The Missional Challenge We Face

This is my second post for the Missional Syncroblog conversation on Missional Church as it relates to the Churches of Christ.  I am thankful to be a part of this.  I offer this post as a reflection based on my own understanding, experience, and participation in ministry.


The question being asked for this post is what are the challenges that the missional conversation presents to the Churches of Christ.  Like any good question, there are many answers that could be given.  I simply want to address how I believe the historic understanding of church restoration is strained by the challenge to be/become missional.

Last year I wrote an article titled “The Future of the Churches of Christ” that was published in New Wineskins (you can read it here).  In that article I suggested that one of the tenets of pursuing church restoration has been the drive to restore the supposed pattern of the first-century church.  This idea of restoration meant restoring the form of the first-century church rather than restoring the function.  Though I don’t believe the subject of form versus function is so easily divided as though function never necessitates a certain degree of form, I believe Churches of Christ have too often pursued the restoration of form without ever asking if the form was helping us achieve the intended function.

It is this pursuit of forms rooted in a first-century culture which is very different from our own culture that runs against the missional movement.  The missional movement, as I understand, begins with the recognition that Western Christianity has lived in a modern and Christendom culture that is quickly fading and has disappeared altogether in many places.  Now we live in a different social culture which is postmodern and post-Christian/Christendom.  In his book The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, Alan Hirsch describes this culture shift and its consequences for Christianity saying

…this shift from the modern to the postmodern, or from solid modernity to liquid modernity, has generally been difficult for the church to accept.  We find ourselves lost in a perplexing global jungle where our well-used cultural and theological maps don’t seem to work anymore.  It seems as if we have woken up to find ourselves in contact with a strange and unexpected reality that seems to defy our usual ways of dealing with issues of the church and its mission (p. 16).

The question is what will we do with the new culture we find ourselves in?  There are two options that are unexceptable to me.  Those options are to either hide-away and pretend that one day things will change again or to dogmatically and stubbornly resist the changes necessary for incarnational mission (while often deriding those who do).

The other option is for church to start learning what it means to be missionaries in their own geographical and social culture by applying the insights of missionary theory.  This means asking the deep and difficult questions of how to be faithful to the gospel and yet translate, communicate, incarnate that gospel into tangible and palpable ways that make sense to the new culture.  That doesn’t mean watering down the gospel or making it any easier to be a disciple than God makes that task in Jesus and scripture.  But it does mean things will be different…the church will look and be different (in a gospel way).  Yet that is the sticky challenge for Churches of Christ.  Not only have we been occupied with trying to restore primitive forms rather than trying to live the gospel in a contextual manner  but we have also developed over the course of our movements history our own church culture (which is a natural by-product of existence).

The problem is that for many Churches of Christ, this church culture has become a static and unchangeable culture equated often as being part of the Apostolic Teaching.  Now we are being asked in the missional church conversations to learn how to become missionaries that adapt to the new culture around us for the sake of God’s mission to this world.  We have a challenge!  However, by God’s grace, power, and wisdom revealed in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, it is a doable challenge.

5 responses to “The Missional Challenge We Face

  1. A doable and DIFFICULT challenge indeed!

    Would you say that we need to engage more with missionary theory or serious theological reflection? I tend more towards the latter. I am about as sold on anthropology and sociology as I am business management.

    Plus I wonder sometimes if work too hard to translate something that should in fact be peculiar. Something that should require true conversion to grasp. This is the challenge that is being put to me right now as I am engaging with Will Willimon’s “Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized”.

    Great thoughts brother. Thank you for being a part of the conversation.

    • Michael,

      First, thanks for hosting these conversations…we need to have them.

      Rather than making an either/or scenario between missional theory and theological reflection, I would say we need them both and we need to have them in conversation with each other.

      I also agree with the point you are echoing from Willimon. Our God is triune and that is not something that an unchurched person understands without solid biblical and theological teaching. Rather than eliminating the language that shapes our identity, we teach those who don’t understand as we engage in missional community with them. Last year I was involved in a conversation about Jesus at a “wine and cheese sampling” party. Most of the people present had a mixed bag of pluralistic beliefs and only myself and two other people actively trying to follow Jesus but everyone was interested in talking about Jesus and faith, so we had the conversation. Two of the people there joined a house church that we were starting.

  2. When I read many Reformed pastors and theologians I get the feeling they are trying to ratchet their way forward with discursive reasoning. I get some of the same feelings when I read this.
    I would suggest that we advance primarily on our knees and not with our brains; when we lead with the brain the tail wags the dog, which is the spirit. But for a Tradition which has really no tradition of prayer, nor great athletes of prayer, one is left to cast about, floundering to find the way forward. We all need the monks. I think of the orcs trying to take down the gate of Minas Tirith, and saying, ‘we can’t do it; the gates are too strong.’ And the chief orc says, ‘bring the warg’. Prayer is the warg to take down this gate.

    The Structure of Church worship must be understood not as evangelism, as something that takes place primarily on earth, or on hell(Christ preaching in hell to the captives), but a doxology and Eucharist which are rooted primarily in heaven, in the gathering of Hebrews 12. Worship is the Church in its culture, before the Throne, with myriads of angels, and the souls of just men made perfect. It is witness only because it is -being- the Church; men become the mystical representations of the cherubim; Jesus is the offerer in the Bishop/pastor and the offered in the Communion. So, to the extent we ‘reconfigure’ Church, especially Sunday Communion Service, must be anchored in the reality that it is the Church as the Church that celebrates, and it is not configured primarily as an evangelistic tool to ‘reach out and touch someone’. For, indeed, if the culture of heaven is abandoned we have nothing to which we call the evangelized.

    The early Church lived in a pre-Christian culture, and they did not incorporate the rhythms of the Theater of the Greeks into their services, nor bring gladiators into their service to give their testimonies. They offered prayers and Eucharist before altars that were tombs for the martyred; their Bishops spread the faith by the near certainty that they would be the next martyrs. On the other hand, when Paul was being ‘missional’ at Mars Hill, he built an apologia for the faith on the basis of points of correspondence with pagan worship….but that is not worship of the Church. That is evangelism, it takes place within the precincts of hell, as it were, taking captivity captive. They didn’t use musical instruments in worship, though such were also available in the culture; they knew there was an organic unity between a capella music and the pursuit of the Stillness that is in the Presence of the Father, the culture of heaven.

  3. ‎”primitive forms”? I’m not buying it. If this is correct, I think it is a sad state of affairs. I stand by the scriptures and the early church, and the mission Jesus clearly commanded, after his resurrection, telling his disciples to go and baptize all nations, teaching them, … Also; there is “ONE BODY, ONE FAITH”. Congregations… were autonomous, with their own local elders and deacons. no Pope, no human creeds. No denominationalism, no adding and subtracting to what God has commanded and said, no headquarters, or outside authority figure, telling people how to worship and what to do. God’s Word and love is what binds us together. God knows we need to put on the full armor of God and stand up for Jesus Christ, truth in this troubled world, like we are told to do. Why is this generation so afraid to stand up and evangelize for truth as they once did? It seems we have discarded the evangelism tools that work, such as the wonderful teaching of the Jule Miller film strips, etc.? What are we afraid of? Speak for truth and stand up to the questions and challenges in a strong truthful and rational manner. If someone is offended, so be it; but, be able to answer for your faith. John Clayton has it right: We need to pray (such as the Jabez prayer) and get disciples, such as Clayton, in the main stream media. We need to reach the world. There is no excuse not to, in these modern times. and stop tip-toeing around. There is a war going on in heavenly places. Beware of the anti-Christ, disquised as an angel of light… –dc

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