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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What is "Missional" Church?

If they do not challenge me about the term "postmodern" then they challenge me about the term "missional." I can see them even before I finish my opening prayer or introduction. They have questions, they've heard the terms, and they are here to listen to me give them answers. They leave disappointed...anyone who's ever heard me lecture or preach knows I don't give's kind of "my thing." I embrace questions, ambiguity, and curiosity..."answers" seem to be anathema to all I try not to do answers in theology...(I have two teenage daughters, however, and there's lots of answers in those relationships!)
Within minutes the hands are raised, the question asked, the laptop ready to synchonize the answer...(that never comes...but they don't know that right away...the questioner usually spends a few minutes typing before he or she realizes the only important thing they've noted is to "Get milk" on the way home from class...) It's gotten to the point now where I have started a book on the term "missional." ("Postmodern" is a hopeless cause...Good luck to those who try that one!)
But here's the thing I have about is so contextual as to be almost unique...("miraculous" in a Humean--from David Hume, the 18th Century British philosopher) so as to be unrepeatable in the science labs of congregations. As I learned from Karl Popper (a 20th Century German who lived in Australia and Britain philosopher---) if you can't verify it, you really can't call it science. Therefore, since so much of the missional church movement is not verifiable outside of its own peculiar context, those of the academy (and those wishing to be academic) will have a tough time with it...since context makes up the pasture in which the mission grows, what happens in Bismarck does not relate necessarily to Sydney, Australia or to Mumbai, India, Crawfordsville, Indiana, USA or even Mandan (which is across the river from Bismarck!)
Basically all this "missional" stuff is a little bit narcisstic in that it looks in the mirror and says "What have we done that no one else can do, even if they want to, because they don't live here?" This provisional and relative nature of missional theology and congregations will not lead to heavily footnoted articles and will lead to blogs with ellipses and lectures...but that won't pass ATS accreditation. One can receive a "doctorate" in missional ministry simply by being an attentive and caring neighbor...and wow does that drive the folks mad back at the school and's when I knew I wouldn't make a good academic; or, when I knew for sure that I was doing something else with my ministry than what I was in the process of being trained for...
Someone told me once that no one in a "parish" needs Athanasius. His sermons were too hard to understand. I was ticked...(by the way, your googling should be off the charts right now with Hume, Popper,and Athanasius)...Athanasius never preached a sermon to someone who understood how a combustible engine worked (it wouldn't be developed for another 1400 years!)...never preached to a person who ran a telephone, a computer, a vacuum cleaner, or a tractor. So how come people who never did those things could understand his sermons, and my parishioners could not? Was it harder to be a merchant 1400 years ago than today? I don't think so...It was either arrogance or sheer arrogance or laziness on the part of preachers to believe that Athansius was to difficult to understand...Athanasius believed context mattered, not only for us, but for God...that's why God became human...God had a mission in a context...we Christians call it "the Word made flesh..." the world calls it, I ask you, was that too hard? Although to be missional is to be contextual and to be contextual is to be missional...there is a difference (you knew this was coming), and it has to do with the cross on which Jesus died...oh, and Athanasius preached about that too.


Anonymous said...

> Karl Popper (a 20th Century German who lived in Australia and Britain philosopher---)

That's not quite the case. Rather: "a 20th Century Austrian who lived in New Zealand and Britain"

Scott Frederickson said...

I knew that phrase sounded weird, but I couldn't figure out what I wanted it to say thanks for help...and yes, Popper was Austrian, not German. mea culpa.