Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Why the missional church leaves me cold

In 1 sentence, it urges “too many oughts.” Click on the indicators of what a missional church will look like and there are so many things one ought to be doing. There are ideals and lofty hopes and plenty of “not yet rhetoric.” All of them I love and none of them I disagree with. It’s simply that there are so many “oughts.”

In contrast, let me quote from Euguene Peterson;
God’s great love and purposes for us are all worked out in messes in our kitchens and backyards, in storms and sins, blue skies, the daily work and dreams of our common loves. God works with us as we are and not as we should be or think we should be. God deals with us where we are and not where we would like to be. (Christ plays in ten thousand places, 75);

That’s not “oughts” but reality. This surely is the meaning of Christmas, that God is found in shit and straw, under oppressive tax regime and mis-spent dreams.

Abstractions and ideals leave my cold. Lofty dreams paralyze me. I’m not sure the gospel is a set of ideals. Rather it is the reality of people, honest in their inadequacies, not trying to be something or someone, but searching, seeking for the unique whisper of what God is doing within their unique set of circumstances. It is concrete practices expressed among real people.

Oh, what are the missional “oughts”? For the complete set, go here, but in summary …

1. The missional church proclaims the Gospel.
What it looks like: The story of God’s salvation is faithfully repeated in a multitude of different ways.

2. The missional church is a community where all members are involved in learning to become disciples of Jesus.
What it looks like: The disciple identity is held by all; growth in discipleship is expected of all.

3. The Bible is normative in this church’s life.
What it looks like: The church is reading the Bible together to learn what it can learn no where else – God’s good and gracious intent for all creation, the salvation mystery, and the identity and purpose of life together.

4. The church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death, and resurrection of its Lord.
What it looks like: In its corporate life and public witness, the church is consciously seeking to conform to its Lord instead of the multitude of cultures in which it finds itself.

5. The church seeks to discern God’s specific missional vocation for the entire community and for all of its members.
What it looks like: The church has made its ‘mission’ its priority, and in overt and communal ways is seeking to be and do ‘what God is calling us to know, be, and do.’

6. A missional community is indicated by how Christians behave toward one another.
What it looks like: Acts of self-sacrifice on behalf of one another both in the church and in the locale characterize the generosity of the community.

7. It is a community that practices reconciliation.
What it looks like: The church community is moving beyond homogeneity, toward a more heterogeneous community in its racial, ethnic, age, gender and socio-economic make-up.

8. People within the community hold themselves accountable to one another in love.
What it looks like: Substantial time is spent with one another for the purpose of watching over one another in love.

9. The church practices hospitality.
What it looks like: Welcoming the stranger into the midst of the community plays a central role.

10. Worship is the central act by which the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future.
What it looks like: There is significant and meaningful engagement in communal worship of God, reflecting appropriately and addressing the culture of those who worship together.

11. This community has a vital public witness.
What it looks like: The church makes an observable impact that contributes to the transformation of life, society, and human relationships.

12. There is a recognition that the church itself is an incomplete expression of the reign of God.
What it looks like: There is a widely held perception that this church is going somewhere-and that somewhere is more faithfully lived life in the reign of God.

Posted by steve at 12:17 PM


  1. All the “oughts” are good things, but, yes, i wonder if, like so much stuff, what started off as a driving passion for one community of faith (or maybe what started life in someone’s head as a description of what church ought to be) has been institutionalised into what you describe as “oughts”. Too many things to try to squeeze ourselves into, rather than going with the flow of God’s spirit in our little neck of the woods.

    Comment by lynne — November 30, 2005 @ 1:56 pm

  2. Thanks for that. I guess I don’t find “lofty dreams” paralyzing – lofty dreams for me are always accompanied by the quiet recognition that God is at work. Lofty dreams and my imagination lift my eyes and focus my attention. Talking about ideals, for me, becomes a way of expressing trust in God.

    God in Jesus Christ sets before me the ideal in terms of what it means to be created in the image of God; what it means to be fully human, and fully alive. I’m not paralyzed by the seeming gap between who I am now, and who I am quietly becoming as God works in me and despite me.

    Like you, I love and agree with these indicators; Given I was a Pastor in a congregation, I’d hope and pray that over time these practices (that’s essentially what they are) and priorities might become more earthed in the everyday realities that Peterson describes.

    Cheers mate…

    Comment by paul — November 30, 2005 @ 3:44 pm

  3. Thanks for your honesty. I think sometimes in the missional church thing, the pastoral considerations get left behind in a big rush toward being everything the church is supposed to be, and people are left feeling used, or trampled on, or not “good enough” to join the movement.

    Comment by Benjamin Sternke — November 30, 2005 @ 4:46 pm

  4. I can really identify with what everyone else has said and i think that the ideas and thoughts expressed in these comments can be extended to the ‘heathens’ who look at church from the outside – in.

    I’ve been working as a temp labourer all week and have noticed how quickly one can get out-of-touch with the world around us.

    I’ve noticed that the people that i have spoken to have this idea that we Christians are all high and lofty and pious and that life for us is all chocolates and little fluffy ducks, which we all know it isn’t.

    I get quite annoyed when i hear people that say that they won’t go to church because they were dragged along as a child and the idea that church can’t change.

    I liked the statement “God meets us where we are not where we ‘ought’ to be.”
    And am sure that it can be used to link missional church inadequacies and the pre-concieved ideas of church from those who stand outside.

    Comment by Warwick — December 1, 2005 @ 5:24 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.