Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Building a Bridge as We Walk on It

As I am writing about the nature of the Missional Church, I think about the previous shifts in the church over the last 2000 years. The shift from Jerusalem based Messianism to Antioch based Christianity. From an underground network of counter-cultural revolutionaries to a government-backed religious movement. The split between the Greek and Latin churches. The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. I think about Martin Luther or Menno Simmons and how they had an experience of the church that did not prepare them for the radical shifting of the church that was transpiring. The future of the Reformation church was not an extension of the church that they knew from their past. Martin Luther knew how to be a good Catholic, but he did not know what it meant to lead people into this new thing that the church was becoming. 

The future of the church at this point in history is not a logical extension of the church that I know from my past. I know this from my experience with Shepherd Community back in 93-95. We were developing something new as we were doing it. We did not have a predetermined plan for reaching all of Houston. Oh some did, but it did not pan out that way. We were just trying to figure out how to do it together along the way. In some ways, we had more "right" than we knew. But we got entrapped by the numbers game. We thought we had to be growing and multiplying to be effective in our vision and since Ralph Neighbor was a part of Faith Community in Singapore which was then about 6000 people, we thought that if were not a significant number of people that we were not a valid movement of people within the Shepherd Community vision. 

I am not saying that we had it all together. In fact there was much that was problematic. But we knew how to do community, how to support one another, how to be in one another's lives. 

But we thought we knew the end, the picture of what the church should look like, i.e. lots and lots of small groups multiplying all over Houston. I feel that in many ways we missed the point. We missed what God was doing because we assumed that he would work in a different way. 

Now this kind of future prediction is happening in other ways: flat organizations, organic networks that share a DNA, house churches, de-institutionalization, determining a church's unique calling, etc. It seems that we are overrun with experts who are good a predicting the future of the church and providing a formula for churches to enter that future. 

But Luther did not know how to be the church after the Reformation. He could not predict what the church in Germany would look like. He had to simply step out on the bridge and begin to build it as he walked. 

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