Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

The Four “P’s” of Missional

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Michael Frost says that the missional paradigm takes seriously three fundamental doctrines; 1) Missio Dei — we are called to embrace God’s mission in this world and to go with him. 2) Participatus Christo — to participate in the work of Christ; to see where Jesus is at work and to dare to step into that context and work with him. 3) Imago Dei — all people bear the finger prints on their soul of the living God.

If we take these three fundamental doctrines seriously, there are at least four things (but not limited to these) which we will take seriously and that will inform our practices. Frost summarizes these in the four “P’s” of Missional.

The Four P’s

I’m paraphrasing Frost here.

Proximity: We step into the experience of those we seek to win and serve. We need to step out of our comfort zone and move into proximity of those who would not be in our normal circle of friends. Ministry happens in the neighborhoods.

Presences: We are to practice the presence of Christ in the midst of the world. We should be doing what Christ would have been doing if he was still physically walking in this world.

Powerlessness: Not spiritual powerlessness, but material or temporal powerlessness. Most Americans look at our churches and think that we represent a power base. They see us with enormous reserves of money, gigantic buildings, fabulous property — absolute power in a temporal sense. They think we will do anything to protect this power. Image if we could prove to Americans that the following of Jesus is worth more to us than the stuff of religious institutionalism. What would happen if we lost or gave up all “the churches” material wealth and only had the people left? Would we discover something about our spiritual power if we stopped relying on our temporal and material power?

Proclamation: Should we actually tell people about Jesus? If we move into the neighborhood and build relational proximity and are the presence of Jesus, going empty handed and naked as the powerless ones, sooner or later someone is going to want to know who you are and why you do what you do. The answer to that question is of course the proclamation of the person of Jesus. Without this proclamation we will be seen as just another good person. Of what value is that?

I’ve focused more on the last two because it is here where I believe much work needs to be done.

Suggesting a Few Changes in Form*

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

We have all been reading for years about how people in our post-Christian society are changing in relationship to spiritual understanding and approach. And for many of us who have been apart of the institutional church, it is not surprising that these same authorities are telling us that the institutional church is unable to comprehend or take advantage of this shifting spiritual environment.

Here is part of the shift they report to us.

  • Religion is out, but spiritually is in.
  • Christianity is out, but Jesus is in.
  • Future religious concerns are out, but “here and now” spirituality is in.
  • Propositional truth is out, but truth validated by intuition and experience is in.

The Pacific Northwest region of the United States (where I live) is called the “None Zone.”** This is because, when asked about their religious identification, more people answer “none” than in any other area of the United States. It also puts us at the heart of many of the changes the researchers are telling us about.

Here are some stats:

  • Northwesterners are twice as likely as people living in the Bible Belt to claim no religious preference.
  • The Pacific Northwest is the only region of the country where a majority of the population does not affiliate with a religious congregation.
  • Most Northwesterners do not participate in religious institutions and never have.
  • Sixty-three percent of total population of the Northwest are religiously unaffiliated.
  • According to USA Today, Seattle is the #1 unchurched city in America.

Yet it is also interesting that this is a spiritual region. Take a look at the following:

  • When asked, “Do you agree or disagree that God exists?”, 63% said they agree somewhat or agree strongly.
  • When asked, “Do you agree or disagree that God helps me?”, 53% said they agree somewhat or agree strongly.
  • Only 1.2% of Oregonians (my home state) describe themselves as agnostics (and a statistically negligible number are atheists).
  • Christianity is the stated religious preference of 75 to 79% of Oregonians.

My reaction to this is that we are living in a splendid place and time, filled with almost unparalleled opportunities! But we must think and act differently if we are to take advantage of the spiritual environment that we find ourselves in.

Form Follows Function

Because our thinking and action have to change, we must deal with the current “forms” that were developed based on old thinking and theory. Let me just throw out a few “form” changes I think need to be made.

Contextualized Language

Michael Frost says that we must employ “the language and thought forms of those with whom we seek to share Jesus.” Here are a couple of changes in language that I’ve made:

  • Jesus follower instead of Christian — We should not hide the fact that we are Christians, but they love Jesus so identify with him.
  • Faith community instead of Church — Faith Community is neutral language and could mean any faith and is comfortable with the not-yet-Christian. Again, we are not talking about hiding who we are, but instead, using neutral language that allows for open conversation and relationship building.
  • Spiritual pilgrimage instead of Christian life — Even the not-yet-Christian understands that they are on a life pilgrimage or journey and are usually willing to share that pilgrimage which give you the opportunity to share your journey.
  • God is Light instead of God is Love (meaning the love message as exemplified by the “Four Spiritual Laws” track) — As John wrote, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” Spiritual people by definition are looking for light, an excepted metaphor for a condition of spiritual awareness which could be outward (e.g., divine illumination) or inward (e.g., inner light). Using the term in a conversation allows you to explore spiritual “things” with the person at a level that they are generally comfortable with.

