A Call to Missional Revolution
Ivan Illich was once asked what is the most revolutionary way to change society. Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform? He gave a careful answer. Neither. If you want to change an alternative story, he concluded’
Tim Costello p.33
In their book The Shaping of Things to Come, Mike Frost and Alan Hirsch begin to tell that alternative story. They state up front that they will be ‘advocating a wholesale change in the way Christians are doing and being church.’ That is not an understatement as what follows is both an incisive critique of much current missiology/ecclesiology as well as a challenge to boldly re-imagine what it means to do mission and be the church in a post-christian age. This is a call to revolution!
It is a book for those who are genuinely willing to think and grapple with the serious questions that confront the church in the 21st century. It will not appeal to those who want simple answers and a few new tricks to fire the old girl into life again. In fact I’d suggest that if we read this book and really grasp what its saying it would be almost impossible not to pursue significant change at a personal and corporate level. It is, in their own words ‘unnerving’ and ‘disturbing’ confronting the church with the reality that in its present form it is simply not being true to its calling as a missionary people.
The broad premise undergirding the book is that Christendom is over. The period where the church occupied centre stage in society is long gone and because of this we now need to adopt a missionary posture if we are to have any future here in the west. What follows is a framework for imagining what a missional church may look like.
The Christendom church is summarised as being:
- Attractional – expecting people to come to it and measuring effectiveness by attendance at the Sunday service.
- Dualistic – seeing the secular and the sacred as two separate spheres of life, and leading to the assumption that God is only encountered in holy places.
- Hierarchical – relying on a ‘top down’ corporate management system with a strong clergy / laity distinction.
By contrast the 3 core characteristics of the emerging missional church are seen to be:
- An incarnational ecclesiology – a church that engages with the culture in every way and that lives ‘in the world’ rather than hiving off into Christian enclaves and seeking to draw others into them.
- Messianic spirituality – seeing God in all of life and living with more of a Hebrew approach to life.
- Apostolic leadership – based on Ephesians 4 and seeing the church as led by people with a mix of the 5 giftings mentioned in that chapter. (Called APEPT leadership)
It is stated that the missional church by its very nature will be ‘an anti-clone of the existing traditional model’… which is not dissimilar to saying, take all you have known to be church and then do the opposite!
Mike & Alan are two practitioners living the things they write about and giving you the distinct sense that these are not just nice theories – they are concepts earthed in biblical theology but also tried on the coalface of Australian life.
The final two chapters entitled ‘Imagination and Leadership’ and ‘Organising the Revolution’ are absolutely brilliant, calling us to new thinking and a whole new way of seeing church – as a missionary movement rather than a static institution.
The book pulls no punches in speaking of the bankruptcy of the Christendom model and the desperate need for radical change if the church is to be more than a footnote in history. It is both provocative and inspiring. Some will see it as ‘fighting words’. It will draw criticism, especially from those who have much invested in Christendom models, but the content of this book cannot be ignored if the church is to have a future here in the West.
There is way too much to summarise in a short book review but here are a few pearls that might whet your appetite for more:
In this book expect to encounter revolutionary ideas that will sometimes unnerve you. We hope to reawaken the latent apostolic imagination at the heart of the biblical faith and to exhort God’s people to courageous missional engagement for our time – living out the gospel within its cultural context rather than perpetuating an institutional commitment apart from its cultural context. In writing this book we are advocating a wholesale change in the way Christians are doing and being the church, and because of this ours is not necessarily a popular message. We’ve become disturbingly aware through personal experience and observation that those who advocate such a thoroughgoing re-calibration of the church will not always be met with open arms by the prevailing church leadership. And yet we feel compelled to lovingly challenge the church to dismantle many of the arcane institutional structures it is now beholden to and to bravely face the future with imagination and courage.’
‘The fact that the Christendom paradigm has presided over the last seventeen centuries in the west provides us with a substantial basis with which to test its success or failure. As we stand here at the dawn of a new millennium, we believe that we must, at long last, give up trying to rejig the paradigm to suit the massively changed missional contexts of the western church. It simply has not worked. In fact it has created more problems.’
‘The church by its very nature has an indissoluble link to the surrounding cultural context. This relationship defines the practical nature of its mission. But the reason for mission comes from somewhere else. To say it more theologically, Christology determines missiology and missiology determines ecclesiology’
The church bids people come and hear the gospel in the holy confines of the church and its community. This seems so natural to us after seventeen centuries of Christendom, but at what price and to what avail have we allowed it to continue? If our actions imply that God is only really present in official church activities – worship, Bible studies, Christian youth meetings, ladies fellowships – then it follows that mission and evangelism simply involve inviting people to church related meetings’
‘If you are digging a hole in one place and realise that you need to dig it elsewhere, you don’t get there by digging in the same place only deeper. And yet churches when they realise the old attractional mode isn’t working, seem to believe that if they just do attractional church better, it will work’
‘The recovery of a messianic spirituality that hallows the everyday is essential to the missional church because it is in the everyday that the missional church exists’
‘A much more wholesome view of vision and visionary leadership is contained I the idea of the management of meanig. Considered philosophically, all that a great visionary leader does is awaken and harness the dreams and visions of the members of a given community and give them deeper coherence by means of a grand vision that ties together all the ‘little visions’ of the members of the group. The fact remains that no-one will be prepared to die for my sense of purpose in life’’
As much as the book brings great hope, the authors finish by saying that the situation is precarious. If the emerging missional church is to really catch fire and have a transformational effect then it will depend to some degree on the response from the more established churches.
But more crucially, it will rely on courageous, inventive men and women willing to have a go at new ways, trying, failing, and trying again…
Andrew Hamilton is part of a group of 5 families moving into a costal suburb of Perth with the intention of being ‘Backyard Missionaries’.