Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Certain Kind of Madness

In an earlier post, I mentioned an alarming critique of the (post-)modern church in North America: that the prevalent hyper-individualism of the surrounding culture has invaded the church and, like a beaver colony in a river, dammed up the flow of life.

I got as far as page 71 today before my head exploded again, as the authors pointed out some energy around the question: What are ...

... some of the simple but profoundly transforming habits that might shape us as a sign, witness, and foretaste in our neighborhoods[?]

This ... runs against the currents we have lived in to this point where the focus has been on our rights, our needs, our freedom to choose as we please, our freedom to cut and run whenever we get bored or it gets sticky and tough or things aren't quite working the way we expect. It is assumed that the appropriate means of living in a tolerant and open society is to create an environment that does not step on or over any specific set of personal rights, feelings, or desires. This is part of the madness of the needs-centered, seeker-driven mentality that has shaped so much of the church in North America.

Roxburgh and Boren, Introducing the Missional Church, p.71
Can you say "ouch"? I resemble this remark! Fortunately, the authors give us a cure for this madness, in the form of examples of how people have taken up some of these "simple but profoundly transforming habits": one is about a largely white church in a neighborhood that had become mostly black. A small group wanted to reach out to the neighborhood. After an initial rebuff, one couple went onto the main street to pick up litter.
They did this for a year as people watched and then began to nod at them as they went by. Twelve months later the shopkeeper who had told Mary to leave invited her in for coffee.

This is not the story of a church with a program to reach the community through its building; rather it is the story of Christians living in and with the people of their neighborhood so that the gospel changed everything. (73)
At this point you may be wondering what the definition of "missional" is. Well, I'll tell you: I don't know.

Here's what I mean: What if we read the gospels and ask, "How did Jesus define the Kingdom of God?" Well, he didn't. He described it in stories. He didn't draw a Venn diagram or give a Platonic characterization or a formula in the predicate calculus. So far I haven't read a definition of "missional" either. But the examples, the narratives, certainly make me think about what we're doing as a church, and what I'm doing as a follower of the Lord.

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