought leaders and practicioners, are in danger of allowing “Missional” to become another commercialized program we overlay on top of existing American church structures. The result is that nothing really changes. It just sounds better. The labels have been changed but everything remains the same.

The goal of shaping church life into the neighborhood never happens. The attempts to reorient a church from inner focused maintenance functions to outward oriented Kingdom (Gospel) living in neighborhoods and daily life, fails. All we’ve done is put forth a few really great ideas, some compelling theology, that is then absorbed by current church structure that was built for paying the bills and looking like success according to some severely problematic American cultural standards.

To those involved in the missional movement, are you worried about this? People who run conferences are you bothered? I know as I continue to press for local incarnational expression of the gospel, and I find myself in conferences as well, I find myself getting grumpy? Should I be?

Then I get this letter from a friend (Bob Havenor) in Ft. Wayne this week and it hits all these buttons. It’s lucid, concise and provokes. I offer it here with my response in italics. I’d like to know what you (who are committed to the missional movement) think. Here’s the letter with my comments in bold italics. After you read it please give us your comments. We need to talk openly about this.

 

———————————-

 

From Bob Havenor,

 

The Missional movement is becoming the new Emerging Church. The mainstream Missional movement is chock full of smart people with passion and purpose who rightly see the failure of the Western church culture to impact its own back yard. The latest attempt by church people to reinvent the Church is failing precisely because they are repeating the same error: assuming that new ideas within the same structure will produce radically different results.

It’s the structure, stupid.

 

Yep!

 

Inviting followers of Jesus to gather at a certain location on Sunday morning—or even (radical and edgy!) Saturday or Thursday evening—services invites more problems and pressures than missionally-inclined leaders can overcome. It’s the unavoidable cultural assumptions upon which Western church structure is built that is fast-tracking the Missional movement to the same irrelevancy as their Emerging brothers.

 

I agree with you Bob. When the focus of a young community goes to the Sunday gathering as opposed to seeing the Sunday gathering as a rhythm within the entire week, it changes things and warps the church’s development into the neighborhood. I’ve seen it again and again. Starting with a focus on the Sunday gathering is deadly. However, I still see the gathering as essential spiritual formation for mission. The formation that happens here is what resists the church from being absorbed into “the world’s” story. But it must be led with an understanding of worship as formation into the reality of what God is doing in the world. It must be a practice that arises out of living one’s life weekly in the neighborhood.

 

Starting a “missional” church sounds like a good idea. However, it has several fatal flaws: it reveals and reinforces our schizophrenic definition of the Church; and it continues our weakened notion of discipleship.

By “fatal” here, we are talking about ultimate cultural impact, not whether a local fellowship will fail to meet its budget and have to close its doors.

 

I think you’re talking about a church that starts by distributing the traditional goods and services of Christianity from a central place, i.e. traditional evangelical church. This is not what I think of when I think of “missional church.” I think about the rhythms of the Kingdom being lived in the neighborhood. As we are present with everyday life (of which worship is part of) God uses us to bring in the harvest of people into the Kingdom. 

 

That this should even enter the conversation touches on our split personality. We state that the people are the Church. But how many of us do this in the context of a service where people are regularly gathered in a fellowship with a unique (and radical and edgy!) name over and against all the other fellowships with unique (and radical and edgy!) names where they listen to and follow the directions of a select group of professional clergy? Once they leave they can talk about “going to church” at “their church” and listening to the pastor talk.

Once we give our fellowship a name, we’re done as truly missional people. Nobody is strong enough or clever enough to overcome centuries of Western worldview in congregants’ minds with words and ideas while using the structure that opposes missional and incarnational impact and reinforces the dominant worldview.

Last year there was a spirited debate on the “Reclaiming the Mission” blog regarding a mega-church in the Pacific Northwest that sued a smaller venue for daring to use the larger church’s name. Most of the comments argued over the importance of “branding.” Where is the voice challenging the very legitimacy of naming a fellowship? This is a revelation of the depth of our worldview even among missional believers.

 

Agree! Especially with the way branding works. Nonetheless, there is the other danger: that we fear public presence so much that we never engage the local neighborhood/community with a corporate witness. We basically end up “staying in our basements” and our Christian communities turn introverted, over-focused on our own problems and enjoying our own close friendship.

