Characteristices of a Missional Church
Kim reflects on the characteristics of the Missional Church and the implications upon his own community of faith, ‘The Junction’.
For the last fifteen hundred years the church has been at the centre of society and involved with the state. Today in a postmodern era there is a new emerging church rising from the midst of a irrelevant, dated church. It is grassroots and rough. It is being lead by mainly young people and it crosses denomination and organization.
Its form is still shaping and its contexts are ever changing however there are some universal principles that seem to thread these churches together as missional communities. They embrace their culture with simple abandonment. They have smashed the walls of the church and the invisible barriers of the church to reach the world around them.
While at the same time living counter cultural lives that interact with ancient prayers and age-old disciplines. They are rediscovering liturgy, service and prayer as the fuel for the mission.
Attract verus submerge.
Since the time of Constantine the church has been at the centre of society. This was reflected in the churches buildings, which were given great importance in the centre of town and its overwhelming structure was intimidating in height and design. The steeple was the highest point in any town. ‘It was only three centuries after the death of Christ that Constantine gave official recognition to the importance of Christianity in the State by calling and presiding over the Council of Nicaea (Cairns 1954: 85)’.
State and Church co-existed as equals crossing over into each other’s realms through politics and the government of the day. There was a blurred edge between clergy power and paid political rule.
Christianity was not birthed this way. It was considered a Jewish cult, was a grass roots movement, and its people were marginalised. The Roman government persecuted Christians and many thousands were tortured and killed in the first three hundred years after the birth of Jesus.
Today most of the church acts as if it is still under Constantine influence. It aims to construct large buildings where it conducts services that represent the spirituality of the church. Sunday morning has become the unchangeable icon of the modern western church.
Go anywhere in the western church and you’ll see a universal format of singing and preaching as the fundamental cornerstones of the content of these services. The church’s main premise is to conduct a service so it can attract visitors to their building and then assimilate them into the life of the church and its programs. Some large churches do this incredibly well and provide excellent services. From when a person enters the car park to when they leave they are treated to a host of volunteers who will greet them, show them to a chair, teach or baby-sit their children, sing to them and then provide a reasonable amount of entertainment from PowerPoint to skits, dramas and items. Some people can go from one large church to another enjoying world class preaching and music.
Unfortunately many of the smaller churches have the same aims and intentions, but they do not have the facilities, resources and volunteers to provide the same quality product. They most likely have attended the large church services and even a yearly conference hosted by the large church and yet they find such experiences unreproducible.
Firstly, western church services are normally incredibly inward in their language and content. Only people familiar to the Christian culture would truly understand the majority of what is said and sung. There is usually a cultural issue where the songs and style is dated. The service only appeals to people whom like that style.
This results in most people feeling they could not bring the average unchurched friend or relative to these services. In fact most of the people who do attend are the members of that congregation or visiting Christians. There are enough visiting or disgruntled Christians, who shop around, that these churches continue on without asking “who is finding Jesus for the first time?” They try all sorts of ways to attract new people, from fairs to fates to coffee lounges to visitor corners; they attempt to bring “the worldly person” into the church. No matter how well they greet and guide people, the cultural gap between the average person and the church is enormous. The western Church simply believes the average unchurched person wants their message.
The missional church goes back to the life of Jesus. It submerges itself into the culture it is reaching. He did not construct a building or start a service. Rather he walked among the poor and hurt and lost. He incarnated himself. He became flesh; God came down from heaven and lived among us. He was born poor and grew up in a despised town called Nazareth. He had a questionable birth and in all likeliness lost his earthly father at an early age. He became close friends of sinners and was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. (Luke 8:34 )
This was the only model the early church knew. Those that had been his disciples saw how he pulled away from the crowd and wanted no fame or fortune for his ability to lead and heal. His purpose was to build into the lives of a small group of people so that his mission to bring the kingdom would be carried on their shoulders.
The missional church understands that it is primarily a missional community of people being trained and equipped to live among the world as missionaries. The same principle as oversees missions is applied in the first world. We speak the language, wear the clothes and submerge into the culture we want to reach.
Incarnation is valued as the greatest model of mission. Jesus coming to earth gives us the greatest example of missional living. We see our primary role as missionaries in the first world mission field. Or area is Berwick and Cardinia, reaching young adults, high school young people and families.
Church buildings versus proxy spaces.
The Western Church makes their building spiritual or uses a more conventional hall and makes it a spiritual place. They Christianise it with banners and flowers and pews or seats. They are distinctly built for preaching and singing.
