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Missional Cohort (Lancaster)…

June 28, 2008

The Facebook group Missional Cohort (Lancaster) gathered for the second time last evening.  Here is a bit of a summary of our conversation:

1.  Read this post by Greg Boyd

2.  We talked about the tension that tends to exist between “institutional/structured” expressions of church and “missional/incarnational” expressions.  We explored a number of side trails off this main theme. 

  • Characteristics of “institutional/structured” expressions of church–sense of stability/permanancy; like order; buildings are important symbols and markers…
  • Characteristics of “missional/incarnational” expressions of church–messy, grassroots, relational, contextual, de-centralized. 

3.  We reflected on this polarity as we examined the purpose statement of SMC.  “…we gather for worship and then scatter to be Jesus’ witnesses in our communities and around the world.”   Here are some questions that emerged:

  • How can grassroots, incarnational expressions of church be seen to be of equal value/importance to the purpose and identity of a congregation as the times of gathered worship
  • Do we have the imagination to see multiple grassroots, incarnational/missional expressions of living in the way of Jesus organically connected and drawing life from the structured/institutional church that gathers for worship? 
  • Why do we tend to think primarily of the church in the “gathered for worship” expression? 
  • Why does so much of our primary identity and vision for the church center around buildings and programs?
  • What would it look like if a congregation would find ways to balance both of these expressions of being church (gathering for worshipscattering for witness)?  How would our view of the building (as gathering place) change?  Would it be more or less important?  How could we possibly recalibrate our sense of identity and purpose as a missional community if the building wasn’t the primary symbol/place defining our communal rhythm? 
  • Do buildings in of themselves have a tendency to co-opt and limit our imagination for what it means to be church so that gathering for worship becomes the primary way the congregation imagines itself being church?

While there are some tensions between institutional/structured expressions and missional/incarnational expressions of following Jesus communally (Church), it seems that we need both.  There is value on both sides of this polarity.  How can the dynamic tension between these expressions produce fruitful and creative expressions of following Jesus and being the church? 

4.  We see an importance of acknowledging this duality and the value with both expressions.  It is important to situate our small, grassroots expressions of living incarnational/missional lives within some more formalized institutional/structured expression of church.  This should include some connection to a local community that gathers for worship (congregation).  Beyond that, we would see the importance of congregations placing themselves within and affirming a relational connection to a tribal story (i.e. Anabaptism).  This is what Greg Boyd is articulating in his letter.  That the values expressed in the groundswell of missional/incarnational communities are ones that are aligned with the Anabaptist tribal story (rejection of Christendom model of power over to bring about God’s righteous reign).  So we need to identify the tribal story that we are a part of–the communal tradition (Church) that helps frame and give meaning to our particular stories. 

What we see (I would argue) in much of contemporary evangelical Christianity is the rejection of Tribal stories–the framing narratives which provide accountability beyond our own localized expressions of church.  One could argue that any sense of accountability to a Tribal story situated within a 2,000 year view of the Church has been displaced by an accommodation to the framing narrative of empire.  So the rich deposits (treasures) of the faith within the Tribal story and 2,000 year communal tradition are exchanged for the idol of relevance.  Relevance is measured by what serves the individualistic sensibilities of those who are living out the narrative of empire (globalized capitalism, militarism). 

This disconnect has implications for how we read Scripture and understand what it means to follow Jesus and be the church.  Authority becomes localized.  In fact, the authority often is represented by voices that are willing to preach a gospel that does not offend the sensibilities of empire and the spirit of the age.  So the narrative of empire goes unchallenged as church capitulates to the spirit of the age.  A chaplain to righteous empire, the church baptizes this narrative with Christian language and sensibilities so that free individuals are blessed to pursue life, liberty and hapiness under Pax Americana.

There is little sense of accountability or need for submission to a broader communal tradition.  We decide what it means to be the church autonomously.  The values of empire are usually not too far beneath the surface of these independent expressions of church. 

Church as missional/incarnational small group is valuable, but it is not the whole.  Congregation as community that gathers for worship is another important expression, but it is not enough.  The Tribal story that frames denominational expressions of church/movements is also needed, but that is not the whole.  The Tribal story needs to be placed within and interact with the 2,000 year story of the Church. 

5.  We discussed the pattern throughout history that when the institutional/structured church becomes accomodated to the way of life of empire, the Spirit of God stirs movements of renewal (i.e. monasticism).  Every 500 years it seems that the Spirit stirs followers of Jesus to radical ways of living The Way.  How is this pattern being expressed again in our day? 

6.  How is pastoral role both an expression of institutional/structured church and the missional/incarnational current of the Spirit?  How do we work out the ambiguity inherent with the both/and nature of pastoral ministry?  Can we name the forces that seek to define the role of pastor in one direction or the other (either/or)?  What is at stake if we don’t acknowlege this tension and make room for the ambiguity?


One Comment leave one →
  1. June 28, 2008 8:48 pm

    Excellent summary – and thanks to all who were there for the helpful conversation. For the first time I felt like the ambiguity and tension I have been struggling with was clearly articulated by others and tossed around. I was surprised how I came home feeling like a burden was lifted. Though, for you, Brian, I am sorry to say, I don’t think we answered your persistent and pertinent question at all . . . what is your role as a pastor in balancing/nurturing these two aspects of being church?

    But back to your post here – your comments under #4 above are powerful and prophetic words against the idols of our day: relevance, individual rights, securities, etc.

    “A chaplain to righteous empire, the church baptizes this narrative with Christian language and sensibilities so that free individuals are blessed to pursue life, liberty and hapiness under Pax Americana.”

    wow – the words and innuendo in this sentence alone says a lot in a nutshell

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