is the Missional Church? - A Brief Introduction
is the Missional Church? - A Brief History
All of these works are efforts to address the increasingly clear reality of the disestablishment of religion in the western world (especially in Europe, but increasingly in the United States and Canada as well) and the growth of what is now called “Post Modernism.” In the very diverse and pluralistic world in which we now live, the place of organized religion—and especially mainline religion as represented by the Presbyterian Church—has shrunk drastically over the past half-century. We all know that what worked very well when we or our parents were young no longer works in the church. Older members may remain in our pews out of loyalty, but younger people will not.
This new reality has called forth a number of responses from church leaders. Among them are the growth of Pentecostal movements, the so called “Seeker Churches” (many of which are patterned on the Willow Creek model), and an effort to retake the religious high ground that has been lost among very conservative congregations (some of which have become quite large). All of these efforts draw inspiration from portions of the Scriptures and the history of the Church.
But for many of us, this change in the social and religious landscape has provided an opportunity to rediscover the mission of God in our midst and the role of the Church as God’s agent of mission in the world. This old, old landscape of the Early Church is what the authors mentioned above have been exploring for clues to how the Church can respond to God’s call today in our world. What they have discovered is that the more the Church has been pushed to the margins of society, the more it looks like the early church bravely bearing witness to God in a largely pagan world.
Book of Acts
A study of the Early Church as found in the book of Acts from the perspective of the changing landscape of the North American church will suggest new ways of being the church in such areas as:
Congregations interested in understanding their own context need look no farther than this book for inspiration.
But perhaps the most important contribution that the book of Acts offers to our Church today is the vision that it is God who is leading the Church forward into mission at every step of the way. The church leaders often try to lead in old familiar ways only to be drawn back to what God is doing by the Holy Spirit. Learning to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit may be the best lesson that we can learn from this important book.
Happened to the Church?
The Church benefited in that it was no longer under persecution by the Empire, and its numbers swelled enormously. The danger to the soul of the Church was, however, real. Multitudes of new Christians had to be accommodated into the Church. This required new church buildings—many of which were old pagan temples. A vast company of clergy were needed—not all of whom understood the message of the one who came to serve and not be served. Bishops went from being the principal targets of attack by the Roman Empire to princes within the Empire. Western civilization became Christianized and the Church became politicized. Even in America (land of the separation of Church and State) the Church and civic order were closely intertwined. This mutual accommodation between Church and State began to break down in Europe after the First World War and in the United States in the 1960s. Today the Church in Europe has virtually no political or civic impact on the society. Things are still different in the United States, but one can only wonder how long they will last.
The signs of change are all around us. The New Age Movement is accepted as a fact of life by many. Karma has become a part of ordinary speech. People make up their own blend of religion from a dozen or more ingredients—including Christianity. Admit that you attend church regularly and people will wonder about your education or your intelligence or both.
The changes in modern church life we have been speaking of have happened in the lifetime of many in our churches. They (and we) sometimes wonder why programs that worked so well in the 50s and early 60s have no impact today. Many of us were born into a period of “successful” churches and cannot understand what has happened or what we should do about it. In even the recent past, all you had to do to have a full sanctuary or a booming youth program was to have good space (“build it and they will come”) or a good program. Today even better programs and far superior space are not enough to attract the crowds we remember.
And so we are drawn back to the basics. What is God doing in our world? Where is God at work (like the book of Acts) to surprise us with a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Where are the broken places that God’s reconciliation is working to restore?
Character of a “Missional Church”
So what will this new Church look like? We can begin to sense some of the central features. Members of a missional church (congregation):
A missional congregation:
Barrett, Lois, Treasure in Clay Jar: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2004.
Bosch, David J., Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Maryknoll, Orbis, 1991.
Guder, Darrell L., ed. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1998.
Guder, Darrell L., The Continuing Conversion of the Church, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001.
Hunsberger, George R and Craig Van Gelder, eds. The Church Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Church in North America, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996.
Newbigin, Lesslie, The Open Secret: Introduction to a Theology of Mission, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1995
Newbigin, Lesslie, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1989.
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