Practical Atheists

After all, most of us professing Christians, from the liberals to the fundamentalists, remain practical atheists in most of our lives. This is so because even we think the church is sustained by the “services” it provides or the amount of “fellowship” and “good feeling” in the congregation. Of course there is nothing wrong with “services” and “good feeling”; what is wrong is that they have become ends in themselves. When that happens the church and the ministry cannot avoid sentimentality, which we believe is the most detrimental corruption of the church today. – Stanley Hauerwas, William H. Willimon (Resident Aliens)

Introduction To The Missional Church by Alan Roxburgh

Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One by Alan J. Roxburgh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is probably the best book I’ve read introducing the missional church. Roxburgh does an excellent job describing what missional ministry is, and what it isn’t.

The one critique I do have is the time he spent describing the process he takes churches through (I’m guessing in a consulting role). I wished he would have given some more direction for local pastors in cultivating “missional imagination” within their congregations. Perhaps he does this in his book “Missional Map-making” which I have not read yet.

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Experimental Ministry

Test TubesAlan Roxburgh discusses Missional Imagination in his book “Introduction to the Missional Church.” In discussing Saul (later Paul) and his transformation he writes,

“Information and definitions were not the issue; what Saul needed was a radical transformation of his imagination-of the way in which he saw the world.”

So Roxburgh basically defines imagination as “how one sees the world.” One might argue that “how one sees the world” is an adequate description of one’s culture or at least one’s worldview. In his book, he calls for individuals to be transformed so they might see the world and themselves through a missional lens. This shift to a missional worldview is ultimately what I desire for those whom I pastor.

The problem is, making shifts in culture and worldview is easier talked about than accomplished. Andy Crouch address this in his book  Culture Making. He says it is much easier analyzing the culture than actually changing it. In discussing why it is difficult to change a culture (or perhaps worldview), he has a very perceptive quote:

The language of worldview tends to imply, to paraphrase the Catholic writer Richard Rohr, that we can think ourselves into new ways of behaving. But that is not the way culture works. Culture helps us behave ourselves into new ways of thinking.

It seems that I’ve been taught that if people can think in new ways, it means there will be changes in their worldview. However, that might not be the case. What if, the culture has more affect on my thinking than my thinking has on the culture? What are the implications for a church that has been living in a certain culture for decades? I’m not sure we are going to “think” our way out of it.

What Roxburgh calls for (and Crouch may too…I’m only about 1/4 of the way through the book) is for experiments in ministry. If new ways of acting cause changes in the accepted culture, then the best thing we can do to change the culture, is to introduce new desired behaviors.

Perhaps this is why some translate Matthew 28:19 as “Therefore in your going make disciples…”

Where You Don’t Want to Go

The end of John contains an image I continue to reflect on as I work on my dissertation in Missional Spirituality and pastoring a church. Jesus looks at Peter and says,

“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21:18).

I find these statements a bit cryptic, but they touch an issue with which I continue to wrestle. I find that I want to go where I want to go and I want to do what I want to do. Perhaps Peter was that way too. In fact, Jesus said when Peter was younger he would fasten his own belt and go where he wanted to. However, when he grows old someone else will fasten his belt and take him where he does not wish to go. I’m not sure I really like that.

Yet, in trying to allow God’s missional imagination to take hold of me I find places where I don’t really want to be. Being missional, at its core, is allowing God’s life to put on flesh and blood. For years I’ve heard that I am the hands and feet of Jesus. Far too often that statement becomes some type of Christian cliche. We say it, but we really don’t allow it to be a reality.

What I find is that God is leads me to where I do not want to go. I want to be honest in that. Following Jesus doesn’t mean that life is going to go the way I want it to go, or that I will be where I want to be. It means that I will seek God’s will and allow his will to be done in my life.

Jesus is the model. In the garden, it was evident the cross was not where he was wanting to go (see also John 12:22-28). One of the things I am beginning to learn is that it is okay to go where you do not want to go. I think it is even okay to say that. The reason why is because you are trying your best to follow Jesus whatever that means. Of course, it might be where you want to go, but then it might not be either.

Allowing Jesus to lead me to where I don’t want to go is a challenge in my life. It is also a challenge in the church. I do not think our churches can be missional until we deal with our reluctance to be led by Jesus to wherever Jesus is calling us to go. One of the requirements of being missional is following Jesus in God’s mission.

My Dissertation Project

I have started my dissertation project which is a good thing. Trying to explain it though is kind of difficult. The reason I have such difficult explaining it is because the project address cultural issues and the church’s response.

I have read that there is an old Chinese proverb that says, “If you want to know about water, don’t ask a fish.” For me, that explains the problem I have with explaining my project. I’m sure if I asked a fish, it wouldn’t even know it was swimming in water. It is the same with our culture. Culture is so pervasive that we don’t even know much about it. Our culture is just “how things are.”

My project has to do with the church’s response to culture. Not just the culture we live in, but any culture. In order to respond, we must first take a look at the culture and see how and where it flows against the gospel. This is difficult to do because for most of us, culture is simply “the way things are” and we don’t think too much about it. In fact, throughout our lives we merge the gospel with culture in which we live. The result is we believe that some aspects of our culture are actually biblical even when they are not. This is a difficult thing to discover.

The most biblical response I have found is offered by Missional Ecclesiology (a fancy way to say “thoughts about the church”). A Missional approach to church basically says that we have been sent by God into the world to be an agent, instrument, sign, and foretaste of God’s kingdom. The church (or rather people making up the church) is to understand the differences between the current “kingdoms” (cultures) and God’s kingdom and work to put God’s will and way into practice.

The question that my dissertation attempts to answer is, How can this happen in the life of an individual? In other words, how do we get from where we are (children of our culture…or fish in water) to where we are working and living by God’s will and way?

I hope to be able to explain it better as I work on the project more, but for now, that about sums things up.