 

The Western conception of “church” as a gathering also militates against true discipleship. Try as we might to change the definition and deepen the lesson, while we stay with the old structure we continue to create traditional “disciples.” By “traditional,” we are speaking of the weak intellectual American version dependent upon sermon series, men’s Bible studies and podcasts by the latest celebrity speaker rather than by demonstrated lifestyle commitments and incarnational impact.

 

Agree here again. And yet I see the other side as well. That discipleship requires corporate practices – the Eucharistic Table, the proclamation of Gospel, the practice of reconciliation, being “with” the least of these, the five fold gifting,  being “with” children, Kingdom prayer – all of which are corporate practices where the Kingdom breaks in. Nonetheless, the evangelical church IMO has often taken these practices and made them maintenance functions for existing Christians in effect neutering them from any impact in the world (another blog post needed here :)   ).

 

You can’t get there from here. The structure of Western church ministry and the worldview upon which it rests is suffocating the well-intentioned missional folk who dwell therein.

The common rejoinder to this kind of talk goes like this: “The local church is biblical. So is professional clergy. You know, ‘Don’t muzzle the ox’ …”

We need to challenge the notion of the local church as we know it, suggesting that we are hearing the voice of our worldview more clearly than that of the New Testament in this regard.

Jesus tells some challengers that “man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man.” Suppose that the local church and a professional priesthood are good biblical things, or at the least benign. Now suppose that the structure that gives legitimacy to those dynamics is no longer capable of creating and sustaining impact in this era of history.

Don’t we have the mandate to step away from failed structure into the murky riverbed of a great unknown? This is the conversation that just might put Missional movement into the proper context.

Bob Havenor, Fort Wayne, Indiana, September 30, 2012

 

I too think “missional” is in danger of being turned into another product as opposed to an on-the-ground incarnational movement into the places of life in N America. I agree that the current structures of the church make it hard (maybe even impossible) to shape a new movement of God’s people into the contexts. I think we all need to read your letter and think hard about what we’re doing.

 

 

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Posted in Incarnational, Missional, Missional Discipleship, Missional Ecclesiology, Uncategorized, Worship and Mission
33 comments on “Just Another Program? Is “Missional” Doomed?
  1. Lee Wyatt says:

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!!!! This is exactly where we are and the issues we face. Thanks for sharing Bob’s letter and responding to it.

    Peace,
    Lee

  2. josenmiai says:

    He is right. There is only one solution: leave the church and reform it from outside.

    W. Edwards Demming – The Deming System of Profound Knowledge:
    “The prevailing style of management must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside.”

    2 Kings 7:3-4
    New King James Version (NKJV)

    3 Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, “Why are we sitting here until we die? 4 If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore, come, let us surrender to the army of the Syrians. If they keep us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall only die.”

    So, there is a famine within the church. We cannot sit around until we die. Let us go over to the “unafiliated” secular postmoderns and incarnate the love of God among them and learn from them. Become secular to the seculars, unchurched to the unchurched, postmodern to the postmoderns, without ceasing to follow Jesus.
    It is the only way I know …
    Joseph Holbrook

    • Rick Meigs says:

      josenmiai: I think I understand the spirit of what you are saying, however, when one uses a phrase like “leave the church and reform it from outside,” one is simply reinforcing “our schizophrenic definition of the Church.” People are the Church, therefore we can’t leave what or who we are. Just like you can’t “go to church,” because we are the church — which gathers regularly.

      Not challenging here, just thinking out loud because I think language is important.

  3. The term “missional” has as much increasing currency and content today as do the terms “evangelical” or “liberal” or “traditional.” There is a grand movement of theology and practices which are emerging from this embedded term in our ecclesiological lingua franca . . . a most welcome and provocative conversation that can sharpen and summon us to do contextual theology within a mission shaped spirituality that seeks to both love God and neighbour from the inside out. May it get from ideology to incarnation, from beliefs to behaviours, from theory to practices in our culture and community.

  4. Brian C says:

    As someone who only attended the same church for 8 years after committing to follow Christ, I recently moved and began to attend churches in my new community in hopes of finding a place to plug in and serve my city. Seems like everyone claims “missional” now and it’s as used and abused a buzzword as I’ve come across in this process. It seems used to promote some of the same old church marketing agendas.

