So, I’ve stopped using the phrase “missional church,” as if its a destination. When you use the phrase “missional church,” the most frequent asked question is “what does one look like?” Fair enough. But the answer to that is tricky, because a missional community is always contextual and so will look different from place to place. I want to resist notions of the church that identify it in abstract or essentialist ways around certain “marks.” My tribe, Churches of Christ, have been down that path before and its not as promising as it seems.
I’d rather use the word “missional” to refer to the era we are in. We serve God in a new missional era. Now missional becomes less a question of “marks” and more a question of mission. So, instead of asking “what does a missional church look like,” the questions now run more along the lines of “how best might we participate in God’s mission in our current context?” This might seem like splitting hairs, but I think the differences in those two questions are significant.
It seems that two immediate differences would be a shift away from the church as the primary focus toward a focus on God and God’s mission, and a focus on journey rather than destination. Missional is not a static set of attributes that you apply to the church, but a journey of deepening faithfulness to both God and world.
So, Stephen Johnson and I have been working together with congregations who are endeavoring to be faithful to God in a new missional era for about six years. The shape of that work comes from a process designed by Church Innovations called Partnership for Missional Church. Stephen and I are both deeply indebted to Pat Keifert and the folks at CI who have trained us to help others in the missional journey. Within the last year, the vision of what we have been calling people to has sharpened and we’ve gotten greater conceptual clarity. Within the PMC process we identified six competencies that we were inviting congregations to grow in. And I have added a seventh that isn’t addressed directly through PMC.
I’ll list them here and then unpack each over the next few weeks, including descriptions of practices that are designed to increase competency and provide experiences around which a new shared imagination can develop within congregations.
So, communities on the missional path
1. Develop a shared biblical imagination for mission.
2. Discern God’s calling in communal processes of discernment.
3. Find and cultivate new partnerships in mission.
4. Practice hospitality in ways that convey the welcome of God.
5. Find and empower new leaders for mission.
6. Take risks for faithful experiments.
7. Develop practices of testimony that bear witness to God’s Kingdom hospitality.
On the surface, these competencies might not seem that revolutionary. True enough. But our experience suggests that even if congregations give lip service to these things, they’re not very good at them. The social imagination of most congregations simply do not prioritize or authorize practices that would cultivate greater competence. Also, when each is unpacked in relation to specific practices, their significance becomes more dramatic.
Mark, I really appreciate this shift. It seems like this offers a distinction from being in an era in which the church enjoyed the place of establishment and the preoccupation could then be focused on maintaining the institutional expressions of church. The post-Christendom location of the church, to whatever degree that is true, can open our eyes to new possibilities of hearing and seeing the activity of God.