Missional, Emerging Church

I’ve been left with a lot of open questions after attending a conference on churchplanting. It was more about church re-planting, really, which is in many ways the same thing. Grafting is a word that comes to mind – adding new branches onto the existing trunk.

“Missional” is a hot trendy word right now in the church, just about everywhere. And the question we took with us to the conference really wasn’t answered, and it makes some people defensive when asked:

Can the institutional church be missional?

I’m still thinking we haven’t found a way to do that. Too many churches, particularly here in Canada, are stuck in a maintenance mode. They don’t want to change; they want the world to change back to what they think it used to be. Bad news – it won’t. And it was never that. Too often I’ve heard from even fairly young people (under fifty) that we need the church of 1960; the patriarchal structure included, the pre-liturgical reform prayer book, and all the rest they think that means.

All right, I think using the 1549 prayer book just might be a Fresh Expression of church, and I’m a little shocked with the uncovered heads in the pews, the perfume, the pants on women and all that stuff I regularly preach against – but that pre-Beatles whitewashed church never existed. The 1960 church was full of prejudice and even overt oppression. It was not missional either, except that we all put our Sunday School pennies in the Good Book bank for the little ones in Africa to have their own New Testaments. And wasn’t that an incredible denial of the whole political situation on that continent in 1960?

But the current trend toward originality in worship and teaching brings forward other problems. We have little funding to promote what will be new programmes – even if we don’t want our emerging church movement to be programmed, it will happen in the institution because that’s how institutions work. Things have to be written down, outlined, directed and funded. Accountability happens. And that’s another weakness in missional church. There has to be accountability to someone, somewhere, and that’s what institutions do.

There’s an elitism inherent in new expressions of church, as well. I know, this gets denied, but when we start using words like art and poetry, it will exclude a lot of people who are wary of the fine arts. I don’t blame them. Fine arts are inaccessible to many, both because the subject is daunting and because they think of the fine arts as inaccessible. I hear stories of homeless people working together to create works of art in these worship spaces, and that’s wonderful, but there are other poor and working class people who turn away from some of this in utter incomprehension. They may be part of what Tex Sample called the “oral culture,” who have no connection anymore to the history of their own civilization, and they may be the toughest people for church to reach. I only reached the “blue collar” neighbours by showing up at their houses and farms and talking to them as a family. They weren’t interested in programmes or new liturgies. They were more concerned with acceptance. And when an elite of any kind is entrenched, whether it is traditional or innovative, acceptance is hard to get. My measure of success with these outsiders was if they came to church at all in a year.

I suppose that I thought we were the church with a mission. The Lord gave it to us – Go forth and preach the good news, baptizing. And that’s what the church did in its first few years, and then later did some more. So are we looking for a fresh expression of church, or are we looking to be the apostolic church we should be?


2 thoughts on “Missional, Emerging Church

  1. I don’t think anyone has the answers to these questions you raise, which is why we have to have conferences to talk about it! Sometimes I think we might be better off gathering all the people concerned about these issues into a room and asking them to sit silently for half an hour thinking about it and listening to the silence.

    What gives me hope are the small consolations of the spirit (to use a wonderful old way to talking about such things) that the Lord gives me in my week-to-week ministry. For example, last week I had four people at my Saturday healing prayer meeting. Today I had eight. It’s probable that next week the number will go down again, but when it does I will have the “memory of divine favour” (a phrase from St. Berndard’s wonderful commentary on the Song of Songs). That memory is enough.

    When I become discouraged or overwhelmed with the impossibility of a mission programme, I just think about those little consolations of the spirit. I keep a file of them in my head. They are small and humble and not necessarily worth telling to group of 200 conference attendees that have paid good money to hear wisdom, but that’s just what the Gospel is like!



    • Hi, Tay! All things considered, it was a good conference for me. Conferences are hard on extreme introverts. But I got a few minutes alone from time to time to gawk at the St. Paul’s incredible architecture, old and new.

      Oh, I like the phrase “memory of divine favour.” It’s a reminder that even in the midst of our times of perceived failure, the Lord has granted grace, and victory. Most of what I do would bore a group of dynamic people, but the body of Christ still needs Brother Andrew, scrubbing the pots.

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