  5. When attempts at application precede honest questions of implication, any effort to be missional will largely fail to make any substantive change.

    The word “missional” is important, but an as important at what it truly means. If we lose the word (and I would hate for that to happen), let’s not expend too much energy fighting for it instead of fighting to live what it means.

  6. Adrian Pyle says:

    The thing that stood out for me is that David’s original article seemed to call for a more radical (deep rooted) understanding of “missional” – and offered a letter which offered quite a “radical stance” in response to that call ….Then most of David’s responses seemed to empahisise a but/yet/nevertheless perspective. That may have been unintentional. What I suspect is that using a “yes and” rather than a “but” response technique may have accentuated rather than moderated the call to the deep.

    Sorry it’s picky ….I just left with a sense of defence of the status quo rather than reform of it.

  7. Jim VY says:

    How is our desire to create, or fear losing, the “missional movement” any different from the hubris we so easily see in others? “The lady doth protst too much, me thinks.”

  8. I have been thinking in the direction of structure for a good year now. It is clear the structures most “missional” churches operate by are imported from their (usually) evangelical heritage. Sunday services, small groups and service projects. Layering a vision of being missional onto this structure doesn’t actually change much of anything, except to frustrate people who catch the vision.

    The problem, I think, is that there is little imagination for what transformation these churches might undertake to embrace some kind of missional polity. It is one thing to start a network of missional communities from scratch, it is another to harness the energy of the “smart missionallly minded people” mentioned in the letter and help them find a structure that lays better tracks for the kind incarnational presence they are after.

    Who will help us articulate that?

  9. Laura Headley says:

    Well, I am prompted to say, by the Holy Spirit, that you are trying to re-invent the wheel so to say. Why don’t you take a look at the Catholic beginnings of the Christianity “movement” and see the truth? This is the true church that Jesus established and when everyone keeps trying to change this church to what they think it should say or mean, it is bound to run into problems. Why would Jesus, our Lord and Savior , establish a church that was untrue or misdirected? We were the first to evangelize and mission to others. We have all you need to see the truth. Take a look at our catechism sometime. I commend you for your hard efforts and we all struggle with evangelism. We are all God’s children for sure. But when you broke away from the initial Christian Catholic Church, there was bound to be problems.

    Respectfully yours in Christ, Laura

  10. Bob says:

    Hear, hear! I think the fatal flaw of the Missional movement is that people labeled themselves “missional” before they actually were missional. As with the branding concept, we feel that the mere designation will make the church so. People feel unfulfilled in their traditional church, read a few books with some wonderful sounding ideals, and then begin to fancy themselves as misisonal.

    They receive step-by-step instructions on how to identify an unchurched people group, move into the neighborhood and learn its culture, and then begin incarnating the Gospel. Next thing you know (some say in 2 years, others 5, others 10-15), a church will organically spring from your efforts.

    “Sounds good. That’s me. Sign me up. I’m missional.”

    R-i-i-i-i-ght. You’re missional now. Not.

    “Missional” is not something you decide to be. It is a byproduct of being exposed to an alternate reality, the reality of the Kingdom, that renders life in the kingdom of the world absurd. When this happens, one cannot help but spend the rest of their lives exploring, expanding, and expressing it.

  11. Bret Wells says:

    I agree with Bob’s letter. I also understand Adrian’s reaction to the “yes, but.”

    However, [I didn't say but ;) ] I’ve also seen firsthand the “staying in our basements” phenomena that David describes. I too responded to much of this letter with “Agree! But…” It’s a matter of avoiding the ditch on the other side.

    I’m not sure how strongly I would push that structure is the problem – I think the primacy we’ve given these structures is very problematic, and I also think its quite possible that missional faith communities may require a period of detox from many of the ingrained practices in order to rediscover their true function.

    I think what Michael Frost said at the close of the Sentralized conference was spot on – “I’m tired of people talking about missional, of going to missional conferences, reading missional books or hearing about the ways this or that church is becoming missional, when we can’t answer the simple question, ‘To whom have I been sent?”