The missional church can use any building and location to gather the church. It doesn’t see the building as the church; it sees the people of God as it. ‘The Greek word for church is ‘ecclesia’ which means ‘the called out community’ and that sounds more like a revolution (Matson: 2002: 33).’ So these called out ones gather to tell stories, remember Christ, practise disciplines and liturgy, teach and equip others to do mission, care for the poor and the widow and share life deeply as life long friends.
Proxy spaces are the places the church can gather at anytime, anywhere, such as in a pub, park, restaurant, caf�, school or home. There is no limit to where they can go. Their attitude is this: where the people are, that’s where they meet. Like the early church that continued to meet in the temple because that’s where their major target group met, the Jews.
They lived with the idea that the curtain in the temple was torn from the top to the bottom so that God could dwell again amongst His people (Matthew 27 : 51). That symbolised that there was no longer a sacred place where God dwelt. However the church today treats the building and Sunday service with almost the same reverence as the Jews treated the temple.
We have intentionally used a pub, a caf�, a school, the park and homes to model that the church can meet anywhere. We will also DO different things such as share a meal or conduct a community project once a month to demonstrate that the church can take on different forms. We have tried to stay as lose and formless as possible.
Greek thinking versus Hebrew holistic thinking.
Plato has influenced the church. He believed that there was a sacred and a secular, and that distinction still lives in the church today. The building and the church Sunday services are the sacred things of life. Whenever a ‘secular’ song is sung in church it is sometimes met with the thought that we are compromising by allowing something ‘worldly’ into the house of God. This dualism of thinking allows for the great divide between the world and the church. It looks negatively on the Arts and culture and tries to Christianise everything so as to make it holy. Hence Hymns are holier than rock music. Naively forgetting that Hymns in their time were considered evil as much of the music was taken from the current bar tunes of the time.
‘As we know, the early church commenced in a Hebrew setting and soon became predominately Gentile in its make up. The Gentile world view of the time drew heavily from the Greek philosophical systems of Plato.It was this world view that over time came to dominate the thinking of the church (Thwaites 1999:15)’.
The missional church can be anywhere at anytime and it holds closely to the scripture that says; ‘for where two or three gather together because they are mine I am there among them (Matthew 18:20 . NLT).’ The goal is not one large weekly gathering in an appointed building but rather the growing of relationships through people. People are the church. Take out the people and the church ceases to exist. Not so in the Western modern church. The people fill the building and the church is known for its location and facility.
The missional church thinks that life is holistic and believes that God is interested in the whole person. It does not fear what God has inspired and encourages its communities to incorporate, nature, the arts and all the senses into worship.
We often tell the stories of our community living their lives during the week. We talk on care for the whole person through physical and spiritual exercise and learning. We are all getting involved in the “walk against want” to raise money for Community Aid Abroad. Walking 8 kms with people from the community against poverty for our church service that weekend, models this principle.
The event versus the process.
In the western Church people meet God by coming to a meeting or course and coming forward at the end of a meeting and saying the sinners prayer. This phenomenon is only a couple of hundreds of years old.
‘After the Civil War, the nature of revival changed. With Dwight L. Moody’s successful meetings. revival developed into urban, professional, organised, mass evangelism in great public halls.from the time of the early church, seekers were encouraged in some way to confess Christ publicly.Finney popularised the public response to Christ by having seekers stand and then go to an enquiry room.Billy Graham invited seekers to walk to the front to be counselled (Cairns. 1954: 432).’
The Alter call has been one of the main uses for people responding to God ever since. While there is merit in the platform driven evangelistic call, Christians have come to limit God working to the medium of the meeting and the alter call.
‘We have come to believe that something as intoxicating and explosive as saving grace could be bound and gagged like a hostage to only our alter calls and rededication ceremonies (Haseltine. 2002:xii).’
The missional church journeys with people along the road of life and realises that conversion isn’t always instantaneous. It allows people to draw close to God.
Paid clergy versus empowered laity (everybody equal)
The professional pastor is a fairly new phenomenon. The paid clergy has been around for thousands of years, however in the Western world in the last fifty years it has taken on a new perspective. People now want goods and services, and travel around the Christian circuit looking for the best product. Pastors are paid friends, spiritual advisers and are mostly paid to assimilate people into the programs of the local church and provide a package to cater for mainly middle-aged families. From professional cr�che to Sunday school to youth group, families will visit several churches until they find one that meets their needs. Some will look for a slick teaching platform or a vibrant music ministry. Whatever the case the paid staffs cater to these people’s needs. The paid staffs are the dispensers of goods and services and the ones doing the real ministry.
