After sending the piece on institutions/movements/mission/whatnot to the blog yesterday, I saw a link to this article on Twitter from TransFORMnetwork.
I think this is really helpful. It names, in one webpage, a lot of the fundamental dynamics and approaches of missional communities. It addresses the problems "missional" gets into with the "usual" ways of measuring results. And it does all of this in a descriptive more than a prescriptive way, so it really comes across (to me at least) more like a "progress report from the field"-- a status update, if you will-- than a "primer" on missional engagement.
Before you read what I will say next, please go read it. Here's the link again.
I just really wish it were titled differently.
It's called, "THE END OF CHRISTENDOM" (and yes, in all caps!).
Well, it's not the end of Christendom. Those of you who attended emergingumc2 heard me say, several times, that Christendom is not dead in North America. I'd add that it's not even a zombie-- dead but doesn't know it.
The deal now is not that Christendom is over. It's that it now has some competition as the dominant set of assumptions for how it is the community called church lives missionally. In techno-geek terms, the fact that Linux and the open source community exist and continue to grow and thrive doesn't mean that Microsoft (R) is dead or undead. It just means we know there's another way of creating and delivering operating systems and software that can be, at its best, far more reliable, adaptable, and productive than the model Microsoft and the other "proprietary" models (including Mac!) follow.
Linux and open source "fanboys" are forever saying that their model kicks Microsoft to the curb. "Microsofties" are forever saying that the open source folk don't create serious software that people want and can use, else they'd be paying for it. "I played the flute for you, and you didn't dance. I played a funeral dirge, and you didn't mourn!" So it is with this generation. Or so someone said.
Christendom isn't dead. And missional strategies for being church aren't the one right answer to all situations and settings for Christian community. We can keep talking with each other and exploring partnerships across what may appear to be a significant divide.
Closer to reality may be that the Christendom approach to being church can no longer have the impact it once did on the lives of people and communities. Many if not all of the social, political and economic "props" that kept it in place have disintegrated. But there's still enough inertia in that whole way of thinking inside and outside ecclesial communities and enough internal institutional support to keep it moving forward as a model of being church for quite some time to come, even if it may continue to decline in influence over time. That is, of course, unless or until something happens that tears it all down. And that can certainly happen!
We need to take the reality of the continued life of Christendom seriously. That reality and the assumptions that lie behind it are as much a part of the context in which we seek to live missionally as any other fact of our contexts may be. It doesn't mean we need to constrain ourselves by those assumptions in what we do or how we form and deploy disciples of Jesus. It does mean that whatever we do will, necessarily and inevitably, be at least in dialog with Christendom assumptions in the minds and lives of the people we meet.
And let's be just as clear about this. Most of the congregations we serve were founded under and continue to function primarily on Christendom assumptions.
Indeed, missional approaches can repurpose Christendom assumptions and even practices toward potentially better outcomes through creative partnerships that respect the integrity of each.
I have no idea whether Mike Oles planned it this way-- and if he did, Bravo!-- but isn't that exactly what we saw and heard come to life when we sat at Monument Circle, the geographic, religious, civic and economic center of Indianapolis, and heard a labor organizer and janitors telling us through Spanish interpreters how valuable the witness of clergy continues to be toward moving building managers to grant improved wages and health benefits to their workers? How is it that clergy got that kind of status in the business world? Christendom! But who is it that we were engaged with? A missional community, partnering with and on behalf of the poor.
Christendom isn't dead, or even undead, in North America. There are places where it's stronger and weaker, but it's alive, sometimes even happy, and on some days "feeling much better."
But we are yet alive, too, and so is God's reign that, as we know, has more ways of leavening the lump, sowing seed, reaping harvests, and spreading weeds that can feed all the birds of the air than are dreamt of in Christendom's philosophy.
Peace in Christ,