    This is both damning evidence of the trend toward the commodification of “missional” and perhaps a vital corrective as well. And I agree with Mike Breen that if you focus on planting churches you may not get disciples, but if you focus on making disciples you’ll always get the church…UNLESS you actively set out to cut down anything which resembles structure or organization – even that which grows up naturally.

    Structure is not antithetical to missional; it is not out of place in describing the Church. Yes, church is the people – the Body – not the organization or building. But every body has structure. Without a skeletal system, we’d be thoroughly screwed.

    So, back to David’s early question: Yes, I do think this is something worthy of substantive discussion. I just hope that part of that discussion is, “Here’s how I and others in my community been seeking to live counter to this trend.” We need to celebrate together; we need actual examples from thought leaders as well as non-celebrities of how this is currently playing out. We need to incarnate this message for one another or else the doom and gloom predictions will become self-fulfilling prophecies.

    • Bob Havenor says:

      Bret:
      Good words. Please understand that I advocate deconstruction, not anarchy. We all agree that structure is good and necessary. But is the one that has dominated Western Christianity still viable in this era? I answer emphatically “no.”

      The Church as we know it is really a cultural construct, isn’t it? Is the unique-autonomous-church-on-every-corner, all in competition with each other, what was practiced by Paul or advocated by Jesus? Are we so myopic that we dare not think of any structure outside the one we know?

      I grew up in the Church and derived a living from it for several decades. Someone in this string of posts has suggested the familiar analogy of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I am off the ship, brother, and even though the mother ship can still carry more travelers than our slowly-growing collection of lifeboats, that bad boy is still taking on water. As Mr. Smith said to Neo, the din of rushing water “…is the sound of inevitability.” (For a fuller treatment on my view of the philosophical underpinnings of evangelicalism and why I am so opposed to the current order, peruse my blog at swordinpen.blogspot.com. See especially “Why I Am No Longer An Evangelical.”)

      The onus for migration to a different paradigm is on the leaders. Many in religious vocations simply can’t imagine a world in which they can’t earn a living from the giving of their followers. Until we can, we aren’t asking the right questions regarding the personal implications of the missional/incarnational lifestyle. Once that door is opened, a world of exhilarating, freakishly scary possibilities starts coming into focus.

      Let’s see, would that be the blue pill or the red pill?
      Bob Havenor

  12. Chuck says:

    I agree that our Sunday (or whenever) gatherings should be formational to the church. That we gather to have our hearts raised to see GOD as he truly is, the word and table observed, and then we are properly “sent out” as ambassadors for Christ. Too much of what we do today, especially in evangelical churches, resembles a well choreographed program instead of a formational fellowship. A passive event instead of a participitive gathering.
    Who we are and what we do with the rest of our week is exceedingly important. But, I am of the opinion that many of us are not being properly equipped in our gatherings for the mission that is the rest of our week.

  13. hamo says:

    I’m with Bob in spirit, but also conscious that ideals need to be tempered to live in reality. (And yes – that p—s me off) So I share David’s sentiments too.

    I’ve both led and participated in missional conferences and also observed from afar the rise of missional conferences in the US, as well as the huge number of books written on the subject and the ‘industry’ that has emerged around what was once a prophetic edge to the church.

    It has left me uneasy for a while now – even caused me to want to step away from the ‘movement’ (even though I am part of it and many good friends are key people.)

    I don’t feel like we are where we hoped we would be 10 years ago, but the fact that many people attend conferences and buy books may cause us to feel differently.

    I feel like a critic who is now feeling there needs to be a critique of the critique…

  14. Paul Mast Hewitt says:

    Appreciate the conversation. Two cautionary comments. 1) Is being “missional” taking primacy over Christ? By this I mean to say, is the missional church movement more concerned with maintaining an identity as missional than proclaiming Christ through our lives? IMO the question should not be, will traditional churches coopt the term missional, but are we being faithful to Christ’s calling on our lives. For if our fear is for the loss of the term then it belies a desire for the brand of “missional” to maintain its distinction. One result of the missional church movement has been to call traditional churches to greater faithfulness to the missionTo which God calls all of us. 2) Unless I am reading it wrong, there is a great danger of individualism expressed in the original letter, that David addresses well in his responses.
    Thanks for initiating the conversation.
    Paul

  15. I invested five years into a church where the pastor talked “missional” but it was for more about it being cool than it being fuel. So, I get it about the magnet draw of the “missional buzz” … huh, that makes it sound like a drug …

    Anyway, what I learned is that it ain’t all about the structure, it’s far more about what’s deeper still. Structures are just the inherent result of whatever assumptions have been planted deep in a group’s shared paradigm (or dictated/dominated by a leader’s/planter’s paradigm).

