Friday, March 16, 2007

The Forgotten Ways: Notes on Mission

The following comes from "The Forgotten Ways: reactivating the missional church" by Alan Hirsch, foreword by Leonard Sweet (you should also read Sweet's new, The Gospel According to Starbucks). What a good summary of incarnational missional church, and points to remember.

"In a remark ascribed to Gordon Cosby, the pioneering leader of that remarkable community Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. [], he noted that in over sixty years of significant ministry, he had observed that no groups that came together around a non-missional purpose (e.g. prayer, worship, study, etc.) ever ended up becoming missional. It was only those groups that set out to be missional (while embracing prayer, worship, study, etc. in the process) that actually got to doing it....Mission is being used in a narrow sense here to suggest the church's orientation to the "outsiders" and ministry as the orientation to the "insiders." Experience tells us that a church that aims at ministry seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the church that aims at mission will have to do ministry, because ministry is the means to do mission. Our services, our ministries, need a greater cause to keep them alive and give their broader meaning. by planting the flag outside the walls and boundaries of the church, so to speak, the church discovers itself by rallying to it--this is mission."

Hirsch goes on to describe the effect of the Empire taking over the church in the 4th century and bringing in philosophical orientations that were foreign to its more Hebraic beginnings, namely infusing it with the spirit of dualism (all that Platonic stuff). And so God and the World were juxtaposed as dualistic opposites, and the Church became the great sphere of itself between the spheres of God and the world. And so people come out of the world and into the church in order to experience God. This has been the predominant model from Augustine to today. It lies at the heart of the modern, mechanistic, attractional, organizational church. Hirsch uses a great allegory of contemporary times to illustrate this and I will try to come back and put it in when possible. For now click Read More to read on.

But if dualism is not allowed to be the underpinning of the church, and God is not seen as separate from the world but already active within the world outside the church, then the spheres change position. Hirsch has them overlapping, and in the space where they each meet is the space for the new communitas or missional incarnational church. But I think of it more as spheres within spheres, or conical. The world sphere is a smaller one within the bigger sphere of God, and the Church is a smaller sphere within the sphere of the World, but of course still within the larger circle of God. And so for the church to have its own shape and to actually be the church it must engage with and merge with the world in order to experience or draw closer to God. It flips Constantine and the Empire Church on its head. It also throws into question, and perhaps chaos, the identity of the church in regards to religious pluralism, for God in this model would be possible anywhere in the world, beckoning to the church to find itself there.

Hirsch continues to talk about the Third Place Communities in Tasmania, Australia. [the Living Room Church where I am in Turley, OK, see the links, is involved with this in creation of the new "a third place" community center here where we are in the Tulsa area]. He says, "This group of Jesus' people refuse to gather as God's people in sacred, isolated spaces. Rather they exist to incarnate and do mission in "third places,' where people hang out in their spare time. So they gather in pubs, sports clubs, play groups, interest groups, subcultures, etc. and people look in at what they are doing. He talks about the re-thinking of what it means in such contexts to "do public worship." (If you try to just replicate your sanctuary style worship while you are in one of these public spaces, you likely will not be allowed back in. Point is it means a rethinking of worship and interaction and mission.).