Missional, Emerging, Emergent…unknotting confusing lingo

September 29, 2006

“In light of my previous post, I offer the following attempt at clarifying conusing lingo:

Missional” means that the church is part of the larger mission of God. Mission isn’t, therefore, something the church DOES, it is what the church IS. The church participates, and is part of, the larger mission of God (or as fancy folks like to call it, the “missio Dei”). While the term “missional” has been around in mainline circles for decades, it has crept into evangelical lexicons largely through the emerging church movement. Some folks mistakenly lump the emerging church and the missional church into the same category, as though they were synonomous. Au contraire–”missional” is a much bigger category than “emerging.”

For example, my church (called Missio Dei) is missional in its identity and also emerging within our specific North American context. Missional describes our “essence” whereas “emerging” describes our particular relationship with our context. To make things more confusing for folks, the word “emerging” isn’t the same as the word “Emergent.” Emergent is the sort of flagship “emerging” organization–it is an organization that fosters discussions about the “emerging” church. Emergent is an organization that I have ties to but I don’t know if it comes into play when thinking of the identity of our church or which category we fall into. Another way of saying this is that our church IS missional by its nature, is emerging within its context, while it is affiliated (in a sense) with Emergent.

MISSIONAL is about more than being contextual, it is about the nature of the church and how it relates not only to culture, but also to God. Missional means that the church participates in mission instead of being the souce of mission. EMERGING means that the way in which church is done is changing in light of a changing context. EMERGENT is simply the main organization wihtin the United States which seeks to encourage the emerging church phenomenon. Though emerging churches would primarily think of themselves as missional and while most within Emergent would also think of themselves as missional, one can be emerging without being missional and vice versa.

Did I miss something? (thoughts on the “missional” church)

September 29, 2006

I’m confused by recent useage of the word “missional.” It all started while I was reading Jamie Arpin-Ricci’s blog. There he draws a distinction between “emerging” and “missional” in a way that doesn’t make sense to me–as though they are two competing schools or something. My understanding is that missional is a larger category than emerging. Missional refers to the essence of the church as participating in the mission of God (ie, the missio Dei), while “emerging” refers to a change in the church’s relationship to its context. While these ideas definitely overlap, they aren’t the same.

The post seems to posit that the emerging church discussion has been corralled by Emergent?. I certainly have sympathies with this view. In the comments section of that post, someone seemed to articulate the idea that the emerging/Emergent is a group of folks that sympathize with McLaren, Pagitt and others who are strongly tied to Emergent, whereas the “missional” crowd is lead by the likes of Stetzer and Driscoll. In other words “emerging churches” are those churches with a more progressive agenda in light of our post-modern, post-whatever culture, while “missional churches” are those churches with a more conservative agenda (mostly calvinist) in light of our post-modern, post-whatever culture. I immediately dismissed the idea.

But then I came across the article What in the World is the Missional Church on I don’t usually go to that site, but found my way there through blog surfing. In the article, Jonathan Leeman writes the following:

I have no idea when exactly conservative evangelicals co-opted the term “missional.” My guess is that conservative writers and pastors in the emerging church movement like Mark Driscoll, after tromping through some of the same fields as their liberal counterparts, reached down, pulled up the missional plant by the roots, and then transplanted it into conservative soil.

The word “missional”–one used only within mainline denominations–has now become a very important buzzwords among conservative evangelicals (a good number of them Calvinists). In some ways the word has indeed become their possession. And for some reason, I never really noticed the shift. I simply thought that confused conservative evangelicals were starting to use the word–mostly inaccurately–because it fit the long-held evangelical impulse of putting Matthew 28 at the middle of their understanding of the purpose for the Church.

And so, not it seems that the word “missional” is increasingly becoming an identifier for those who would be a part of the emerging church but are uncomfortable with the “liberal-types” who seem to be dominating the conversation. And so the rift begins. It certainly seems like two “camps” are forming within this generation of churches that are seeking to live in our post-whatever North American context.
Unfortunately for me, I’m by no means in the same “camp” as the Stetzer/Driscoll crowd. I’m simply not Calvinistic nor conservative enough. I’d be content being in the “emerging church camp” but I am indeed a bit uncomfortable with the seeming dominance of Emergent? within the emerging church discussion. It isn’t that I think Emergent is a bad group of folks or that I have any big disagreement with them. Its just that I don’t like branding within the church and I don’t like that the conversation seems to be congealing around the publishing deals of the few.

My only option is to try to be friendly with all involved. I’m still a part of the Twin Cities Emergent Cohort, somewhat begrudgingly. And I’ll have to simply be ok with the fact that my blog, which is called “missionthink” and my community, which is called “Missio Dei” will be somehow linked in peoples mind’s to the new “missional” camp that seems to be forming. Oh well.

