Sunday, January 20, 2008

an A to Z beginners guide to the missional conversation: part 1

Faced with requests for clarity around the question of defining missional church, I recently road tested the A to Z beginners guide with 2 groups of church leaders. It seemed to be helpful. Here is the first installment.

A is for adaptive change. A survey of 200 university students noted that “When I graduate I will probably have a job that does not exist today” in a world in which “I did not create the problems but they are my problems.” This is adaptive change, the awareness that the skills and habits and training of today are of little help in the world of tomorrow. Missional conversation wants to wrestle with this context of adaptive change.

B is for Biblical. Missional church is resourced by close attention to Scripture. A recurring Scripture is Luke 10:1-12. Jesus sends out unnamed disciples. Their task is to accept the hospitality of their culture, by eating and drinking at the tables of local towns and villages. As they dwell deeply, the expectation is that they will catch sight of the unique fingerprints of God. These signs of the Kingdom are named as an invitation to the local community to participate in the ongoing work of the Kingdom.

This Biblical story of ordinary discipleship nourishes so much of the missional conversation: going not attracting, ordinary not guru, accepting the gifts of the culture not marketing seeker services, relationships not programmes, wholism of the Kingdom not narrowly focused agendas.

C is for context. It could also be culture. Or contextualization. All three “C” words remind us that Christian faith has always existed in a particular time and place. Hebrew is different from Greek, which was different from Latin, which was different from English. Which sounds different in the mouth of a New Zealander than in the mouth of a Canadian. And behind language lies values and behind values lie worldviews. The missional conversation pays attention to this reality. It asks what the speaking of Christian faith will look like in our particular time and place.

When I think of C, I think of my backyard. It is surrounded by fences, which provide shelter. It looks out to the Port Hills, which often catch cloud. My backyard is shaped by being part of the Canterbury plains, a stretch of land known for hot dry summers exacerbated by the influences of global warming. In other words, where I stand has multiple influences. The technical words are micro- (backyard), meso- (Port Hills) and macro (Canterbury Plains and global warming). Missional church pays attention to these multiple influences on context.

C is also for cultivate. But we will get to that under L is for leadership.

C is not for church. But we will get to that under K is for kingdom.

D is for discern. What is God up to? It is a question asked by those ordinary disciples in Luke 10, as they looked for signs of the Kingdom already present in the towns and villages. Missional conversation asks this question of our world today. It relies on some simple theological beliefs: that the Spirit of God is active in our world and that this Spirit of God points to Jesus. Discerning this Spirit is a gift and a practise, an art and a skill. Jesus trusted the disciples as the disciples learnt by watching Jesus.

D is also for dwell. And deeply. Dwell deeply. The missional conversation invites us to this deep dwelling in a Biblical imagination and in the lives of ordinary people. The missional conversation is aware that modernity has made us magpies. Magpies are a type of bird that likes to collect bright and shiny things, which it places in its nest, only to go looking for yet more bright and shiny things. Dwelling deeply is an awareness of our instinctive search for bright and shiny things; new program, new leader, new technologies.

E is for emerging. Missional and emerging should overlap. They overlap as they share a passion for mission in Western cultures, the belief that God is at work in our world and the commitment to discovering God’s future. Missional and emerging can also clash, especially when emerging church declares that everything old is bad because only the new is good.

F is for future. Missional conversation looks forward, believing that this is not as good as it gets. They draw on the Lords prayer; Your kingdom come, your will be done. As this prayer is prayed, so hope is affirmed, for we are called to participate in God’s ongoing work in the world.

H is for hospitality. Aware of Luke 10, missional inverts our notions of hospitality. It asks us not to invite, but to go. It suggests a need to receive hospitality in our culture. It does this because of I, for Incarnation.

More links
For I to N of missional conversation, go here.
For an A to Z of emerging church, go here

Posted by steve at 10:50 PM


  1. Looking forward for more!


    Comment by Sivin — January 21, 2008 @ 2:10 am

  2. Wow, so many ideas this sparks. I’m also looking forward to more of this. As for the last, I’m always amazed by Jesus’ hospitality, the way he is able to be the guest and yet, somehow, the host at every meal. What a gift it can be, I think, for us to be more at home in a place than even those who live there.

    Comment by J. Michael Matkin — January 21, 2008 @ 9:26 am

  3. genius ! thanks for this and for the rest – peace,

    Comment by julie — January 21, 2008 @ 10:45 am

  4. Great work Steve, look forward to the rest. So many teasers just whet my appetite 🙂

    Comment by David — January 21, 2008 @ 11:26 am

  5. Re: Adaptive Change, may I quote from the post-modern, post-apocalytpic, postest-with-the-mostest, namely, Tank Girl: “It ain’t the world I woulda made, but it’s the world I live in.”

    How often we must act responsibly for problems in whose origins we hold no responsibility … if this is the attitude of upcoming generations, then there may be far more hope than some may think. Hopefully this can seep into our communities of faith as well …

    Comment by brad — January 31, 2008 @ 10:06 am

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