By Cam Roxburgh
Welcome! Okay, it is a little odd to welcome you to something you have already been a part of, but we at Forge Canada believe that we are into the next stage of what God is doing in Canada around His mission. He is moving His people beyond evoking a conversation, to equipping them for practice.
Stage 1 – Evoking
Twenty years ago, a group of theologians and practitioners gathered to write the book Missional Church. The Gospel and our Culture Network (GOCN) took the work of Lesslie Newbigin and used it to reflect on what was happening to the church in our context. “Missional” began to get traction, and many jumped on the bandwagon. The good news was that many wrestled with the cultural dislocation of the Church, but the bad was that “missional” was defined in many different ways. Old practices and patterns of thinking—formed in Christendom—were hard to break, and many simply have continued in an old paradigm under the new name of “missional.”
Many have become aware of the missional conversation. Denominations have tried to help their churches envision a different future. Schools have attempted to train leaders for that future. Church Planting groups have wrestled with shifting from “planting worship services,” to seeding kingdom communities in neighbourhoods across the land.
Some believers have grappled with this second-order change and begun to turn a corner, while others have given up because the way forward was difficult. It seems as if very few have not at least come into contact with the idea of becoming missional. It has become an adjective, placed in front of any program to emphasize a desire for evangelism. Many have missed what Newbigin and the GOCN were trying to express.
Forge Canada uses a definition of missional that has its roots in Newbigins’ writing (he perhaps co-opted it from Rahner and Barth). The Missional Church is “a renewed theological vision of the church on mission, serving as a sign, servant and foretaste of the kingdom of God.” It is first about God and His mission. It recognizes that God is already at work in the world and we need to discern where He is at work in order to join Him. It emphasizes that we as a people are sent as missionaries into the very neighbourhoods where He has placed us to participate in that work.
Stage 2 – Equipping
The conversation evoked over the past decades must give way to equipping. This is the stage we now found ourselves in. It seems as if not only has the church experienced a cultural dislocation in culture, but also Christendom is more deeply entrenched in us than we perhaps thought. So many continue to try and seek a way forward by recapturing the privilege and power that the church knew when it was found at the centre of our culture. But we live in a secular context now (Taylor and then Smith) and we need to learn to live as a Faithful Presence (Hunter and then Fitch).
I continue to hear the call from denominational leaders that what we need is assessment tools and models of what it means to be missional. But this kind of approach is only indicative of how deeply we are entrenched in Christendom. Instead, we believe there are three things needed to begin equipping communities of God’s people in missional life:
A process of discernment: where is God at work? How does He want us to be involved?
The development of missiological competencies to engage the culture in its secularities.
The telling of stories that create imagination in us to join God on mission in our neighbourhoods.
We need an equipping to learn what it means to be a sign, servant and foretaste of the reality of the kingdom in our midst. We need a commitment to being faithful to the why (missional theology), and a passion to pursue the (missional ecclesiology) in our context. It is not about models, but about being a faithful presence as God’s people to the reality of the presence of our king.
At Forge Canada, we are seeking to equip the church in Canada through a number of avenues. Ethos continues to help churches move into an understanding of ministry in a post-Christian culture. This 2-year journey has been a help to many churches across the country. Life in the Neighbourhood is another tool that has produced fruit. This experience, led by Dr. Karen Wilk, aims to help local neighbourhood leaders launch groups in their context. Living Faithfully is a new stream developed by Jonathan Wilson, Jonathan Bird and myself, with a view to helping people in our churches to live as local missionaries. And finally, we will be introducing a tool to help churches be restructured around Mission Groups in order to reach their context. We believe that the church in Canada needs to recapture the essence of what it means to live as disciples among people in their neighbourhood.