A Rationale for Resistance

September 27, 2006

There is a revival of Anabaptist thought today. While a growing number of academics and thinkers are conceiving of the church as an alternative culture or a counter-culture, not enough of this is directed towards practitioners and lay-leaders. Am I wrong on this assessment? What are some good books that explore the counter-cultural nature of the church but are written for practioners and conscientious lay folk?

Fewer sill are the books out there that suggest how to practice resistance or point to existing counter cultural communities that may serve as role models for embodying resistance. It is trendy to be subversive, but some of the subversive impulses I see in emerging churches today stem from an American sub-culture rather than a rich understanding of the subversive quality of the Kingdom of God. So, for some this book will be a call to resistance, to others it will be a gentle rebuke to resist in a Kingdom-centered way.

On Resistance (responses requested)

September 27, 2006

We’ll, those of you who have read my blog for a long time know that I’ve struggled with the decision of whether or not to write a book. I’ve never taken the leap, because I wasn’t sure I has anything worth saying in a book and because I was afraid to write something that ended up being a big steamy pile of failure.

Well, I’ve made a decision: I’m writing a book. The book will be a call to resistance. It will examine the usefulness of “resistance” as a concept for discipleship-particularly in the context of Christian community. After justifying resistance as a central category for understanding the relationship between church and culture (here I draw primarily from the Anabaptist tradition and contemporary neo-Anabaptist thinkers), I will name eight “powers” within American culture that need to be resisted. Each chapter will explore why the particular “power” needs to be resisted, offer suggestions for mounting resistance and then point to a faith community that embodies the necessary resistance. My own experiences as an urban practitioner will be woven throughout.

So, here’s how you can help: Tell me a few “powers” that need to be resisted in A) the American Church and/or B) American culture. If you want extra credit, you may also offer an example of a church or group that does a good job in mounting resistance.

If I like your idea is useful fodder for my book (and my book gets published), I will find a way to tangibly express my thanks (if you’re local, that means coffee or beer, if you’re not, I may involve an gift certificate).

The re-emergence of Fundamentalism

September 26, 2006

Though I think of myself as a very biblical, Jesus-centered, Spirit-filled kinda guy, apparently I am within the wicked clutches of new age spiritualism, rabid liberalism, and damnable heresy. At least that is the impression I get when visiting sites like Slice of Laodicea. Sites like these are evidence of a strong fundamentalist re-entrenchment. I posted on their site a couple times, simply asking people to be gracious with their words, but there are so many angry, frustrated, fundamentalists that post on the site it is like asking a pack of rabid dogs to calm down.

I understand that there are some scary things about the emerging church. Not everything is good. But not everything is bad either. Lots of evangelicals I know are simply misinformed about what the emerging church phenomenon is. In the spring, when I was interviewed by the two evangelical talk stations in town about the Conference on Christianity in a Consumer Conference, both host brought up the emerging church as examples of consumerism run amok in the church. Considering that many within the emerging conversation are among the most critical of consumer capitalism, I was surprised by such an indictment. Sure, many emerging churches are driven by the consumer impulse, but not all. And many emerging church believe dumb things, but not most. It is as though the emerging church has become the scape goat d’jour for anything scary to fundamentalists.

I suppose that is only fair. After all, the emerging church is certainly anti-fundamentalist. I am afraid of churches that try to squeeze out all uncertainties and messiness. Yet some folks seem to like their faith to fit in neat little cubbies. Though emerging types like to be critical of fundamentalists, I hardly ever meet emerging folks that are nasty about it. Most of the nastiness seems to come from the defenders–as though being a nasty defender helps the cause of fundamentalism.

Mark Driscoll a Threat to Faithful Christians?

September 26, 2006

I’ve always though that Mark Driscoll was a “safe” guy for Reformed traditionalists that want to be culturally relevant. I’ve always thought of him as a sort of young, hip, John Piper that sometimes lets a cuss-word out. Apparently I was wrong. Apparently he is a danger to the fabric of Christianity. At least that is what it says here.

If Driscoll is dangerous, then I and those of my ilk must already be embraced by the cold blue flames of hell.

Pastor or Chef?

September 25, 2006

I never know what to call myself. I’m a leader of a church (we call ourselves a neo-monastic community or a missional order, but we are still a church). “Leader” seems to generic. “Pastor” comes with baggage and isn’t accurate–I’m not particularly nurturing. I usually simply call myself “director” because it describes the sorts of logistical leadership I offer without falling into a clergy/laity distinction. But lately, I think I’ve been more of the head chef.