    For instance, just because two groups use the TERM *missional* or even sorta kinda LOOK *missional* on the surface, that doesn’t mean they both even have the same underlying paradigm to sustain BEING truly missional. That’s because there’s a big difference between a coherent missional paradigm that is front and center, and one that’s mere missional parallax … seeing missional out of peripheral vision.

    One has a paradoxical, integrative epistemology that yields a contributorial theology, contextual resonate-AND-resist operational structures, and substantive missional disciple culture. The other has an analytic, dualistic epistemology that yields consumeristic theology, syncretistic pragmatic-and-programmatic operational structures, and pseudo-missional stylin’ couture.

    One paradigm will create structures that are *suitable* for the fellowship as a whole, *sensitive* to the surrounding host culture, *survivable* in the face of global/cultural shifts, and *sustainable* beyond two generations. The other will stay with what’s trendable, syncretized, malleable, and workable – because fashion is the driving force, not fellowship and followship.

    And when the next Church Project Runway Fashion Week Movement comes out, the haute couture cadre will flit off toward The Next Big Fashion Thing. Because that is their paradigm, from bottom to top — be fashionable — and really, it isn’t so very faithful, at least, not that I can see.

    • I had an intriguing conversation this week when a friend asked me what I thought the difference was between missional as a program versus people who do missional already because that’s who they are. (If you did a visual dictionary entry on “missional,” you’d see his photo there.) And he hadn’t even been reading Dr. Fitch’s recent series on these topics. He’s just working in a church that is now “implementing” how-to training push on becoming missional.

      I dove into the metaphor of fashion for the trendy use of *missional as a program* and added to it. “It’s like one of those reversible jackets, and one side is seeker sensitive where you try to do everything internally in a church by attracting people in. The other side is missional church where you try to do everything externally in the neighborhood by sending people out. It may look a bit different, but it really is cut from the same paradigm cloth, and it’s two sides of the same garment. The only way to escape this inside-out cycle of chasing programs is to GET A DIFFERENT JACKET.”

      The lead pastor at my friend’s church seems to always be trying out the latest ministry trend. So he also asked what drives some leaders to keep bouncing from this to that program in search of the latest thing. I said I thought it was the sign of a modernist mind, always searching for the perfect philosophy/theology, because when you have the ultimate right theory, you “guarantee” the ultimate right function/practice. That’s how it works for theory-into-practice learning under vision-casting leaders who believe they are taking people to the conceptually “right” praxis. They “push” people toward the right goal through declaring what a missional lifestyle is about.

      Meanwhile, the truly holistic people are typically out there already embodying those concepts that the vision-casting leaders project for everyone. The holistic, non-modernist people carry the missional vision because they do that and are that already, and they’ve refined it from reflection on their actions. They are already at the goal, and can “pull” people toward it through the demonstration of a missional lifestyle.

      Maybe the two types could really work together, but it seems in a program-oriented mentality, the conventional visionary-leader trumps all else, and the everyday disciples who live out being missional are marginalized.

      I’ve been reading Lance Ford’s book *UnLeader* and find his observations helpful. In the program-based church, what’s been seen as the solution in the past ["Ministry rises or falls based on leadership."] is actually the problem that prevents a preferable future.

      We need a new jacket …

  16. Jeff says:

    Thanks Bob and David for providing such a thought provoking post. We need more of this challenging of the existing paradigm. I agree that the structures are central and necessary to the discussion. To quote Andy Stanley, “It’s not what’s written on the wall, it’s what is happening down the hall that matters.”

    I also agree that the dominance of the “both/and” position in the missional conversation has slowed innovation and made pursuing new paradigms difficult. I’m part of a team who has been working to develop a new expression of local church in our city for four years and we often feel very alone. The both/and dominance has given clergy the permission to label us “radicals”.

