Living Out-Carnationally – Journal Reflection

By living incarnationally we not only model the pattern of humanity set up in the Incarnation but we also create space for mission to take place in organic ways.In this way mission becomes something that ‘fits’ seamlessly into the ordinary rhythms of life, friendships, and community and is thus thoroughly contextualized. Thus these ‘practices’ form a working basis for genuine incarnational mission. But they also provide us with an entry point into an authentic experience of Jesus and His mission.

This quote is from a blog entry by Alan Hirsch from earlier this month. At first glance, the title might imply that Hirsch is simply trying to create a new word (I'm tired of new words that are simply playing on other buzz words), but the article is really about living out incarnational ministry. Incarnational ministry, according to Hirsch, "essentially means taking the church to the people rather than bringing people to the church." Last spring while I was on internship I had a conversation with a neighbor who was not connected to any church. We were talking about the church in general and how the church I was serving was struggling to grow and he said that he doesn't understand why the church is so set on trying to get people to come to them. He said, "There are a whole lot more people not in church than in. Why doesn't the church just spend their time going where those people are instead of expecting everyone to show up on Sunday morning?" He, of course, did not recognize the importance of the gathering to equip and send God's people, but his point is well taken. We have long considered the Sunday morning worship gathering as the primary evangelistic entry point. We have made it in many settings "seeker friendly" and we have challenged our people to invite their "unchurched" friends to these gatherings. I'm not saying this bad or wrong necessarily, but I think we need to consider how we spend the rest of our time. In the post, Hirsch describes the missional efforts of a few communities. He says,

In the Seattle/Tacoma region, two churches (Soma and Zoë) have chosen to collaborate in reaching students and musicians by actively moving into the social rhythms of these groups and ‘de-churchifying’ their previous expressions of ministry. In order to do this they have rented and purchased buildings and developed them as night clubs, coffee shops, and have established recording studios with direct links to the various musicians in the area. Zoë in particular has taken drastic measures to limit the attractional appeal of the ministry in order to wean members off the consumptive attendance at a ‘service’ and to get them all involved in local expressions of mission. Whilst passive attendance at services is down, the community is now highly engaged in various expressions of local community and the missional reach has been significantly increased through incarnational practices. They all feel that they are now much closer to what it means to be disciples in community.

For so long the measuring stick has been "worship attendance", which if we are being honest can have as much to do with the offering generated as anything else. Are we willing to develop different ways of keeping score? How do we better measure ministry "success" without attaching it to the bottom line?

Old Church Model ‘Killing the West’ -Journal Article Review

Old Church Model ‘Killing the West’ |

This is a pretty light article… simply reporting on what is being said a conference in Texas, but there is a challenging quote from Leonard Sweet. He says, “The “Achilles’ heel” of the church is the practice of attractional Christianity. “It’s all ‘come and see’ and not ‘go and be,’”

I agree with this quote, but it certainly challenges what has long been defined as “church”. The Augsburg Confession says, “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” Other translations replace, “congregation of saints” with “gathering of believers”. I would not argue that this is a faulty definition of church. In fact, I would claim quite the contrary. I do wonder, however, if we might need to reconsider what constitutes the “gathering of believers”. It is good to come together as the congregation. I love to worship with my brothers and sisters on Sunday mornings (or whenever). This Sunday morning gathering has long been a place where the Word is consistently proclaimed in my life, and where I am fed by Christ’s presence in the sacrament. But are there other ways that we can be the Church in the manner described in the AC outside of Sunday morning? The challenge comes, I think in our clerical control of the administration of the sacraments. Is there a way that we as clergy might “faithfully administer” by equipping the “laity”?

If Sweet is right… and I think he is… is this realization of Church possible under the structure and systems that exist in the larger church?

Five Streams of the Emerging Church – Article Review

The emerging church is a challenging "movement" to define. In fact, most involved in what is labeled as "emerging" would argue that it is not a movement at all, but simply a conversation. Add to this the organization "Emergent", which has become a prominent voice in the conversation because of their published works, speaking engagements, etc. and the emerging church remains elusive to anyone seeking a nice, neat label.

Scot McKnight is a professor of religious studies at North Park Theological Seminary, the author of several books, and one of the most widely read bloggers in the emerging church. He self-identifies with the emerging church, but admittedly struggles at times to maintain his evangelical identity in the midst of that which is emerging. In this article, McKnight identifies what he calls "Five Streams of the Emerging Movement"

  1. PROPHETIC (OR AT LEAST PROVOCATIVE) – This stream, according to McKnight, believes that things in the church need to change and they live like they already have. He also admits this stream has a tendency to exaggerate to make a point. For example, Peter Rollins (author of How Not to Speak of God) says, "Thus, orthodoxy is no longer (mis)understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world." This kind of statement, McKnight says, "makes its point, but it sometimes divides."
  2. POSTMODERN – McKnight describes this stream first by defining postmodernism, no simply as a denial of truth, but as, "the collapse of metanarratives (overarching explanations of life) like those of science and Marxism." It is not as much, as some believe, that postmoderns do not believe in absolute truth, rather that thruth cannot be known absolutely. This stream can be further subdivided into categories defined by Doug Pagitt: 1) Those who will minister to postmoderns, 2) Those who will minister with postmoderns, and 3) Those who will minister as postmoderns. The distinctions are subtle, but important. The first two categories imply that postmodernism is something to be opposed and ministered to… like an affliction of sorts. The third category does not seek to change/cure a person of their postmodernity, rather it accepts it as an acceptable existance and asks the question of how to live faithfully as a postmodern.

