Monday, July 25, 2011

Is Missional Church Practical?

Missional Reflection #7 in a series where I quote a theologian and reflect on how it might shape a missional imagination. This quote is from Jacques Ellul.

"Christians who are conformed to the world introduce into the Church the value-judgments and concepts of the world. They believe in action. They want efficiency. They give first place to economics, and they think that all means are good. ... They are denied by their sociological milieu. The protestant thinks to adopt this the means which the world employs. Since he finds those means useful in his profession, or in his leisure time, they stand so high in his estimation that eh cannot see why he should not introduce them into the Church and make the things of the spirit dependent upon them.
He never faces the problem of these means. ... They are effective. Hence they are good. Since they are in a sanctified world and are effective, why not make use of them in the Church? The criteria of his thinking as a Christian are so vague, and the demands of his faith are so "inward," that he is unaware of any contradiction between the world's means and the life of faith. (Jacques Ellul, False Presence of the Kingdom, 47-48).

Many reading this quote from Jacques Ellul will find what he says hard to embrace. Pragmatic actions that lead to tangible results rule the day in the church. We are drawn to solutions that work. We want to know the steps that will make us into God's kind of church. We attend conferences so that we can learn something that we can implement, something that will help us be better Christians, something we can do to transform the world. For most people the only other options is some version of irrelevant theological pontificating that seems to have nothing to do with reality.

When it comes to missional community we often look for pragmatic direction so that we can be effective missional people. At one level this search for the pragmatic is good. There is no point in turning missional talk into ivory-tower academic ideas. We do need tangible ways for growing in missional life.

But at another level our pragmatic search hinders us from actually getting us to the place where we want to go. We want actionables and we search until we find them. However our search is at the expense of attaining a missional imagination which can guide our journey much better than any 12-step program toward missional living.

We are so used to pragmatic answers for doing church that we don't realize how the questions of effectiveness are driven by the world's imagination not God's. As a result, being missional gets turned into a way to grow exponentially or inspiring thoughts about staring some kind of movement instead of a church. Missional community becomes a specific form or groups format and size. We need to be cautious of fads an so called "movements" that work, not because missional does not work nor because it is not effective, but because we have a tendency in the church to attach ourselves to a "means," a method instead of the God of that means. We are prone to make a god out of our methodology. As a result, we miss the God of mission and the call to "peoplehood" that he wants us to embody in our local context.

If your immediate response to this is that I (and Jacques Ellul) am being impractical, you are missing the point. I'm just challenging the typical approach to practical. If we want to see the practical steps that the Spirit wants to provide for leading churches into missional life, we often have to repent of our expectations of what those steps will actually look like so that we can actually have the ability to see what God is doing in our world and meet him there.

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