Remember, we want to employ the language and thought forms of those with whom we seek to share Jesus.

Smaller Faith Communities

Growing and maintaining large faith communities lends itself to attractional, seeker focused programs and activities, but also creates structural impediments for missional focused Jesus followers. We must consider establishing a greater number of smaller kingdom outposts where:

  • It is easier to foster community.
  • It is easier to be part of a supportive family.
  • You have better group communications and shared values.
  • There is less need (maybe no need at all) of dedicated buildings. The local pub or community center would work just fine.
  • The Pastor doesn’t become a CEO.
  • Community members don’t get sucked dry of time, energy, and resources attempting to maintain structure and organization.
  • It is easier to welcome the stranger into the midst of the community.

Geographically Close Faith Communities

Faith communities that are composed of members who are geographically dispersed foster, among many other things, individualism and attractional approaches to “doing church.” In contrast, members of missional communities should, as much as possible, live in the same close geographic area and become intentionally indigenous. This implies that many will purposely relocate to be part of a specific missional community. The advantages are numerous, including:

  • Shared values with that of your community.
  • Missional proximity.
  • Easier to built local relationships with local not-yet-Christians.
  • Easier to establish and maintain third places (a captivating concept).
  • Easier to contextualize the message for their own situation and place.
  • Easier to practice hospitality.
  • Concentrated prayer and missional effort.

Since I’m looking at this from my Pacific Northwestern USA context, I’d be interested in hearing your perspective. Its your turn to build on and add to this.

* This post is a rewrite and update of one I did a year or so ago which got lost in the great blog meltdown of December 2006.
** Killen Patricia O’Connell, “Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone,” AltaMira Press (March 2004).

Becoming a Positive Influence

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

A common characterization of the average evangelical church among my not-yet-Christians friends and acquaintances is that it is judgmental and negative. And I’ve got to tell you that I can see why so many think this — because countless are. As Bono said, “Christians are hard to tolerate; I don’t know how Jesus does it.”

Here some of the things I’ve heard or read:

    “All you do is focus on God’s wrath and punishment.”
    “You all hate homosexuals, don’t you.”
    “You condemn all other religions. It is arrogant of you to think you are the only way.”
    “You’re a sexist, male dominated organization.”
    “You’re against the environment and those who work to improve it.”
    “All I ever saw in the church was endless bickering over nonessential doctrine and man-made rules.”
    “Church! Why would I ever go there? I already feel terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
    “I rarely go to church, because the church is just there for money.”

Whether you agree or not with these sentiments, it is the perception of the general public which I find amazing since we should be known for the exact opposite — those who glow with the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.”

How did this happen? “This unflattering perception of the church and Christians comes from seeing Christians protesting on the streets with large signs telling people they are going to hell,” says Dan Kimball. “It comes from reading about various things Christians protest against, such as the teaching of evolution in the schools, or the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from a courthouse, or homosexual marriage. It comes from seeing Christians on television crediting God for natural disasters to punish sinners, and from being approached by Christians who ask leading questions to witness to them, putting them on the defensive and invading their privacy.”

What I’m not suggesting is that we abandon a call to repentance from sin and wrong living, but that we not make this the starting point for building bridges with the not-yet-Christian. At some point in time we have got to quit focusing all our efforts on what we are against and start being as concerned about what we are for, like the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the creation and the worth of every individual.

Let me remind you of something Jesus told us, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” The starting point is positive good deeds which then brings about the glorification of God, and I believe openness on the part of not-yet-Christians to hear the gospel message.

If you want to examine the message you or your faith community may be communicating, consider these questions I’ve summarized from Dan Kimball’s book, “They Like Jesus, but Not the Church” (Zondervan, 2007, page 113).

1. If you were to look at the sermons of your church over a period of time, would you say they are more positive or negative in tone and content?

2. What is your congregation’s attitude toward those who hold beliefs different from yours on secondary doctrinal issues? How do you talk about other denominations or Christian groups?

3. How is your church known in your community? How do you think people in your town would describe your church and the people of your church? Do they even know you exist?

4. Are there any ways your church is involved in compassion and social justice projects both locally and globally, demonstrating that the church is a positive agent for change in the world?

5. If you were to ask those you associate with daily, both inside and outside of your home, whether your talk is judgmental and negative or loving and positive, what would they say?

6. You may say that you are loving and accepting, but if someone came in to your church and began following Jesus, can you honestly say that that would be your foremost concern, not what they look like or how they dress or whether they drink or smoke or what language they use?