  3. PRAXIS ORIENTED – Simply described, this stream is mostly concerned with how the faith is being lived out. While other streams are challenging long-standing theological understandings, the praxis oriented stream is primarily concerned with authentic faith being represented in it worship, orthopraxy, and missional orientation.
  4. POST-EVANGELICAL – This stream is , "a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced…This stream flows from the conviction that the church must always be reforming itself." McKnight further identifies this stream as 1)Post-systematic theology, meaning that god did not offer a systematic theology to capture who God is, but a "storied narrative." 2) Post-In Versus Out. Emerging churches tend to be less interested in separating the "sheep from the goats", per se. McKnight sees this as a weakness. He says, "This emerging ambivalence about who is in and who is out creates a serious problem for evangelism."
  5. POLITICAL – The emerging movement often gets labled as "left-wing" politcally because of its strong emphasis on social justice issues. Emerging leaders/churches have been active in politics, garnering significant criticism from those who say that the church should not be involoved in politics. McKnight, simply calls for a proper balance, maintaining a distinction between the social gospel and the spiritual gospel.

This article identifies some helpful markers of the emerging movement, but in all I'm not sure that the categories are particularly helpful. Most of my experience has been that those in the emerging movement do not fit exclusively into any one of these streams, but are a mixture (sometimes changing) of all of the above. This article was yet another attempt at the elusive defninition the emerging church that makes some helpful points, but doesn't quite get there.

McKnight, Scot; Christianity Today; Feb 2007, Vol. 51 Issue 2, p 34-39

Defining Missional and Organic

This was a helpful article from Alan Hirsch

He offers some good clarification of over-used (yet often misunderstood) terms. IE:

What does the term missional mean to you?

Well, that's one of those very difficult terms because it's so widely used. But for me, it primarily refers to a church that organizes itself around the mission of God, or the misseo dei, which refers to God's involvement in the world—his redeeming it to himself. In The Forgotten Ways, I say that it's not so much that the church has a mission, but that the mission has a church. So when I think of the term "missional church," it's in that order—that a church has somehow bonded itself or identified itself as a primary agent of the mission of God in the world.

What about the term organic?

Of course that one has been made famous by Neil Cole, but organic for me is the idea that human organizations—just like living systems—are made up of very complex structures, and they have a life of their own. It's a term that's in contrast to a more mechanistic view of organization. So when I refer to organic systems, I'm thinking of a type of leadership and organization that is closer to the rhythms and structures of life itself.

An organic church goes with the natural flow of things. It doesn't try to perpetuate its life beyond what it's meant to be, which is different than most organizations. Most organizations tend to assume that once they've been started, they need to be perpetuated continually.

I found these definitions useful.  As I continue to study the "missional church" I am amazed at how many fundamentally different definitions there are floating out there.  This quote, "it's not so much that the church has a mission, but that the mission has a church" I believe identifies a very real issue for many churches.  Church leaders will spend countless hours and meetings hashing out the details of a mission statement for the church when truly the mission has already been given to us by God.  Maybe we should spend those hours trying to figure out how we can best partner with God in God's mission instead.

Intimacy and Orthodoxy

Worship music sung during any given church service is a nexus of cultural and theological elements.  Lyrics that a congregation sings and hears regularly can be deeply spiritually formative in that they are easily retained and often repeated.  However, much of contemporary worship music does not challenge cultural distortions of intimacy and the way the culture of Western individualism has redefined the nature of relationships.  A missional response to these problems must begin with an assessment of the cultural trends and influences that have created worship music that excessively focuses upon the individual's emotional needs and loneliness.Subsequently, there should be a deeper consideration of the theological criteria and questions that are used to evaluate worship music.  Specifically, greater attention needs to be given to God's Trinitarian identity and its relational implications, as well as the nature and definition of intimacy between humanity and God.  Lastly, we ought to consider how songwriters and worship leaders can create a more astute means of discernment regarding the process and influences behind the composition of worship music.

Worship music is often criticized for being too "touchy feely", as Brian Mclaren puts it, "If an extraterrestrial outsider from Mars were to observe us, I think he would say…that these people are all mildly dysfunctional and all need a lot of hug therapy (which is ironic, because they are among the most affluent in the world, having been blessed in every way more than any other group in history).

Change is needed, but it is, "important to reflect on the nature of the needs reflected in contemporary worship music and the tacit theology that has been shaped in response to the sense on alienation in our culture."  Much of our worship music as it exists has emerged out from legitimate emotional needs.

Because a common solution to loneliness in North American culture is consumerism, worship can readily be treated like another product to satisfy this need, and the focus of worship remains the emotional longing rather than God's character.

Worship music written from this perspective, that stops here, will not encourage a more authentic relationship with God because mature relationship requires seeing another as more than simply an extension of one's own needs.

Songwriters often desire to communicate and promote a deeper intimacy of relationship with God, yet the a large majority of worship songs are addressed ambiguously to "God" or "Lord", but predominantly to Jesus.  If God is truly Trinitarian, than a fullness of relationship can only be achieved by addressing the "full" person of God in the Trinity.

Not sure that this can or need be always accomplished in a single song, but it does need to be addressed as a whole in the assembling of worship music for a service.

A missional focus in worship music recognizes, "The very heart of our identity as the church…is not that we are the people who have been chosen to be blessed, saved, rescued, and blessed some more…the heart of our identity as the church…is that we are the people who have been blessed…to be a blessing, blessed so that we may convey blessing to the world."

Worship with a missional focus is a strong counterpoint to personalized, healing focused worship songs in that addresses the question, "Now what?"  Now that Jesus has healed me or comforted me in my distress, how do I respond?

Missiology April 2007  Michelle K. Baker-Wright