I love cooking. It is one of the few things in life that really recharge me. I enjoy the artistic quality of preparing a meal, and I enjoy the practicality of preparing it for others. Offering hospitality is the closest I come to being a pastor. Lately, in our household, it has become a necessity for us to eat together almost every night. This helps with budgeting, and it also helps us see each other and pray with each other daily. I have gladly taken up the lion’s share of cooking.

Before we made this arragement, I though about whether or not this is a good use of my time. After all, I am a ministry leader and a quasi-intellectual. Surely spending about five hours a week in food preparation isn’t a good use of my oh-so-valuable time. Also, since I’m such a guy-on-the-go, can I really afford to spend most of my supper-times home, when I could be out and about?

Poppycock. In a community that values hospitality as its primary way of “doing ministry,” I think cooking a meal for my housemates and whoever it may be that is invited over that night is a good use of time. It will be an even better use of my time when we secure a house on the West Bank as our Missio House.

Furthermore, meeting with house mates almost every night to eat, check-in, and pray has been a profound spiritual discipline. Not only has the amount of money I spend each month on dining gone down, so too has my grocery budget, even though I am cooking for more people. Since Amy quit her teaching job with St. Paul Public Schools to persue a part time job teaching English in Riverside Plaza (aka the “Crack Stacks”), and since I am making very little money indeed (and will continue to make very little money until I start getting a paycheck from InterVarsity), we have needed to cut back.

The reason I share these reflections on cooking is to remind myself, and my readers, that ministry isn’t something to be defined rigidly. What we do in and as the church is a mixture of spiritual gifts, talents, needs, and personal satisfaction. Don’t act like you think you’re supposed to act. Vocation is something that ought to be discerned. Furthermore, one oughtn’t get trapped into thinking that we should always “maximize” our time. It is often more important to make someone a bowl of soup than it is to preach a sermon, network with peers, or any of a number of “important” tasks.

Urban Churches and the Challenge of Sustainability

September 24, 2006

Many churches that portray themselves as “urban churches” are really “city churches.” Urban churches focus on particular urban neighborhoods or populations. City churches happen to be in an urban area but have a metropolitan draw. City churches seem to increase as gentrification increases. In Minneapolis at least, urban churches continue to be in the decline, in spite of the growing sensibility that urban churches are noble, neccessary, and desireable. Some folks think that urban churches are on the increase because they simply don’t understand the difference between an urban church and a city church.

But does the difference even matter? If a church in Neighborhood X is a city church and has a large number of congregants from all over, doesn’t it still serve and benefit Neigborhood X? Sure. But not as much as an authentic neigborhood church would. City churches are not indigineous. They are usually lead by middle class folks and have middle class leaders. Often, these churches operate with a power differential, where the haves minister to the have nots, but not vice versa. And the church culture is determined by the affluent, rather than upon the ministered to in the neighborhood. Urban churches are much more likely to be indiginous or at least to operate with less of a class power differential.
In our increasingly pluralistic, fragmented urban areas (and suburban areas too by the way), we need more localized urban churches. Why aren’t there more? Because there are no self-sustaining urban churches. At least not in poor neighborhoods. Dispute me if you want. The truth is that if a church is made up of neigborhood folk, they won’t have the resources to adequately serve the neighborhood. Urban churches often rely upon the good graces of suburban Christians. But more and more folks seem to believe that if a church is a good one, it will pay for itself.

And because we have such a mentality, people would rather serve urban areas by starting City Churches rather than urban ones. And insodoing, they don’t empower indiginous leaders and they have churches that don’t adequately reflect the host culture. What has long been considered inappropriate on the foreign missionfield is ok at home.

If you want to do urban work, you must secure outside funds. Urban areas have big needs that cost lots of money but are populated largely by folks without means. In response to this dillema, one may either start a city church hoping against hope that the diffuse congregants can all focus their hearts, minds, and money enough to adequately serve the needs of the neighborhood. Or one could start an authentic urban church and seek additional funding. A middle ground is to encourage gentrification and draw upon the new urban gentry.

Here’s my question for you all: Is it better to be a city church with a big draw that “adopts” a neighborhood or an urban church that is of the neighborhood? Is this a false distinction? Am I misguided in my belief that a church like Missio Dei will never be self-sufficient and will rely upon outside funding to do some of its neighborhood ministry?

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise?

