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Missional Mondays: Tony Stiff 4

posted by Scot McKnight

Missional.jpg

The ecclesiological shift is found in the church renewing its missional identity in practice as well as in theory. Moving from merely a sending church that sends a few professional missionaries to a imaginatively exploring and living as a sent people who live out mission daily. The West is growing more and more Post-Christian which may sound like all bad news. This shift can however contain promise in it for the Church in the Post-Christian West in offering it a purifying challenge. Today there is a huge opportunity for the church to develop a missiology of Western culture and be what by nature she is called to be: A sent people, a missional church.

Tim Keller speaks about the failure of the modern church to appreciate this and its need to make this ecclesiological shift in a holistic way instead of just changing one dimension of its life or enacting merely a new program of evangelism while the rest of the churches life stays the same:

“…the church in the West had not become completely ‘missional’–adapting and reformulating absolutely everything it did in worship, discipleship, community, and service–so as to be engaged with the non-Christian society around it.  It had not developed a ‘missiology of western culture’ the way it had done so for other non-believing cultures.” The Missional Church


Later in this same article Keller shares the four
key characteristics of missional churches who’ve made the ecclesiological
shift;

1.   
Discourse in the
vernacular:
Missional churches avoid tribal language, we-them language, talking
as though non-believers weren’t present in our churches. We must learn to
discourse in the local vernacular’s our churches are situated within

2.   
Enter and re-tell
the culture’s stories with the gospel: Missional
churches enter
into their culture by showing sympathy toward and deep acquaintance with the
artifacts of the culture (music, art, literature, food, etc.) acknowledging the
goodness of culture because of common grace and the image of God in all
humanity; missional churches are able to re-tell their cultures stories in
light of the biblical story which shows us how in Christ we can have freedom
without slavery, embracing the ‘other’ without injustice.

3.   
Theologically
train lay people for public life and vocation:
Missional
churches train everyone to ‘think Christianly’ about everything and work with
distinctive’s shaped by the biblical story; people are encouraged to renew and
transform culture through a theology of work; and to become culture-makers;
missional churches encourage people to demonstrate love and ‘tolerance’ in the
public square, under cutting intolerance as a common defeater of the gospel in
the Post-Christian West.

4.   
Create Christian
community which is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive:
Missional
churches seek to empower and equip the body to show the surrounding culture how
radically different a Christian society is with regard to sex, money, and
power; and missional churches practice holistic mission because the world is a
holistic mess because of sin and God has provided a holistic answer in Christ;
they do this through word and deed, through the proclamation and presence of
the Kingdom of God.

The ecclesiological shift of the missional church is a
holistic shift. A shift made for the sake of reaching, in incarnational way,
those without Christ in the Post-Christian West. As Harvie M. Conn said long
ago,

“The most difficult step for many
missionaries and urban church planters in the United States to take is to
rearrange our lives. Jesus rearranged His life for us, and it is imperative
that we rearrange our lives for the people he died for.”

 

Discussion Questions:

 

1.    
Is it only bad news that the West is growing more and more
Post-Christian? What benefit could this new setting bring to the church?

2.    
Are missional churches the only viable expression of the church in
the global setting of today?

Thank you everyone for commenting and contributing. I have learned
more from all of you than you have no doubt learned from me. Here are a few
resource suggestions to continue considering the Missional Church;

 

Best short article; The Missional Church, by Tim Keller

 

Best book; The Missional Church: A vision for the sending
of the Church in North America
, edited by Darrell Guder

 

Helpful video short: What is the Missional Church?, by Tony Stiff



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RJS

posted November 23, 2009 at 3:30 pm


This is good stuff worth some real discussion. To say that “missional” churches are the only viable expression is to miss the point I think. In a post Christian culture (and large parts of our culture are post Christian) viable expressions are missional as a truism. All other expressions will fade away. But viable expressions are not always missional in ways envisioned by Keller or anyone else.
For example – is discourse in the vernacular really missional? When I’ve listened to Keller, he does not really do this. In fact he retains useful terms and concepts but tries to teach them to his audience realizing that they likely have not been raised in the language. Over emphasis on discourse in the vernacular in our western culture usually (but not always) means a watered down presentation. Certainly there are examples where watered-down is not the appropriate description. But isn’t the point really to avoid us-them language and division rather than discourse in the vernacular?
On the last two point from Keller.
Aren’t “think Christianly” and “counter-cultural Christian community” two sides of the same coin? We will create a counter cultural Christian community if and only if lay people are trained theologically for public life and vocation – and if and only if the teachers (pastors) aim to make peers out of people. (Goes somewhat with Scot’s emphasis on “third way preaching/teaching).
Interesting to think about – I hope the post gets some discussion.



