Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Missional Think Tank

I have spent the past few days with about 70 other people who are all interested in missional church. It was a diverse group. There were pastors and other church leaders, denominational execs, seminary faculty and administrators, and students. We were from all over the world: Naga, Myanmar, Korea, South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Germany, England, Texas, and other foreign countries. We were young, young-ish (my category, of which I pressed the upper limits), and seasoned. We were Church of Christ, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Charismatic, Baptist, Mennonite, Episcopal/Anglican, and probably some unaffiliateds (perhaps like George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou). There were founders of the GOCN and persons who only recently have discovered the conversation.

The most moving moment of our time together for me was when the young cohort (leaders under 35) blessed the founders, those who have been at this for a long time. The under 35's were our most international cohort, representing at least five languages. They stood around the founders in a circle and each offered a blessing in their native language. After all the sharing and struggling that had taken place in our interactions, this was a profoundly moving act. It struck me that it only made sense liturgically. I recognized only the English words offered, but I comprehended the meaning of the others given the setting, the circle, the occasion. Their words did not need to be translated to be understood.

I was asked to preach in the opening worship Sunday evening. (I'll post the sermon here in a few days). One of the images I used was the Letterman bit, "Is This Anything?" You know the bit. The curtain comes up with the hula hoop girl and the grinder girl (how else would you describe her?) doing their thing and between them is an act. The act could be anything--fire eater, juggler, contortionist--and Dave and Paul decide whether or not this is anything. Being a representative of missional church can feel that way. Sometimes missional can feel like a novelty act, minus the hula and grinder girls, with people wondering "is this anything" as you perform.

Truth is, I still don't know for sure the answer to that question. Obviously, I think it could be or I wouldn't spend so much of my energy on it. And I do see enough and hear enough stories to be encouraged along the way. And this gathering falls into that category. Whatever the merits of various arguments or theological planks, this appears to be something, at the very least because it possesses a massive and productive ecumenical impulse. We are not trying to figure out how this brings us together, or if it could, it just does. And those who gathered had no problem calling this the work of the Spirit.

I have some hunches about this. I think most of it is because the focus of the missional conversation is about God's mission, his acting in the world. This is both more productive theologically than asking how God is related to a set of philosophical categories (though this work has an important place), and more open ended, leaving room at the table of theological discernment for people as diverse confessionally as Church of Christ, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic. And it does not privilege the tradition of Western philosophy that has governed theological discourse, leaving Asia, Africa, and Latin America always as junior partners in the discussion. It was pretty clear at this meeting that the Africans in particular had much to teach us.

So today, I think this is something.

1 comment:

preacherman said...

If the church isn't missional minded and oriented then it will die. We must be missional. We are called to be missional and being missional means that we must get out of our comfort zones. It means that we must set aside doctrinal beliefs that we have held on to for countless years. It demands a passion that only the Holy Spirit can put within us. It is my prayer that He will light the fight within this generation and the 21st century church that legalists, and hell itself cannot put out.