    If any of you national guys with connections read this – I’m not alone. I believe there are groups like mine in every city in the country who have rejected the both/and and are looking for new ways to be the local church. To steal a Hirsch phrase the “apostolic imagination” has been sparked. Small fires are being kindled which are outside existing paradigms. We need someone to connect us, to provide space for us to find one another and share our experiences.

  17. josenmiai says:

    Brad said:

    “ne has a paradoxical, integrative epistemology that yields a contributorial theology, contextual resonate-AND-resist operational structures, and substantive missional disciple culture. The other has an analytic, dualistic epistemology that yields consumeristic theology, syncretistic pragmatic-and-programmatic operational structures, and pseudo-missional stylin’ couture.”

    damn bro, I don’t even know what that means … and I am a few months away from a PhD.

    • oops. sorry josenmiai … it was off the top, and apparently over the top. my apologies for the espresso shorthand.

      let me try to translate … i’m having to do this from scratch, as i don’t have formal advanced training in theology or philosophy. but here’s what i think i’m seeing …

      my focus is on how to analyze complete paradigms, from the bottom up: information processing styles; and how they lead to our values and theology; and from there to our operational systems of strategies and structures and methodological models; and from there to our creation of culture – behaviors, lifestyles, forms of relationship and collaboration in community.

      so, to start at the middle area of structure is to miss the deeper level of paradigm. looks like bob saw organizational strategies and structures as the main indicator of a problem, and then he went underneath to look at some of the theology and the epistemology that led to the problem.

      anyway, as a futurist, i’d suggest we cannot understand the substance of change unless we analyze the paradigms of the people involved. focus on the surface level is, as some would say, like shifting the chairs on the Titanic; doesn’t change a toxic trajectory or the inevitable tragedy. focus on the operational/organizational systems for change, and it means shifting the methodological model (which is most of what’s going on, i think, with those who declare themselves “missional” before they think about it or live it for long enough to “get it.” focus on the theology, and you still don’t totally have it, because, IMO, how you process information and what you value trump what you say you believe. those who do not have an epistemology that includes a lot of both/and paradox, integrative and interdisciplinary thinking, may try to shift to a missional theology, but they still don’t have a missional epistemology. but that’s getting close.

      people who are this kind of missional at the deepest level that both lives in a host culture and resists the brokenness and evil in that culture, can be role models that “pull” people closer to the core of being missional. people who are at least at the theological level often do well in “pushing” (and not in a bad way) themselves and others toward the goal – they know it’s right, but their doing it more from theory-into-practice. the former are doing this from immersion learning through action-reflection.

      if you’re interested in my “dissertation,” the outlines are here:

      http://opaldesignsystems.com/

      p.s. i say i’m ABC … All But Coursework, cuz the “dissertation” is close to being done …

      • josenmiami says:

        Brad/futuristguy….

        I am an AbD as well … working on my last chapter on a comparative study of Catholic university student movements in Cuba and Brazil in the 1950s … they were trying to “incarnate” Christian values in their respective secular cultures in times of revolution and dictatorship.

        Your explanation made a lot of sense to me .. and I agree with most of what you said … I will def check out your dissertation.

  18. josenmiai says:

    Someone above used the word “commodification.” The Church in America has been colonized by the free market system and now we are all obliged to market our spiritual products to religious consumers. The church in its entirety, missional, seeker, liturgical, revivalist, emerging and whatever the hell else … is captive to a “religious free market” as sociologist have known for a good while.

    Therefore, NOTHING will change until some “missional” types are willing to exit the religious free market and get jobs to support themselves (following St. Paul) and join with some like-minded tent-makers and lay people in “believer hostile” incarnational secular communities …

    In other words, “follow the money.”

    Until you take the career and money factors out of it, every renewal movement that comes along will be quickly commodified and domesticated … books, podcasts and conferences will abound.

  19. Neal Taylor says:

    Several years ago I applied to be an associate pastor at a regional church in Australia. I had recently completed Forge training and the term “missional” a fairly new buzz word.

