Monday, February 28, 2011

Teeth-Grinding Reading, Part Two

Well, the book (“Breaking the Missional Code”) is getting better in that there is less teeth grinding going on as I read it. Though I suppose that could mean that my mood has changed and the book has stayed the same. I have read through chapter 5 now, and have read some helpful things. However…

When the authors define the Gospel, they seem to leave a whole lot out. Drawing from Luke 24:46-48, they write, “Here is the message – ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins to be preached in his name to all nations.’ When it becomes something other than repentance and forgiveness, then the gospel itself is lost in the process” (p. 39).

In selecting this one thought to focus on, their definition neglects much of Scripture. I personally believe that there is much more to the Gospel than repentance and forgiveness. As significant as these two ideas are, it just seems to me that there is more.

I suppose my theology is offended by such a narrow definition of what God is doing. Of course I include repentance and forgiveness in my understanding of the Missio Dei, the Mission of God, but do not limit it to just that. And that brings me to another observation about “Breaking the Missional Code,” the respective definitions of “mission” and “evangelism.”

“Evangelism is telling people about Jesus; missions involves understanding them before we tell them,” they wrote in the introduction (p. 3). I actually had to read the sentence three times to make sure they had said what I first thought they said. See, I happen to believe that evangelism also involves understanding the people with whom we share Christ; in fact evangelism is impossible if it doesn’t. And I have a deeper understanding of missions altogether.

Their definitions do not stay consistent, however, and they contradict themselves, or so it seems, later when they say things like, “…leaders that break the code are recognizing that ‘nonrelational evangelism’ is a contradiction” (p. 65). I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, but it makes me wonder about their previously stated distinction between “evangelism” and “missions.”

Are the two now synonyms?

See, when I think “evangelism,” I think “sharing my faith with another person.” When I think “missions,” I think “rectifying a situation that is not as God desires.” (It just so happens that when I am working to rectify a situation that is not as God desires, I am sharing my faith with another person, since my faith is what teaches me to do so.)

Take, for example, this quote from the book: “A truly biblical church will ask, ‘What will it take to transform this community by the power of the gospel?’” (p. 51). Which is a GREAT sentence, isn’t it? To “transform the community” is a mission to get behind, and why stop there? The church exists to change the world, for God’s sake!

NOT SO FAST – apparently we are supposed “to be on mission where God has placed us … not thirty miles away, not three hundred miles away, not three thousand miles away” (p. 31). Apparently the Gospel is not as far-reaching as we were led to believe!

So you know all those mission trips you have planned to the Gulf Coast or Haiti or Guatemala or Mozambique? Don’t worry about them; just stay put where you are and work on breaking down your own community. I guess those other places will just take care of themselves or something.

Seriously though, in my opinion, the Missio Dei calls us to an awareness of global interconnectedness that is so much bigger than what this book is asking.

And furthermore, even when it comes to undertaking God’s mission in one’s own local community, I still take exception to the notion that “they” are speaking a code that “we” have to break. (“They” being people in the community and “we” being the church.) My theology really isn’t able to make such a harsh divide between “us” and “them.” In my mind, it’s all “us.”

Is it not a bit arrogant, self-centered, and proud of “us” to think of “us” as having the power to break “them” so that “they” can understand the message “we” have to give “them”?

As great a concept as community transformation is, every single example in the book, through five chapters, mentions nothing at all about the transformation of communities. The specific citations of churches that understand this new “missional” reality are only of churches that have increased in size, even as the authors say specific things like, “For us, the size of our churches is less important than the transformation of community, nation, and world…” (p. 68) (Except for that part back on page 31 where they told us not to go anywhere except your own local community, but I digress.)

It may very well be true that the authors value community transformation over church growth, but so far in every one of the stories told as examples, success has been defined by increasing numbers of people in the church, which as we well know may or may not translate to actually transforming the community.

Okay, so I’m going to get started on chapter six, and see if maybe some of the good stuff starts outweighing the not so good stuff. Onward!

This is the second post in a series responding to my reading of “Breaking the Missional Code.”


Rob Barringer said...

I am glad you are forging ahead with the book. I haven't read the book yet and so I looked it up online and found this simple synopsis..."Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putman is a clarion call for churches in the United States to act among their local communities as missionaries would in a foreign land."
It appears to me that the authors are intentionally designing this book to motivate ministries to not neglect sharing the Gospel of Christ within community in which they live. Far too many churches will travel 500 or 1500 miles to feed the hungry when we have homeless people living within walking distance of our front porch! It isn't a call to narrow our understanding of global missions, I think it is the opposite. Our churches are filled with too many people who will not ever travel to Guatamala or Hondurus, but they can share Christ with the homeless people of Springfield, Missouri. Blessings to you, my friend!

Chris Williams said...

I want to echo what Rob said. I recently came to a church that has seen a great socio-economic change in the community over the last decade or so. In response, a number of members left in that time to go to more affluent congregations to be with people "more like us." Mission work is great when you go someplace else to do it and then return back home. It's entirely different when you acknowledge the need right here at home. One person recently commented to me that they were thinking of leaving because of some of the "clientele" coming to the church.

I haven't read the book, but we would probably agree that it shouldn't be an either/or, but a both/and.

Andy B. said...

Good points, Rob and Chris. Thanks.