- A Redeemed Society-The church possesses truth that outsiders need and the mission is conceived as getting outsiders to become insiders. In some ways this is a bit like an enclave that could be escapist, where insiders have truth and outsiders are welcome, as long as they believe and behave like the insiders.
- A Redeeming Society-The church on mission is primarily viewed as action, what we do for the sake of the world. This imagination is characterized by energy, expressiveness, and enterprise. It's about getting the mission done and making an impact.
- A Redemptive Society-The mission is viewed as a way a being in the world. How we live as the church is the way we offer salvation to the world, which means that this imagination calls us into missional formation that shapes our being. We might call this imagination embodiment that leads to engagement.
I want to move beyond the enclave imagination. I've been there done that. The us against the world mindset of mission falls short of God's hope to redeem all of the world. (See Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright).
The energy imagination of mission is not sustainable. Exhausted people do not change the world. At least in my experience, all I've ever done within this imagination is rearrange the deck chairs on a ship with a very slow leak. (It does not take a Titanic-sized hole to sink a ship.)
So here's the question: What does it mean to embody this redemptive way of life in your (and my) context? This imagination can change everything when you think about mission. The redeemed society imagination invites the committed to get busy doing church stuff. The redeeming society imagination invites them to get busy doing mission stuff. The redemptive society imagination invites people to be formed in such a way that they can enter into God's rest, embody that rest, and offer that rest to others. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are to "make every effort to enter into his rest." This is about entering into the rhythms of God's life in our local context, the exact nature of which cannot be predetermined. (Read Walter Breuggemann's new book Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now).
First, leaders in the church must embrace rhythms of rest that serve as a sign, foretaste and instrument of the forthcoming kingdom of God. The mission of God begins with rest, not with action. With the resurrection, the Sabbath shifted from the seventh day to the first day. We celebrate and thank God for what the Spirit is doing in our midst and we embrace rhythms of rest that train our imagination to see this.
Secondly, we lead people into this mystery of restful mission. The late Dallas Willard taught us about the need for VIM—Vision, Intention and Means. I agree that we need vision. We call people into intention. And we provide means. But there is a huge mystery that we must embrace when we are talking about the journey of moving people from spiritual consumers to missional disciples. Just because someone has the right intentions and commits to be missional does not mean that they have the ability to actually carry it out. If we only have VIM, we too easily think we are in control. We need VIMM.
Our job as leaders is to facilitate the journey of helping people enter into the mystery that is their relationship with God, with others, and with their own souls. (I write about this in the last chapter of my book The Relational Way.) We have to embrace the fact that leading people to be a redemptive society is far beyond our control. Yes we can do things to facilitate the journey (VIM), but the exact way that people take steps on that journey is beyond our ability to see, (therefore VIMM).
We can control how people advance into the first and second imaginations. These focus on externals, on measurables, on results that look good on a report.
This third imagination requires us to let go of control as we work with the mystery. When we do, we will most often get the results of effective church life (the focus of the Redeemed Society) and the results of making an impact (the focus of the Redeeming Society), but those are secondary to the call to be a people who live in this redemptive way.
Embrace the mystery of missional.
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