A while ago I tweeted this:
Creative Christianity = local missioners who are not trying to import foreign faith but rather live life as sacred art in the neighborhood.
— Zach Hoag (@zhoag) October 19, 2013
The problem with how the concept of missional has been utilized by the North American church over the last 10-15 years is the inevitable drift toward programming and commodifying it. In other words, missional has often been reduced to a model and a market. And we all know that the way we tend to treat the market is with initial excitement and consumption followed by a degree of disillusionment and boredom (which sets the stage for the next big thing).
I'm seeing and hearing a whole lot of disillusionment with missional these days, even from some of the folks who originally spearheaded the movement. It seems like lots of people are upset with how things have turned out. I see laments about missional just being a meaningless buzzword for selling books and conference tickets, with no real substance behind it. Folks are saying it looks a lot like the church just trying to be cool, trying to be relevant to the culture, in order to get people into the same old system. Sure, it's better than door to door evangelism - but it is still agenda-driven, colonial-feeling, and kind of a bait-and-switch.
The models also seem like something new and amazing at first, but after a while not so much. The "missional megachurches" have all the same corporate and celebrity leadership issues that seeker megachurches have, if not more. And the "missional microchurches" or missional/intentional communities are often unhealthy and lacking the leadership and liturgy which seems to make the church the church. As such, they aren't that much different from the other attempts at North American house church over the last few decades. Finally, the "missional mainline" make a good attempt to renew liturgy, but in the end are still steeped in institutional, organizational, and theological baggage, rendering real missional movement difficult to impossible. And mega, micro, and mainline are still often primarily reaching churched people looking for "something different" rather than unchurched people or people far from Jesus.
But here's the thing.
I believe in missional.
And I believe in missional because of the origins and root meanings of the movement, despite the programming and commodifying that has more recently taken place. Missional, at its root, simply means that the church is sent into the world. The people of God do not exist to antagonistically oppose the world or escape the world but to sacrificially engage the world in the love of Jesus. The church's entire purpose is to bless the world, kingdom come. In the words of Scot McKnight:
The foundation for using the term 'missional' comes from papal statements like Lumen Gentium and from the Gospel and Our Culture Network (www.gocn.org), as well as from missiologists like David Bosch and Lesslie Newbigin. The guiding theme is the notion of missio Dei: God is a missionary God, the church is mission, and the church has no mission but the 'mission of God.' Another way of saying this is that there is a church because of the missio Dei, which draws the church into God's missional work of redemption. In the words of David Bosch, 'Missio Dei enunciates the good news that God is a God-for-people.' God's people inevitably become a community-for-people as they participate in the missio Dei.*
And, believe it or not, missional movement along these lines is happening in the North American church, even amidst the tendencies to model and market. There are many leaders, ministries, and groups graciously turning the church toward the culture, though in some cases that turn might be slow and difficult. These folks are seeing the potential for all kinds of churches - mega, micro, and mainline - to begin to shed some of their consumeristic, Christendom layers and reorient themselves around the missio Dei. To really, truly become communities for people and not institutions, organizations, or insular groups for themselves.
Which brings me back to the tweet.
Creative Christianity, as I imagine it and as this blog seeks to present it, embraces missional movement happening across the church universal and celebrates that movement. And, it seeks to emphasize and perpetuate the deeper meaning of missional, beyond all the programming and commodifying. It seeks to set aside the colonial and consumeristic tendencies toward importing foreign faith and drawing people into foreign systems. Instead, it looks to be rooted, local, and committed to living life in the neighborhood on the neighborhood's terms, as a kind of sacred art. Our witness may be counter-cultural at points (as the gospel undoubtedly is), but our presence should be fully and truly incarnational. In this way, the church can live creatively without seeking to dominate; powerfully without seeking power. To really, truly be communities for people and not for ourselves.
If I may tip my hand, I do think that getting back to the root of missional does provide us with an expression that looks a certain way. And it's not necessarily about size or meeting place or corporate structure. It's about being a church for your people and your place.
It's about being a true parish church.
*Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement, p. 135