September 15, 2006

Here are some random links for your consideration…

This new book looks interesting: Reclaiming the Body. This is part of the write-up from

Shuman, an ethicist, and Volck, a pediatrician, are on a mission to persuade Christians to stop worshiping the medical establishment and to start “using medicine as if God mattered.” It is easy to put medicine in the place that only God should occupy…the authors affirm the goodness of the human body, the importance of the church as the gathered body of Christ and the necessity of hospitality toward the world’s helpless and suffering.

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While most of voices I hear and respect inside the church are proclaiming the decline and marginalization of evangelicalism, lots of folks (like TIme Magazine) are proclaiming that evangelicalism is at its peak.  The latest Time Mag. coverstory discussed the growing respectablity of prosperity teaching.  Here’s the article. I chucked to myself when I read this quote from Joyce Meyer: “Who would want to get in on something where you’re miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven?”

* * * * *

The Pope is underfire by Muslim groups for a recent speach.  I like the new Pope (his encyclical Deus Caritas Est is definitely worth a look if you have time).  Do you think he crossed the line at all in his speech?

De-Fluffifying "Family"

September 13, 2006

One of the most finely honed skills among Christians is the ability to sap the power and profundity out of words. Take, for instance, the word “salvation.” What once was a rather holistic word of deep meaning with many rich, mysterious facets has now been stripped of its profundity and now means “not going to hell anymore.” Or ponder the way Christians use the word “church.” What once was a lofty word used to describe a race of holy priests has now been revisioned into a word that merely means “a building with a sanctuary” or “a local gathering of people with a shared religious affiliation.” But for my post today, I want to explore the ways in which we use “family” as a Christian word.

Family, in the most conventional sense means “a group of people related by blood, marriage, or adoption.” In the early church, the word “family” was a useful metaphor for the emerging Christian movement. It signified that all these folks from diverse backgrounds, from different classes and races and ethinicity, are now a family. They are a new family, bonded together by a shared adoption. They are a family, since all are wedded to Christ as a Bride. They are a family, since all are indwelled by One Spirit, purchased by the blood of One Man.

In the early church, kinship was the most powerful bond. Ones brothers and sisters were more important than one’s spouse–family meant much more in the ancient near east than it does for most in the West. And so, when the early Christians used this term, it had powerful connotations that accurately represented a powerful reality: those who are in Christ are part of a New Family that are more profoundly bonded together than any other relational tie.

Consider these words from the Apostle John:

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a fellow believer is a murderer, and you know that no murderers have eternal life in them.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

1 John 3:11-18, TNIV

John’s use of kinship language is more than simply casual. One never gets a sense from the New Testament that our spiritual kinship is subordinate, or lesser to, the blood kinship among biological families. In fact, given the words of Jesus (about leaving familiy, hating parents, and the like), it would seem that being spiritual brothers is a weightier thing than being biological brothers.

How sad, then, that we toss around the word “family” or “brother” or “sister” in the Church as though it meant little? For many of us, these words carry less weight than the word “friend.” We have spiritualized these words and stripped them of their gritty implications. To call a fellow church-goer or Christian a brother or sister is simply a statement of shared affiliation. To call one’s church a “family” simply indicates that you generally like each other and have a shared cause.

* * * * *

The use of the word “family” has been on my mind a lot lately. Usually it is those brothers or sisters with tremendous needs that force us to examine our use of the words “brother” or “sister.” Our new friend Michael, who has been homeless for much of his adult life and struggles with all manner of addictions, refers to us (those of us in MIssio Dei that he has met) as family. And we call him our brother. We talk this way at Missio Dei because “family” is one of our core values. We struggled with the decision to extend full hospitality (letting him stay with us) to Michael, because of the presence of children in our house. After all, we don’t know him all that well. We did let him stay with us, but it was only for a few days, since he iis currently in treatment. We felt good about our decision, because we believe it reflects Jesus’ challenge to extend hospitality (Mt 25:31-46) and shows our commitment to Michael as our “brother.”

Yesterday, Chris visited him at the treatment center. Michael, who is black, introduced Chris, who is white, to everyone at the center as “his brother.” No qualifications. No clarifications. Everyone Chris met had a slightly puzzled look on their faces (how can these dudes be brothers?). Silly Michael, don’t you know that the words “family” and “brother” are churchy words? Don’t take them so literally!

* * * * *

Michael understands the word “brother” better than we do. He is, by virtue of who he is, forcing us all to “de-fluffify” the word “family.” Because family is a necessity for him, rather than a luxury, he takes us seriously when we use such words. And we have a choice to make: either to distance ourselves from him in all the well meaning ways that churches often marginalize the neediest in their midst, or to make good on our words.

I don’t know how to be a brother to Michael. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know how to be a brother to me, either. But our Big Brother Jesus will help us. Amen.

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