    One of my questions to the church leadership was asking them to define missional – a term that they used to describe their church. Their response was one that left me shaking my head in disbelief. They agreed that their congregation was indeed missional and had been for several years. By that they meant, they had started having a coffee in their hall between Sunday School and worship.

    I didn’t follow up.

  20. MikeK says:

    David,
    I left a lengthy reply on my blog for you and Bob and others. This is simply an outstanding post on your blog: thank you.

    Mike

  21. Thomas B says:

    It is always enheartening to read/hear people within a movement take the time to assess the challenges they face. It helps reveal the validity of the movement.

    I have wondered three things about the Missional Movement, and wonder if these might be factors in the challenge it faces. First, my experience of it in Canada has been one of (forgive me) elitist badmouthing of inherited expressions of Christianity, and of any form of mission that does not involve a neighbourhood. By demeaning brothers and sisters in Christ, even when they/we are wrong, some local leaders of the missional movement undermine the very grace and gospel they are seeking to communicate, and by limiting the focus of what is acceptable mission, they limit the work of God’s mission in all lives, in all communities, and in all networks.

    Second, the missiological language I hear is always and exclusively that of incarnation. This is good, but I wonder (and truly, this is a wonder) is it possible to over-emphasise incarnation to the point that we neglect transformation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, all critical elements of God’s mission in Jesus Christ, and therefore critical elements in the mission activities of His Church. After all, what good is Christmas without Easter?

    Third, I think many in the movement are in too great a hurry. I agree entirely that the greatest challenge to being the Church in the world is the fact that we are programmed to see Church as what happens in churches. However, we are in early days yet. We have centuries and generations of programming to overcome, and this, short of a dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is not going to happen overnight. In the total life span of God’s Church, the missional movement is still just a hiccup. It’s impact has been real, positive, and effective in many mainline and inherited expressions of church (I’m an Anglican, formerly in Canada, now in Scotland), and considerable transformation is occurring in the Church as a result. So don’t despair! God raised this movement up, and God will use it to his purpose. Who can know what will happen in the decades and centuries to come? It is not for us to rebuild the Church, from inside or out. It is for us to follow the call of Christ, seek the mission of God, and pray like mad that we haven’t gone too far off the rails as HE rebuilds HIS Church.

    Them’s my two cents.

    Thomas

  22. Bob Havenor says:

    The Pew survey has just been released, further confirming the continuing loss of cultural traction the Church has on the US. So much of what I see in the church–including evangelicalism, which steadfastly verbalizes a commitment to “Sola Scriptura”–is a renewed commitment to cultural, rather than biblical, forms of reaching our society.

    If we ponder both Paul’s radical pledge in 1 Corinthians 9 to be anything to anybody to advance the gospel, and look at Jesus’ use of the “Son of Man” motif to circumvent cultural expectations of his ministry, then we see two compelling cases for placing missiology in a preeminent place over and against ecclesiology.

    What was it about the synagogue system in those days that caused that structure to oppose the missio dei? And why don’t we talk more about those implications and applications in today’s church?

    If our missiology informs our ecclesiology, then we are free to change church forms to fulfill the mission. If we are ecclesiology-dominant, then we will set up our forms and find a way to “add missions” or “be missionary-minded” or “be missional” to the list of ministries and corporate personality traits we market.

    What we need in North America are not entrepreneurial church planters. We need missionaries.

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5 Pings/Trackbacks for "Just Another Program? Is “Missional” Doomed?"
  1. [...] Fitch has a really good post entitled, “Just Another Program? Is ‘Missional’ Doomed?” In it he interacts with a letter Bob Havenor wrote to him on the Missional movement and why [...]

  2. [...] Fitch wonders if we’ve made missional just another program, and if that dooms [...]

  3. [...] are struggling. That’s to be expected. All church plants struggle. But more recently, David Fitch chimed in and seemed more than a little concerned: I think we (the missional movement) have a problem. And I [...]

  4. [...] David Fitch seems to think so: We, the missional church, its thought leaders and practicioners, are in danger of allowing “Missional” to become another commercialized program we overlay on top of existing American church structures. The result is that nothing really changes. It just sounds better. The labels have been changed but everything remains the same. [...]

  5. [...] From David Fitch: Is Missional Doomed? [...]

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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