Blues Brothers:  On the Missio Dei. Yesterday I started working through some of the posts from the recent missional synchroblog in which I participated; there were a total of 50 people on the “official” list, but a few others decided to post on the topic as well. Yesterday I apologized to Paul Simon for quoting the lines, “I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free / There must be fifty ways to define ‘missional’.” I summarized the first few posts, and before we slip out the back, Jack, today we’re going to tackle the next batch.

Brad Brisco titled his post “Missional: More Than a Buzz Word,” which seems to express a widely-agreed sentiment. He structured a threefold description by saying that missional church is “about the missionary nature of God and His church”; “incarnational rather than attractional”; and it’s “about actively participating in the missio Dei, or mission of God.” These three themes will be familiar to anyone who is actually paying attention to the term and how it’s being defined by some of the leaders in the conversation. To foster a missional posture, he says, begin with Spiritual Formation, emphasize the Priesthood of All Believers, create new ways of measuring ministry success, search for “Third Places,” and tap into the power of stories.

I like the added “how-to” emphasis that Brad tacked onto his post. We saw the three elements of his definition in yesterday’s summary as well, and we also discussed finding new definitions of “success.” So far we don’t have a new definition, but we’ve outlined the fact that the old ones don’t work for this form. As for the power of stories and third places, I fully agree with Brad on these. Story is perhaps the best way of reaching our culture today, and speaking of “third places”….

Barb’s post takes a less technical/analytical slant than some of us and just jumps to the heart of the matter with the metaphor of the village well. By another name, what she describes is in fact a “third place,” a term from Ray Oldenburg’s book, The Great Good Place. She writes,

The need for wells has totally gone away with the convenience of running water…. But the necessity for the social needs that wells provided has not suddenly disappeared. …
I think that “being missional” is, in part, finding those wells that still exist in our lives today. I need to find a well or wells around my city. Places where people naturally gather to do business or take care of their children or play. A place to meet people on a regular basis where friendships can develop. A place to hear others talk about their lives. A place to share my life with them. An “as you are going” kind of place.

I like Barb’s practical approach — like Brad, the importance of third places come to the fore, as they did in the comments to my synchroblog post. This is an important concept, and one which I think we’ll see again in some of the other posts. Barb uses the term “wells” to fit her metaphor, but she makes a great introduction to third places, which are a — if not the — crucial missional context.

Like our other brother Brad, Brad Grinnen assaults the notion of missional as a buzzword. He says it isn’t a program and it “isn’t what you look like or who you hang out with.” I think he nails this misuse of the term when he says,

if you’ve tagged the term ‘missional’ onto your new efforts to ‘grow’ your church or sound relevant…then you most certainly are not missional…or relevant for that matter. that is to say, if missional is your buzzword, then it isn’t a part your dna.

In contrast, he says “missional is living out the mission of God in our everyday, ordinary, mundane lives and allowing that everyday, ordinary, mundane life to be sacred.”

I just really like Brad’s if/then statement about missional as buzzword being incompatible with missional as DNA. This is about as succinct a way to put it as I can think of.

Rounding out our trinity of Brads, the never-short-for-words Brad Sargent hits his typically insightful stride in the ominously-titled “Paradigm Profiling in The Missional Zone.” You want to wince when he says, also commenting about the word being used and misused as people argue over its meaning, “Seems like the real question that some North American churches, ministries, and agencies are fighting over is WHO is ‘missional’? As if we are all Dogs Who Love the Lord and are trying to mark our territory.”

Brad comes up with a cautionary statement with his observation that “there are areas where I don’t think what’s typically considered “missional” goes far enough toward a holistic paradigm.” Typically thorough, he does some analysis to determine what a missional paradigm would look like. (“A paradigm system is a multi-layered system of ways that a group of people deal with life. Each person functions from a paradigm, and cultures hold a paradigm in common.”)

This process involved studying surface behaviors and statements of people and groups that say they are missional (or that don’t say so, but come across that way anyway). Then I approximated the underlying paradigm system. In other words, I gathered a set of relevant data, then analyzed it to “backcast” and see what “deep structures” would inherently and consistently serve as starting points and processes that lead to such a specific set of surface behaviors in culture and organizations. It also included figuring out what “differentiates” approaches that may sound or look similar to missional, but actually aren’t … or aren’t yet. This is an art, and you’ll have to decide for yourselves whether I’m an artist, an artiste, or just fakin’ it while drawin’ stick-figures …

Critical values for followers in a missional paradigm are contextualization, ongoing relational-incarnational presence, redemptive transformation, respect and mutuality, gifts of both individuals and the community, and discipleship.