The missional church believes in “the priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter. 2: 9) and empowers people to fulfil their God given call. It’s about empowering all people wherever they are. The Western Church has portrayed that paid full time credentialed pastoring is the best and highest calling in the kingdom of God, by their language and behaviour.
The missional church says the schoolteacher working in the state system is the hero. The check out girl at Safeway, putting herself through TAFE part time, is the clergy. They are the pastors of the missional church. The congregations are small and unknown. They do not have a building or a business card but they are the emerging church.
Autocratic versus relationional leadership.
The Western church’s leaderships structures are as elaborate and complex as a corporate company and the power is distributed the same. The paid senior minister is the CEO and his staffs are his department heads. The elders are the directors and the lay people are the product.
Ironically the corporate world has shifted and progressed in its thinking where most current CEOs say they are leading a team of peers. They are trying to flatten the elite structures and bring the worker and management together. The church could learn an important lesson here. However the Western Church has existed on the power being in the hands of the paid few. The credentialed minority are the empowered and lay people wait for them to decide what the theme and programs will be this year.
The missional church empowers through relationship. Life is a journey and the process is more important than a church service, new program or special event. Friendships that are real and lasting are the cornerstones of the community. People want to be heard and treated as an individual, not as a number. A conveyor belt program that assumes everyone is on the same journey neglects the person. The missional church isn’t interested in the size of the program and filling it. It’s made up of people and their friends. Missional communities don’t need to wait for the paid pastor to tell them what they could be doing; they are asking what’s available to help with mission.
‘The church must be careful not to confuse an assimilation strategy for church involvement with a spiritual formation model for community building. Both are necessary, but they are very different. An assimilation strategy defines how one gets involved in the life and programs of a church; a spiritual formation model defines the essential outcomes the church is attempting to get working into the lives of the people of the church (Frazee. 2001:67).’
Bill Hybels states ‘that it is more than just working with other people, its doing life deeply with one another as we serve together (Hybels. 2002:74).’ Missional leaders know that church is about the life long relationships that are built over time rather than the programs that are promoted as more important.
‘This was Jesus model and plan. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men.He taught them, He fed them when they were hungry. He healed their sick and blessed their children. He actually spent more time with his disciples than with everybody else in the world put together (Coleman.1963: 27,45).’
Maria and I intentionally spend time with people individually and as a small group. We chose a local pub as our hanging out point and we meet there every week. It was a great neutral spot where our community felt comfortable. We also opened our home to them, reinforcing to them several times that they were welcome to drop in and hang out as often as possible. This was another crucial foundation. True community has to share life through everyday experiences. Eating together, going out to the movies or gardening are all part of discipleship. Randy Frazee believes ‘community characteristics are spontaneity, availability, frequency, eating together and geography (Frazee. 2001:149).’
Jesus spent time with his disciples (John 3:22 ). The verse infers they travelled together, eating, sleeping and sharing life. The Greek word is Diatribio, which means ‘to wear through.’ That’s what spending time together should do, that we would wear through to each other.
We also hoped that our community would want to take the journey together rather than just come on ours. It is about their walk with God and so ownership of what we do was vitally important. Someone brought a large blank folio so that as we journeyed together we could write, draw, or put in newspaper clips or things that sign post our time together.
I strongly believe in the value of community. Mission is not done alone but in community. Western fishing is with a rod, alone. Eastern fishing is done with a net in groups. Jesus taught his disciples to ‘Fish for people (Mark. 1:17,NLB).’
Moreover it’s about them and their journey. I am not trying to get them to fulfil some agenda or program I am trying to run. I am trying to help them on their journey. So we walk together as friends learning from each other. Ultimately if they learn a life of obedience to God then I have fulfilled my calling.
Modernism versus Post modernism.
The Western church is still running creation science seminars trying to prove the existence of God. While the missional church is journey with a postmodern culture that says “which god?” Scientific, methodical information is no longer the desire of people, but rather a hunger for spirituality and truth. The western church is filled with middle class Anglo Saxons who want the modernist church to be a logical, safe ordered place.
The missional church is normally messy, unpredictable and creative in its content and presentation. It doesn’t fit neatly into a square box nor does it have easily drawn flow charts of structure.
Postmodernists recognise the world had changed and that you have to adapt and flow with what’s happening. It’s about niche needs in a cosmic growing world. Being individual while we connect to mankind. World causes played out in houses.
