Monday, September 1, 2008

Missional Transformation, 3

I've spent a lot of time and energy getting congregations and students to understand evangelism differently. Specifically, I've tried to get them to think of evangelism in relation to the gospel of the Kingdom of God, rather than a particular view of the atonement. It's my theory that our practices of evangelism are tied to our understanding of the gospel, and that most church members define the gospel almost exclusively as penal substitutionary atonement (psa).

The problems with psa are numerous, but suffice it to say at this point that its not the only way to understand the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Changing evangelistic imagination related to psa, however, I have found to be a very difficult thing.

My earliest efforts were aimed at giving people more information. I taught them other theories of atonement, used the concept of theological worlds, explored various metaphors for salvation, all to little effect. New information was simply not potent enough to change a very entrenched imagination.

So, I began inviting people into experiments related to the Kingdom of God. In my graduate courses, I asked students in small groups to pick a pattern of repentance related to the Kingdom. Some chose to keep sabbath, others to avoid violent speech, still others to practice hospitality. Now we were getting somewhere. They had real experiences to talk about, amazing experiences. But when they turned to say something meaningful about these experiences, they talked about them in their old categories.

So, I added intentional practices of reflection and articulation to their experiments in repentance. Wow, what a difference. The stories were poignant and full of the language of salvation. They could connect sabbath, for instance, to living in the death and resurrection of Jesus. They could speak about how this required a Spirit filled community. They could talk in concrete terms precisely the shape their salvation was taking.

All that to say, we tend to think of transformation in terms of information and application. But people have great capacity to absorb new information into existing imaginative constructs leaving us far short of transformation.

Transformation requires new experiences, intentional reflection, and articulation. My friend Pat Keifert often reminds congregations that people don't learn much from experience in and of itself. They learn from articulated reflection on experience. My students are evidence that this is indeed the case.

Experience-->reflection-->articulation allows for a new narrative to emerge. We get transformation when we learn to tell a new story about ourselves. This is deep structure change and won't come simply by adding programs or tinkering with our worship.

My sense in many churches is that we expect very little from our members in terms of experience. We expect them primarily to experience Sunday morning worship. Anything else is kind of like the options we could add to an automobile. They're nice, but not essential. But even less do we ask church members to reflect in any kind of deliberate way on their experience. And we provide few venues for articulation for all but a few of our members. We are poorly equipped in terms of practices related to transformation.


Carisse said...

I'll observe something you probably thought of so long ago that you wouldn't think it needs repeating: if women are silent, how are they to articulate their transformation?

Mark Love said...


Beyond the issues of giftedness and role in relationship to women, is the issue of spiritual formation. Confession/testimony, etc is absolutely essential for that. Not to mention the issues discussed in the article.

So, it bears repeating, congregations lose in so many ways if there are not places for all of its members to be publicly articulate.

Anonymous said...

this is gold. i really appreciate your sharing the experience, reflect, articulate practice. very helpful, cos I'm in the business of transformation, too.

it recalls to mind a bit of an experiment I conducted this past Sunday morning with my students. all summer, we've been talking about the kingdom of God, and this being the last Sunday morning, I did a faux commission of sorts. i recontextualized Luke 10 (paired them in twos, told them to leave their cellphones, purses, wallets, not to talk to anyone on the sidewalks, etc). to my amazement, they all started to do it. guys were taking off for the local apartments, girls were turning in their purses and cell phones, it was crazy.

i called them back and we went back and reflected on how they felt (several answered "like lambs among wolves"), what their plan was, what the message of the kingdom is, etc.

maybe next week I'll cut them loose for real? that would make for some interesting reflection.

Mark Love said...


Pretty cool. I've found, of course, that teens, and undergrads, will do nearly anything you ask them too. They still believe in possibility. It's a tougher thing to guide them in reflection. That's where they are blessed to have you.


Kasey Lane McCollum said...

Mark, I have experienced this very transformation in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). It uses an action-reflection-action model but there is definitely articulation in there as well. We write reflectively at least twice a week and have group reflection at least twice a week as well. Our group is intentionally diverse in age, gender, denomination, ethnicity, and race. It has been the richest experience I have had for my ministry formation.

Mark Love said...


Thanks for adding your voice. I wish you could have taken narrative a few semesters later. You got the beginning of the shift, and you made great use of it.



Kevin said...


This post is very helpful to our situation. Our leadership not only is tring to fix things, but has began to change information to little change. Your thoughts have forced me to have an imagination about Christian experience. Thanks for the post.

Cheryl Russell said...

Mark, I have really enjoyed this series on missional transformation...and reflection. I am encouraged to hear this type of thinking more and more.