Some of the guiding principles for followers in a Missional Paradigm are these:
* Choose organic principles over programmatic approaches.
* Choose to create a culture of producers instead a culture of consumers.
* Choose the contextual local approach over generic universal materials.
* Choose the intentional and strategic over the experimental and pragmatic.
* Choose gradual change and impact, unless the Holy Spirit presses for urgency.
* Choose corporate participation over institutional ownership.
* Choose an external/Kingdom focus over an internal/Christendom focus.
* Choose narrative theology over systematic theology.
* Choose mentoring systems approaches to multiplication discipleship over informational program approaches to discipleship.
* Choose words of Jesus over those of other biblical authors.

Brad “futuristguy’ Sargent’s posts are often long and technical, so may not resonate with everyone, but distillations of his word should be of interest to all. (After all the above, he then does a case study!) I really resonated with the seven guiding principles he lists, and I think his analysis of the values of a missional community reflect quite accurately on the actual facts. Not that any one of these could be used as a litmus test of somone’s missional credentials, but in general those who resonate with few or none of the characteristics he lists are quite unlikely to be missional… and if they claim to be they will likely be misusing the term as a buzzword, not from someplace deep within their DNA. Brad’s post takes quite a different approach — rather than attempting to define “missional,” he sets out to describe a missional paradigm. If we thought the definition of the term was fuzzy, defining a paradigm ought to be worse… yet when he gets down to the summary, he manages to make it seem fairly clear.

Chad Brooks offers a much shorter post in which he uses the term “missional” as an antithesis to “attractional.” He writes, “Missional is not a generational lifestyle. The church at its root level is a missional organization.”

I found the use of language in Chad’s post, by inference, to be the most striking part. For example, we can infer that he incorporates “incarnational” into the word missional, to the extent that attractional models simply cannot be missional. As well, he suggests that missional is not specific to this current (or any) generation, but is inherently part of the nature of the church. This may be so, but if it is, then forms of church which are not missional are, by extension, dysfunctional. I would tend to agree with these observations, though I may have stated them more strongly here than I normally might.

Next, former pastor Chris Wignall admits he might be cynical.

I have my suspicions that to some degree this is a “movement” that is, and will be, almost entirely concentrated on clergy and Christian academics; like so many before. I wonder if what we’re supposedly catching as the lead wave of something special is just the book writers and conference speakers finally lifting their collective heads from their holy books just long enough to catch a whiff of the things the laity have known and lived for years; the faith of the pews simply doesn’t really relate to real life.

I may be having a cynical day, but it’s the pastors and professors who face the most change if this thing takes hold. For the vast majority it will remain the ongoing issue of trying to figure out how a 2000 year old book and a God-man who’s been missing for just as long can have any meaning in the carpool, corporate ladder, cable tv, and nod at your neighbor reality we’re immersed in.

He contends that “common Christian[s]… are the people who have something to say about ‘missional’. They spend their days a part of the culture and community where the scholars are only now beginning to pay attention.” He sums it up by saying, “It’s a scary world for the experts when the amateurs are out in front.”

Perhaps Chris is a bit cynical toward scholars, academics, and clergy… (who am I to call the kettle black?) but he is correct in his assessment that it is these professional spheres where the biggest changes will occur in a shift to missional thinking. The “amateurs out front” is a great phrase for the priesthood of believers, a concept we’ve hit already in our 50-post-browse. And yes, perhaps it has been forgotten that the professionals — Paul says “apostles” — are the ones on display at the end of the procession, “like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die.” Some of the volunteers in the crowd who finally begin to understand may lower their hands now. It seems to me that the essence of Chris’s post is, “Okay professionals, you’ve had your turn. Stand aside now and let the common man take a shot.” In terms of the everyday and the ordinary, I think he’s right. In response to his suspicion that this “movement” stops with the professionals, I say, “Oh God, no!” What he’s identifying is, I think, something I mentioned in my post about the battle over this word. If those “professionals” who wish to thwart subversive change are allowed to get ahold of the word and strip its power, it will stop with them. And that’s why the word is a vitally important one.

I think we best leave it there and pick it up again in Part III. Including what we said yesterday, we can now say:

  • the term missional is misused by many who don’t understand it;
  • missional church is not the same as emerging church;
  • simply adding the term doesn’t make it so;
  • missional is incarnational;
  • individual missional engagement, not just corporate engagement, matters;
  • missional church roots itself in history by taking a long view of its engagement;
  • missional church is in the hands of the so-called “laity”;
  • missional is a buzz-word only to those who don’t have it in their DNA;
  • missional engagement thrives in the context of third places; and
  • missional is a paradigm that should be innate to every healthy church.

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