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Patrick

posted November 23, 2009 at 6:44 pm


“Is it only bad news that the West is growing more and more Post-Christian? What benefit could this new setting bring to the church?”
Tony, thanks for these posts. This is a great question, even if I’d prefer to say ‘post-Christendom’ since I’m not too convinced that the West or any other fallen culture can really be ‘Christian’.
Benefits? – what follows is more a prayer than anything. I guess it all depends on how we discern what the Spirit of God is saying to us in the midst of change? But whatever the future, we need to go forward in faith not fear – or wanting to ‘run back’ to the security of the past.
Maybe a deeper trust in God rather than our own cultural power and strength in numbers? Maybe a renewed focus on mission rather than assumptions of a ‘come to us’ church. Maybe being more open to dialogue & listening to others outside the church from being a minority in a pluralist & secularising culture? Maybe increased humility borne from life on the margins rather than the centre? Maybe a renewal of humble evangelism in a culture which knows less and less of the Christian story and assumes Christianity is bad news? Maybe deeper prayer as we recognise there is a cultural shift going on far outside our control? Maybe a rediscovery of the gospel as good news and ‘public truth’ for all of life. Maybe the church will be spiritually renewed to incarnate the gospel in its community life, rather than be propped up by the crumbling pillars of Christendom.



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AHH

posted November 23, 2009 at 7:18 pm


RJS mentioned the “vernacular” issue — what that made me think of was how *some* in emerging and missional circles are advocating more liturgy, weekly Eucharist, etc. That would seem to collide head-on with Keller’s “vernacular” advocacy.
If we sing the Gloria Patri every week (heck, I’ve been in churches for 30 years and I’m not really sure what the part starting with “As it was” is supposed to mean), or say “the new covenant in my blood” every week, are we failing to be “missional”?



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Randy

posted November 24, 2009 at 9:49 am


Something is missing here. Point #4 says we are to create counter-cultural churches regarding money, sex and power. But it says nothing of being counter-cultural regarding the racial segregation that is rampant in our churches and that some do not even think about.
Tim Keller has done good work in this regard in his church, but if this primary sin of our society is not addressed in smaller churches in less metropolitan places, the Missional Church, of which I am a supporter, will fail. I think both of Chris Rice’s essay on two churches in Durham and our congregation here in Grand Rapids, where our congregation is working hard in some regards but has a long way to go with learning how to work and serve alongside their brothers and sisters.
Peace,
Randy



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Rick

posted November 24, 2009 at 12:34 pm


AHH-
“…how *some* in emerging and missional circles are advocating more liturgy, weekly Eucharist, etc. That would seem to collide head-on with Keller’s “vernacular” advocacy.”
On the contrary- I think it speaks to the vernacular issue well. Many outside (and inside) the church have at least some knowledge of such practices, and expect/want it. It brings to mind the recent study that showed how the unchurched would rather worship in a traditional place of worship than in a modern, business-like building.
Of course this, and many of the things Keller mentions, have to do with context. Keller regularly reminds people to keep in mind that he is speaking from a NYC context, and that we should adapt to our own circumstances accordingly.



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John L

posted November 28, 2009 at 7:47 pm


RJS says, “We will create a counter cultural Christian community if and only if lay people are trained theologically for public life and vocation…”
Maybe. I’m more inclined to think that our model of “theological vocational training” is part of the problem that perpetuates our stark Constantinian lay-clergy duality.
The Jesus movement was counter-cultural not because it trained religious authorities, but because it entrusted all people as “priests,” regardless of academic or vocational achievement.
Rather than encouraging the professional / amateur duality, let’s find ways to flatten our inherited religious hierarchies and encourage all-body participation.



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