Do we want our churches to just grow as echo chambers in a world that needs more “edge” places, those boundary margin lines where habitats converge and life is most abundant and creative? Do we think we can best change our world by having bigger churches of the like minded religiously? Who are fed by message and not by mission? Is what we do on Sunday really changing Monday life? Do we put our trust in an approach that thinking rightly will lead to right action, just as we hope that worship will lead to service?
The mission calls our church not to get bigger so we can put on more programs and better worship to grow liberal minds. But instead the mission calls the church to grow the soul of the neighborhoods and lives around us, outside of us, and as we do that, in relationship with those very different from us, we trust that what guides us and inspires us will grow too.
So much of us fits that description to a tee. Our churches are embedded in modernity. Our liberal theology, as Gary Dorrien pointed out in his trilogy of history on American liberal religion, has its DNA the middle ground, a mediating message, between the orthodox right and the non-religious left, to simplify it; but that stance means liberals are prone to be in reacting mode, balancing, one foot weighted one direction and the other foot weighted the other, always worried about identity, always trying to get the Message right, and all that energy saps mission.
And, If I were talking to my missional brothers and sisters from more orthodox communities today, I would challenge them to see the gifts of progressive faith for their ministry. We have experience on how to engage with all of the world, in all its pluralisms, that the non-progressive missionals need in order to better know and love the world and become the church in the process.
So, to reframe van Gelder’s summation of modernity and put it in postmodern missional ways: we are not freely choosing; we have a calling, in some sense experience ourselves as having been Chosen, created by the Mission; we are not autonomous individuals but are inherently and primarily relational and communal persons, finding deeper definitions of freedom in that; we are not entering into community out of rational self-interest but struggling to give up ego and to give one's self to all that the culture of consumerism and self and nationalism says does not make sense; we are covenanting to imitate and in doing so help initiate the "empire of God" or beloved communitas, that way community turns outward not inward upon us.