Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Missional Transformation, 4

In the first three posts, I've talked mostly about transformation in general. The things we trust to make a difference are usually poor catalysts for transformation. Which is an odd way of saying it in the first place--the things we trust, rather than the person we trust.

There are many different ways to be transformed. We've got that word missional in front of our phrase. What makes transformation missional?

I often hear the word attractional used as the opposite of missional. In fact, I sometimes here it coming out of my own mouth. The difference being that the first works to "attract" consumers, the second views the church sent out among others. But this doesn't get it quite right. Missional churches still gather, and there's nothing wrong with being attractive (although treating people as religious consumers is highly problematic).

The difference has more to do with the imagination related to mission. A missional church is always discerning what God is up to in the world. I know this sounds really obvious at one level, but it really is a fairly significant statement. It might best be described as the difference between a straight line and a triangle.

Too often, the church sees itself in a straight line relationship to the world. The line goes something like God-church-world, with the church simply receiving the things of God and passing them along to the world. There is little need for discernment of God with the world, since the church receives the gospel as a fixed content to pass on. All that is left in terms of mission is strategy. How do we take what we've received and effectively transmit it? The church is in mission to the world, and the church becomes the primary, active agent in mission.

A triangle, on the other hand, is interactive. The relationships between God, church, and world are mutually informing and each element is constitutive in some sense for the others. In other words, there is no church apart from both God and world. There is no picture of future hope for the world apart from God and church. God is revealed in Jesus Christ in relation to both church and world. In this triangle, the church does not simply assume that it has a monopoly on God. It does not simply take God to the world, it also hopes to discover God there, in partial and fragmentary ways to be sure, but there nonetheless. This requires more than just strategy, it requires discernment. The church is in mission with the world, and God is the primary active agent. Discernment in this sense is properly spiritual work.

The shift from strategy to discernment is huge in so many ways. Chief among these is the way we view persons. When the church's engagement with the world is primarily strategic, then people are viewed as objects or targets of mission. They become "Saddleback Sam," a demographic, an abstraction. The church's logic become instrumental and mechanistic. Communication aims at effectiveness rather than understanding. The church too often seeks fusion to overcome otherness, rather than communion precisely through otherness.

Discernment requires a listening posture, a certain amount of humility. It requires that others be taken seriously on their own terms. It values otherness as the possibility of freedom and openness that allows God's Spirit to move effectively among us.

What is required for this kind of missional discernment? Many things. But one thing chief among them is hospitality. Hospitality is more than just entertaining others or being friendly. It is being open to the stranger, being interruptible. In my work with congregations, we dwell in Scripture, and often we spend a year dwelling in Luke 10. One of the values of Luke 10 is the demonstration there that God's hospitality often occurs on someone else's turf. Just as Jesus becomes our host ultimately by being our guest, so the church expresses the welcome of God for all by eating at someone else's table. This is mission.

This requires a pretty big shift in congregational imagination. I like to describe the shift in terms of belonging. We spend a lot of energy as a congregation trying to figure out how to get "them" to belong to "us." We have less imagination for trying to figure out how in Jesus' name we belong to our neighbors. The first imagination is instrumental and strategic. The second is more properly incarnational.

So, missional transformation necessarily will involve experiments in hospitality, fully expecting that the persons we have not yet met may well be new partners in the mission of God.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love this post and it certainly challenges and expands my imagination. I'm reminded of the "Experiencing God" study by Blackaby in which he wrote about the idea of looking around and being curious and searching for where God is working and joining up. That was certainly a blow to my wonderfully neat concept of how God works. A big dose of humility allowed me to start seeing that God can actually work through anyone He chooses, and typically does...even this hardheaded, arrogant, selfish bore.
Good stuff Mark.