By Karen Wilk
Last time, we talked about two more assumptions about church leadership that we need to reevaluate in the missional framework. Here are the final two:
5. Just Believe
A fifth trend, particularly in the tradition of which I am a part, is to assume that if we believe the right things, everything else will fall into place: greater clarity and agreement on theological issues, our confessional statements, etc, will lead to a stronger and more effective church.
Clearly, what we believe is important, but are such statements enough to prepare us for and engage us in God’s world where actions speak louder than words and in which experience, more than argument, communicates truth? The truth is that we can have incredibly beautiful and thorough confessions framed in our foyers and even implanted in our minds and change nothing.
Having invested a great deal of time, energy and effort into making these statements just right, we may yet find ourselves disconnected from the agency of God and unmoved by the wind of the Spirit stirring up Kingdom life right next door. The missional leader in contrast recognizes that our beliefs are shaped by our actions and that when ordinary people of God, “re-experience the biblical narrative in the conviction and confidence that [they] can hear and discern the ways of God among us” in their neighbourhoods, rightness becomes more about right questions and attentiveness to the Spirit and the people with whom God has placed us.1
6. Church in Space
A final notion that I believe has distorted who we are and what we’re about as God’s sent ones relates to that last statement, “with whom God has placed us.” The North American church functions and seeks to achieve its purposes in space. Commuter congregations occupy a generic space once or twice a week where we believe that what we do will attract and bear witness, disciple and grow those who attend and those to whom we “do outreach” but we are not stakeholders. In this space, we are service providers with our own agendas.
When God goes on mission, in contrast, God goes in person and in place, living among, engaging with as one of: It is an incarnational identity and a call to inhabit, to be somewhere; “it’s a call to the neighbourhood.”2 The postures and practices of a community on God’s mission require that we are embedded in a particular community. Missional leadership realizes that discipleship and witness are shaped and embodied in real places for “everything that the Creator God does in forming us humans is done in place. It follows from this that since we are his creatures and can hardly escape the conditions of our making, for us everything that has to do with God is also in place. All living is local.”3 It is far too easy for me to commute to my church activity, do it well, pat myself on the back and go home to another life such that my faith, discipleship and witness are simply another thing on the weekly agenda as opposed to a way of life, amongst others with a street address. Eugene Peterson asserts that “What we often consider to be the concerns of the spiritual life—ideas, truths, prayers, promises, beliefs—are never in the Christian gospel permitted to have a life of their own apart from particular persons and actual places. Biblical spirituality/religion has a low tolerance for “great ideas” or “sublime truths” or “inspirational thoughts” apart from the places in which they occur.”4 What does it mean for the church to inhabit places instead of run events in spaces?
There is evidence that the response to these presumptions is being birthed in God’s ordinary people in everyday neighbourhoods across the continent. The question is can we—will we—as missional leaders continue to let go of the security, familiarity and predictability of our modern assumptions in order to commit to leading from among with postures and practices that are shaped by the Spirit of God embedded in a neighbourhood for the sake of the Gospel?
This indeed could be the Kingdom come NEAR for a world tired of the latest and greatest program and plan.
This article can be found in its entirety at missioalliance.org
- Roxburgh, Missional: Joining God, 137.
- Simon Carey Holt, God Next Door: Spirituality and Mission in the Neighbourhood, (Victoria, Australia: Acorn Press, 2007), 77.
- Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 72.
- Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 75.