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.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Some Teeth-Grinding Reading Observations

I am reading a book that is really making me angry. Contributing to this is, undoubtedly, the series of difficult ministry issues that have happened over the last month, which already had me in a rather grumpy disposition. (And, incidentally, have prevented me from writing anything as well.)

So I re-enter the endeavor of writing by engaging this book, and exploring with you who care to read along just exactly how it is ticking me off. I’ve read the introduction and the first two chapters of “Breaking the Missional Code” so far, and the ideas presented up to this point have been clich├ęd, redundant, and even archaic. Here’s three:

1 - Page 2, still in the introduction, we encounter this thought: “Missions history is filled with stories of great revivals because missionaries were able to ‘break the code,’ and the church exploded in their community.”

Wow. So many things to say about that.

Missions history is actually filled with stories about cultural pillage in which arrogant Europeans basically destroyed beautiful communities in the name of Jesus. To ignore this is irresponsible. (Perhaps the authors will address it later in the book.) When missionaries, for example, forced Native American children to wear shoes and sit on hard wooden desks learning English, they were not “breaking a code” for the sake of offering a relationship with God. It was cruel, it was horrifying, and we need to say that out loud. We also need to say that to talk about the church “exploding” is probably not the best way to describe a history with a lot of violence.

2 - Page 5, to set the tone for the whole book, we read that Christians need to “…break through the resistance” to “the church and the gospel message.”

Wow. Where do these guys live?

There’s just not that much “resistance” to the church anymore that needs “breaking.” We are not at war with anyone here. This approach makes the church sound like enhanced interrogators working over a prisoner or something – yuck! The prevalent attitude in our communities is apathy, not antagonism. If we go about this process with the mindset of countering resistance, we are tilting windmills. There’s nothing noble about fighting against something that is not present. We call those tantrums, and they are never pretty. Apathy is very different than resistance, and the church needs to realize that before deciding how to share the love of God.

3 - Chapter 2 lists seven pastors that comprise a “new breed” of pastors that understand the new reality and the authors want us to see as examples. A good idea, but here’s the kicker – every single one of them is a white man.

Along with this subtle narrow-mindedness, the authors actually affirm that uniform sameness is a strength of the congregations they highlight. “We have discovered that when the growing core of leaders, the pastoral leadership, and the community are from the same tribe, then the potential for impact is significant.” Well, so much for diversity. Although they do say that it is okay if different congregations look different from each other. “Churches should function differently from location to location. When it comes to the kingdom of God, uniformity is not a value.” I wonder what the authors think about the common lament that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Their thesis seems to be, one church can look different from the next, but people in a church should all look the same. I’m sorry, but I just can’t go there.

Those are three ideas from the first three sections of the book that made me grit my teeth a bit as I read them. And I fully intend to read the entire book, so I may need a mouthguard. But maybe it will get better as we go along.

There was one good idea I read: “We value technique, and sometimes it keeps us from hearing God’s voice and vision regarding our church.” Amen to that! There is far too much emphasis on “technique” in church leadership training these days, and far too little theology. Yes, that may be an attempt to compensate for years of too much theology and not enough technique. But I feel there has been an over-reaction, and completely agree with the authors’ assertion. So there, it’s not all bad!

If you’ve actually cared enough to read this far, I commend you. Engaging this book is my way to get my writing momentum back again, so I crave your indulgence for a few posts as I do so. Thanks!