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Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

What's All This 'Missional' Talk?, Part 2

In my "Echoes" entry of April 4, I outlined some ideas behind what's being called the "Missional Movement" in Protestant churches these days. Following the idea that if it's important, you oughta say it (at least) more than once, I want to talk about this some more here. But this time I want to take a little different turn, like looking at another facet of a jewel. I want to think about how we might rethink a few things about "church" in light of all of this.

Theologian Brian McLaren is one of a handful of folks often quoted when the idea of "missional church" comes up. He was the morning speaker for General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Monday morning, July 2, in Pittsburgh. In his talk he described four thoughts about the church that are driving the missional movement. He was summarizing, so the ideas weren't all that new. But he crystalized things in way worth repeating. As I review what he said, I hope you'll give a thought to how difficult these ideas can be — and how countercultural.

The principles are from McLaren. The commentaries are mine.


First, "missional" churches are beginning to rediscover a very old idea, that baptized believers aren't best thought of as "customers" of goods and services provided by the church, but as "disciples" of Christ. Not customers, but disciples. If we took that idea seriously, maybe we'd be less nervous about giving people what they say they want and more excited about trying to be faithful to the gospel in a way that shapes what people want, invites people to try new ways of living, assumes we're all in a process of rethinking our lives and opening our hearts. We can be disciples! That is the adventure of faith into which we're called when we're baptized. To think of the church as disciples rather than customers, I as a preacher will let myself believe that my hearers might just want more than they say they want — and give them permission to want as much from faith as faith will give them. For, you see, as a collection of customers, the church often suffers from the disease of low expectations. As a gathering of potential disciples, we can rise so much higher — and take each other along.

So, second, "missional" churches are more and more thinking of the local church as sort of seminary. Not just a refuge. Not just a social outlet. Not just a care provider and value enhancer. Not just an arts venue or community center. A seminary. A location of intentional, serious, life-changing Christian formation for all ages, training and equipping for mission, identifying and recruiting future leadership, reaching beyond our walls to spread all of these things into the world. As my friend Alan Hilton likes to put it, this is advanced placement Christianity. And this is something worth investing in.

Third, "missional" churches see clergy as missional equippers and community organizers. I'd add interpreters of the tradition and persons of prayer to this, but I think McLaren's still onto something here. These days, the church is going through a genuine crisis in clerical leadership, in large part because we've little agreement about what pastors are for — and so pastors mistakenly try to be everything anyone asks them to be. They can try to be small business owners, CEOs, care providers, fund raisers, motivators and cheerers, friends, managers, servers, biblical scholars, theologians, social activists, therapists, and more. We burn out clergy out. Now pastors are each of these things at one time or another, but can't be all them all the time or each with equal effect. Better for pastors to focus on equipping the church to take on its missional task, and better for lay leadership to come alongside their pastors to help with the rest.

The fourth thing McLaren said is that "missional" churches are beginning to remember that the world is not there for us (as a source of members, pledges, and children), but we as the church are here for the world. This is our missional identity. What difference would it make for us, if instead of first asking how we can recruit new members from our neighborhood we were to ask how we might bless our neighbors, help them find what they need, and invite them to join us as we do. This makes mission not so much our "responsibility" as our very "identity" as Christ's people. We trust that as we do Christ's work, lift the bushel off from over the candle, and remove unnecessary barriers to participation, we will be attractive. We've known that all along, and it's our missional calling to keep remembering and keep acting on what we know — with some fun along the way.

— Members are not customers, but disciples.
— The church is a seminary.
— Clergy are primarily missional interpreters, equippers, and persons of prayer.
— The world is not there for us; we're here for the world.

More to come!