Enough of the posts on the significance of “post,” though some more will probably come to my head.
The emergent movement’s strongest asset and its clear prophetic voice is around this idea: the purpose of the Church, the local church, is to be a missional community. The tendency for many churches is to be stagnant — low growth with low embers glowing with low change and low adaptation to newer cultural ideas and movements. It used to be said that every generation had to speak the gospel to its generation, but this won’t do for a culture that shifts as quickly as ours does. So, the emergent movement strains the older forms because it has moved with the shifting culture and seeks to address the culture with a gospel for its time. A missional community of faith listens, looks, learns, and links to its community — and because it is responsive something new is always going on.
(By the way, the overall image of a seeker-church being totally different from an emergent church is not as accurate as many are suggesting. Size, maybe, but size ain’t all bad friends.)
However much one wants to quarrel about the shifts in culture from modernity to postmodernity, and I’m with those who see the shift as very significant, the focus of the emergent movement is on being missional.
Missional is a favored word because it is flexible. It transcends the old idea of social justice work following up on (if at all) a genuine gospel work. It blurs the distinction between “worldly” vs. “heavenly.” It asks that the vision of Jesus for the kingdom of God become the vision of the Church. And anyone who sits down with the Gospels and asks “What does Jesus mean by the kingdom of God?” and then writes down the answer each time that expression shows up in the Gospels, will discover that for Jesus the kingdom of God was a holistic vision of God’s will being done on earth (as in heaven).
To get a grip on this I suggest you sit down with Luke 1 (Mary’s Magnificat), then go to Luke 4 (Jesus’ inaugural sermon where he outlines his vision), then go to Luke 6 (or back to Matthew 5–7) in the Sermon on the Mount, then jump to Matthew 11:2-6, and then go to Acts 2 and Acts 4 and tell me what you think Jesus had in mind for the “community of Jesus.” One has to think that the three moments of Grace — Cross, Resurrection, and Pentecost — were designed to bring that sort of “kingdom” life into existence. Anything less is simply not Jesus’ kingdom. I digress.
So, missional means grasping a total picture of each society as God wants it, and it asks how it is possible for each Christian to participate in what God wants and is doing in this world. It breaks down the barrier between secular and sacred, between the spiritual and the secular, and between the holy and the profane. If the former conceptualization of the gospel was in the terms of “come out from among them” or “be not of this world,” the missional Christians are asking how to be among them and of this world in order to participate in what God is doing in this world. Thus, I see three ideas in the term missional:
It is holistic — it concerns the whole person (heart, soul, mind, strength) in this world;
It is participatory — it asks Christians to get involved and to do something
It is telic — it aims at the kingdom of God, and nothing less will do; this is why the emergent sorts are not so easy to pin down on politics: they seem to want the world to get much, much better, and in fact, they believe it can be what Jesus said it would be. (Which also means it will have an edge, a counter-cultural edge to it.)
In saying this, it becomes clear that the purpose of the Church is not just a gathering of Christians on Sunday “to be fed” and “to be warmed” and “to be blessed” but it is instead a time to worship and a time to plan how the community can participate in the work of God in its local neighborhood during the next week.
A local church that is genuinely kingdom-missional could be a terror to many Christians. Of course, many of Jesus’ day thought the same about him, and invented accusations against him — like “rebellious son” (Matthew 11:19 using Deuteronomy’s legal language).