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Posts Tagged ‘missional’

JR Woodward and Dan White, Jr., The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities (IVP; 2016)

During lunch a few days ago, one of my Christian colleagues shared his frustration in trying to find a suitable church home for him and his family. He was looking for a community of believers who were serious about discipleship and the pursuit of godly living. As he further shared his burden with us, I (half) jokingly said to him that it looks like he’d have to go and plant a church from scratch. At this point, when it became apparent that this might indeed be a path he may have to take by the grace of God, I suggested that he read some of the missional literature; in particular, I mentioned two books that I had read / am reading.

Earlier, I had posted a brief blurb on Michael Frost’s book, and in this post I will give an overview of The Church as Movement, which I just finished reading yesterday.

move

This theologically-grounded but practical book is divided into four sections (themes), each with two chapters, thus giving rise to 8 missional competencies:

  • Part 1: Distributing
    1. Movement Intelligence
    2. Polycentric Leadership
  • Part 2: Discipling
    1. Being Disciples
    2. Making Disciples
  • Part 3: Designing
    1. Missional Theology
    2. Ecclesial Architecture
  • Part 4: Doing
    1. Community Formation
    2. Incarnational Practices

These four sections are bookended by an Introduction and an Epilogue, and at 240 pages, this book is not a long-winded treatise, but in keeping with its subject matter, the pace is brisk without feeling rushed.

The Foreword by Alan Hirsch begins with an epigraph by business guru Peter Drucker: “People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete— the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are.” It is sad that some things are so sacrosanct that even when they become a hindrance to the advancement of the gospel or church life, Christians refuse to let go of them. As Hirsch notes, “most churches operate out of a largely obsolete understanding of the church that was developed in a completely different age and for a completely different set of cultural and social conditions— largely that of European Christendom.” Hirsch and others have proposed an alternative model of church for the new millennium, and Woodward and White have done a church a huge service in presenting this new paradigm in a fresh and appealing manner in their book. Both write as practitioners who have been through the ups and downs of planting missional-incarnational communities, so this is not a case of hopping on the missional bandwagon and spouting off theories: no, what they write is borne from the fires of failure and boots on the ground experiences. It would be apt to let the authors introduce the rationale for yet another “missional” book:

This book is an attempt to help people plant the kind of churches that reflect the viral movement of the early New Testament, fuelled by the values of tight-knit community, life-forming discipleship, locally rooted presence and boundary-crossing mission. This is “church as movement.”

At the heart of the book is a concern to return to the centrality of discipleship within a communal context. Indeed, I sighed with frustration and sadness when they write in the Introduction: “This book is best used with a group of four to twelve people. … It is important to work through this material with others, since it was designed for a group rather than to be digested alone.” Well, heck, I don’t have even three other people I know who could be part of what they call a “discipleship core”. So sad! It means that my learning from the book will be shortchanged and I will not fully benefit from the formational learning aspects (meta-learning, reflective learning, and experiential learning) that require communal participation. Sigh …

The first theme is “Distributing” which I take to be a shift from a hierarchical and centralized focus to pluriform gifts and polycentric leadership — i.e., a distributed and relational approach.  They begin by describing the Church as the “Christian-industrial complex”, at least those churches that are held up as models of success:

In our American imagination success means growing bigger, collecting more resources, consolidating power, creating strong hierarchical structures and growing rapidly.

American church leaders’ imaginations and metrics for success are increasingly shaped by the things they can count. But, as Albert Einstein said, “That which counts is often the most difficult to count.”

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Ring the BELLS

I recently finished two books in the missional genre. In this post I will share some brief thoughts about the first one, by veteran missional strategist and practitioner Michael Frost.

frost

I read his first book, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church (co-authored with another missional pioneer, Alan Hirsch), over a decade ago and recall highlighting sentence after sentence in agreement. Frost has written many other books since then (as has  Hirsch), and I decided to check this one out. I should briefly note that yes, “missional” is something of a buzzword, but I don’t think it’s a fad, and there is much we can learn from and put into practice.

The book’s subtitle sums up Frost’s aim: namely, to inculcate in his readers five missional habits, conveniently expressed by the acronym BELLS:

bells

The beauty of these habits is that they can easily be incorporated into the daily rhythms and routines of life. Frost acknowledges that most of us are not gifted as evangelists, BUT if “all believers are leading the kinds of lives that evoke questions from their friends, then opportunities for sharing faith abound, and chances for the gifted evangelists to boldly proclaim are increased. In brief, our task is to surprise the world!” From my own experience as well as observations of other Christians, I feel we are lacking in living intentionally and incarnationally. In my opinion, a large part of this stems from our modern (mis)conception of church. Nevertheless, we are all called to serve in our current context, and in this regard, Frost’s five habits are a welcome corrective to the insidious individualism of modern Christian spirituality.  Thus Frost wisely notes that

if our only habits as Christians are going to church and attending meetings, they’re not going to connect us with unbelievers nor invite their curiosity about our faith. The trick is to develop habits that unite us together as believers, while also propelling us into the lives of others.

This book should not be read in isolation, but is best read together with others, for example, in a fellowship group. Indeed, in a closing chapter, Frost proposes the DNA model to help in the formation of these habits: Discipleship, Nurture and Accountability. This invovles meeting with two other people each week to see how well we were able to “ring the BELLS” in our lives as we interacted with others. OK, I am going to need two comrades for this: anyone out there who wants to join up with me for this DNA thing?

Our church is about to start an Alpha session. While I have some reservations about Alpha, I wholeheartedly appreciate the opportunity to meet some unbelievers in a safe environment and will support this as much as I can. (I have been part of a group that hosted the Alpha program, so I do have firsthand experience with the program, and I would say that some of the concerns with Alpha are justified; nevertheless, God can and has used Alpha, so I don’t go out of my way to oppose it.) However, a complementary and more sustainable approach would be to have EVERY member of our church read Michael Frost’s affordable and accessible bookSurprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People (NavPress; 2015). By equipping everyone in our church to develop missional habits, we will be more open to and effective in reaching others with the Gospel. In short, Alpha is an event-centered approach whereas Frost is promoting a lifestyle-centered approach. Of course, the two approaches can complement one another, so I think this would be a wonderful opportunity to promote Frost’s book to the whole church. I mean, why not?!

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Let’s Get Missional

Very excited by these two books that I’m currently reading:

JR Woodward and Dan White, Jr., The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities (IVP; 2016)

Michael Frost, Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People (NavPress; 2015)

Will be reviewing them both in the New Year!

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Mission, Community, Worship

Michael Frost is a leading voice in the missional church movement and I really enjoyed reading Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church which he co-authored with Alan Hirsch. Both have since written many more books.

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