‘For the first time in history we are living in a world where seven generations are living side by side.The fault lines between generations are getting larger and more numerous. One of the great challenges for the church, therefore, is to niche multigenerational worship, multigenerational missions, multigenerational education (Sweet. 1999:164).’
‘Postmodern preachers don’t populate the pews; they connect people to the living Christ. Postmodern evangelism doesn’t say to the world,” Come to church.” Rather, it says to the church, “Go to the world.” It recognises that ‘God is already at work in peoples lives before we arrived on the scene, and that our role is to help people see how God is present and active in their lives, calling them home. It is not I have Jesus and you don’t. How can I get you here so that I can give you my Jesus? But rather you already know Jesus. how can I help you see and know what you already know so I can meet and know your Jesus? (Sweet. 1999: 54).’
One of our core questions was ‘what does it mean to be the people of God in our specific context and culture?’ For the young families that question expressed itself differently from the young twenty year olds. The young adults wanted to hang out at the local pub while the families wanted to have BBQs and go to play gyms.
We didn’t want to be age exclusive and box everyone according to age however we didn’t believe one service could represent everyone either. So we began two communities, one for generally families and one for young adults. We expressed to everyone that either could attend each other’s Gatherings because we wanted friendships to come from both and to see both communities mixing.
As both had the same mission statement ‘missional communities’ then they were both headed in the same missional direction. Hence there would be many occasions to bring them together, such as training, celebration (story telling) and service (community projects) times. Historian Wayne Meeks comments, ‘One peculiar thing about early Christianity was the way in which the ‘intimate, close knit life of the local groups was seen to be simultaneously part of a much larger, indeed ultimately world wide, movement or entity (Frazee. 2001:56).’
It’s important that each missional community recognise it belongs to the larger group, which also belongs to a wider group, which ultimately belongs to the church universally. Insular small house churches fail to grow and be healthy due to not ever being involved in the bigger picture.
Bounded set versus centred set.
Bounded set states clearly what is allowed to be in the set and what isn’t. They have a clearly defined boundary and distinctiveness to those who associate with the set. The in versus the out is very distinctive. Churches often give off the impression to be “in” or part you need to adhere to certain rules, traditions, standards and even dress.
The missional church is centred set. Jesus is at the centre and everything flows towards him. Someone can seem far away from church but be making steps towards Christ, which is seen as Kingdom activity. Simply because someone may not be attending our worship service does not mean God is not at work.
We value a centre set system where Christ is at the centre and people are either facing him making steps towards him or are facing away. This allows people who seem far from Christ to be accepted into our group because every move towards Christ, no matter how small, is applauded. Centre set values messiness and greyness on the edge. It’s not about changing people’s outward appearance. That’s not the most important issue. Rather helping people discover their journey towards Christ. We value people’s space and right to individually express their walk and pace. We are not expecting everyone to be at the same pace or place. We allow people to come in to the junction and to grow at their own pace.
Dated verus ancient
The western church lives in an era that suits the age of the congregation and the minister. Usually somewhere in the fifties or sixties. It hangs on to its past media as if they were universal truths that are to be eternally applied. Usually the music, the day core, the sermon illustrations are all representative of the minister and the congregation.
The missional church takes what may have been used hundreds of years ago and gives it life and meaning never making one form exclusive. It values the ancient in modern contexts.
We value the tension between the ancient and the new. We study Christian history and traditions and place them in a whole new context. Reading an ancient Celtic prayer while being videoed or listening to modern music while reflecting on a poem is an example. We can paint or take a walk to see Gods beauty and worship Him.
‘Postmodern leaders are visionaries spellbound by the past. An ancient-future faith unapologetically lives out of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3 . NKJV). Postmodernity is becoming more ancient and more future at the same time. Postmodern leaders keep the past and the future in perpetual conversation (Sweet. 1999: 89).’
My premise is there is an emerging community rising or breaking away from Christendom and they have some distinct values that characterise them. We are in that place between two eras or times. Where new things are birthed and the future is unshaped. Some are calling this the second reformation. I call it a revolution.
It’s about a loving missionary God incarnating the world to save it. It’s about mission being at the heart of the Trinity, and many in the church have forgotten it. The missional church is about getting back to the great commission and the great commandment. To go into the entire world while loving our neighbours as ourselves. (Matthew 28:19 . 19:19) The missional church has the advantage of leaving behind traditions and politics however it must learn from its History that all new things can become old. It must keep asking; what does it mean to be the “called out community” to our culture?