Thursday, May 14, 2009

More Missional Renaissance: Not a church, but the church

You might want to read posts below first.

From Reggie McNeal: "He kept pressing me for an answer: "Tell me what a missional church is."..I tried to explain why we weren't getting very far in our conversation. When you refer to "a" missional church, you miss the point. The discussion should be about "the" church. "A" church is an institutional way of looking at church. "The" church is a movement. "The" church is people. He didn't buy it. My answer didn't satisfy his need to develop a description of something he wanted to call "church."

"This encounter reveals different points of departure in how people view the church. These are not just points in tension; they are irreconcileable in their implications for what people wind up thinking and doing. When we use a instead of the in front of church, I think we miss the missional revolution in its true essence, by reverting to language supporting institutional implications. "A" church draws on centuries of thinking about a corporate something that exists apart from the people who make it up. This language fails to make the break with the Western Constantinian institutionalized view of what church is. Missional followers of Jesus don't belong to a church. They are the church. Wherever they are, the church is present. Church is not something outside of themselves that they go to or join or support [or attend.RR]; it's something they are. "

Mission means sending. The sense of sending is throughout the whole of the Bible. The mission of God, the sending for God, is about redemption, reconciling, responding, restoring. The missional church is then a redundancy. But it is God's mission that calls us; our mission is becoming a people of two or more who are seeking, listening to the call, to find where God is moving in the world and we are sent to be there participating with God in response to that call.

And an organized church with bylaws, budgets, building, paid ministry and all those other inherent drawbacks can still be a thriving missional people; if they catch the three shifts McNeal writes the book to guide people through.

Just as it doesn't take what people traditionally think of as a church to be the church.

"I was sharing these issues at aq conference of collegiate ministers and a participant said, 'You mean to tell me that if two Christians are tutoring high school students in English, that's a church? My reply was that centuries of conditioning would lead us in the West to frame that question that way, in an attempt to define some organization so we can talk about it. 'What I am saying,' I explained, 'is if people are tutoring students in the name of Jesus, the church is there.'

This is why we talk not about planting a church, but a movement, church planting churches, and how that makes all the difference in your spiritual DNA of the group, is the root of many conflicts and different ideas of mission, and it is why we are challenged not only to think about such things as the symbolism of the difference between planting and starting, a church and the church, but also why the first order is for a conversation on what is imagined and meant by church, and why, and expanding people's understanding and committment to what church is. It is why, after you do that and get people to open up to new/old visions of church, that planting missional faith communities whether you call them churches or not, whether you organize them as corporate beings or not, why people will see 1. that it is necessary as a very aspect of being missional, as a marker of healthy spirituality, that you aren't complete until you have multiplied even in a variety of ways, that one way or another you have given yourself away; and 2. that it is, after you get it, the shift, that it is not something hard to do, but because it is very natural, very sustaining, it is hard not to do it; it is easy, really, and it is fun. If it isn't easy and isn't fun then that is a red flag that it isn't missional in God's way anyway.

More to come. Get the book. Give me links where others are talking about it. What do you think, feel, about some of these excerpts and reflections? Much of what is in the book goes on to give "traditional churches" inspiration and stories about how they can become a part of the missional renaissance. Not all is lost. There are things they can do, especially with their resources, that missional communities in places like here in Turley can't, in terms of this renaissance, this new birth, this church being born again. So if you have given up on church, or are a part of a church, or are moving into missional identity as we are, and donning one of my other hats if you are part of a small group in the UU Christian Fellowship world or might be thinking of growing one where you are, there is something for you here.

More will come from McNeal's book here at the blog in the days and weeks to come.


Stephen Lingwood said...

When I speak in similar terms I have sometimes got resistance from some who insist that in our Unitarian congregational tradition "the church" is always the local church, and other bodies are assemblies of churches. Where do you think the conversation should go around that issue?

Ron said...

Hi Stephen. Good to hear from you again.
I know what you mean. Here our tradition comes mostly out of the Puritans and the seminal Cambridge Platform of 1648 that establishes congregationalism as a doctrine of the church, and carries the belief that there is no "higher church" than the local congregation, but the Platform is clear that the congregations are connected to someething larger than themselves, that there is the Church Militant and Triumphant, so to speak to use its terms, for a sense of identity beyond the local church and beyond the here and now; even more importantly, the roots of congregationalism held that Christ was the Head of the Church; if that is the case then the spirit of Christ, the spirit of Jesus, is what brings the church into being, and the local churches are parts of that being, parts of the Body of Christ, but are not in themselves wholly that Body, and so without a sense of "the church" the focus on "a church" as a whole unto itself becomes idolatry, that is the finite taking on the aspects of the infinite, and so no wonder a church or a collection or assembly of churches that has that as its understanding will not grow from the missional lifeblood that is "the church".
Let me say that one doesn't have to adopt all of my language as a church to see itself as part of "the church"; part of being the body of Christ, living in the spirit of Jesus, to me means emptying one's self of whatever gets in the way of participating in God's mission, and language or certain worship rituals and traditions, might at times need to be emptied out so "a church" can fully be a part of "the church." But I don't think that is what usually happens...
Overall, our polity is one of the reasons why I am still strongly supportive of Unitarian Universalism; but I don't mistake our polity of congregationalism, especially as often misunderstood and truncated, as an ultimate end in itself. My understanding of the church goes back two thousand years, not just to 1607 in Scrooby or 1648 in Cambridge Mass.
And that might make all the difference in why some UUs will never get this...

Ron said...

P.S. I hope that helped with your question. I realize I threw a bunch of stuff in there that should have been a separate main post as I have been thinking how both our polity and our worship traditions as practiced often hinder our ability to become the church, and this is true for Unitarian churches still in the Christian tradition and those who aren't...and goes for churches in other communions as well of course.

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