Monday, May 16, 2016

Book 5 of 2016 -- Already Missional

Note: I have also written a piece for the church newsletter based on my reading of this book, you can find it here.

Bradley T. Morison (Eugene: Resource Publication, 2016) Pp.123.

One of the key ideas in the world of the church these days is that we need to be missional. Rather than sit and wait for people to come and find out what wonderful people we are we need to be out there actively engaging the community around us, Then people will know who we are and have an incentive to find out more about us.

Which is great. And to be honest I am unsure when this was not the case. Certainly my lived experience of the church has been more of sitting and waiting and assuming that our mere presence is enough to draw folks in. I have not noticed that this approach has been all that effective in my life time – maybe we were always supposed to be missional.

There is a question of how we engage the community. Are we talking about being evangelists and proselytizers, knocking on doors asking folk if they have found the meaning of life? That is certainly one way of being missional and engaging the community. I suggest it is not a way that fits well with most United Church folk. I would also suggest that it is not, in the end, exceptionally effective.

There is another way to engage. This is for the church to become active in the community, to become an active part of trying to make the community around it a better place. This is an approach that is much more attuned to the ethos of the United Church as I understand it. But it raises a whole new set of questions.

Traditionally the missional discussion involves trying to decide what new programs the congregation will offer to the community. Or maybe what formal partnerships the congregation will make with existing organizations. And those are fine ideas. But all too often this approach to being missional leads to the congregational leadership saying to the (already busy) members of the congregation “if we want people to know about us we all have to commit X hours and Y dollars to making this new project work”. And there is the biggest hurdle. How many good ideas have fallen by the wayside because of a lack of resources? The other common problem with these discussions is that there is a tendency for them to involve the repeated use of phrases like “well in they ...” or “Years ago we used to...”. Great. Good for them. But is that something that meets the needs of community where and where you are now?

In this book Brad offers a third alternative. Put simply it starts with asking folk what they are already doing. Church folk in general and United Church folk in particular tend to be very active in the community already. Some of that activity is going to grow out of their faith, to grow out of their understanding of how God would have us live. Normally we fail to recognize that as ministry (both as those doing it and as the church). Having offered that understanding of what it means to be missional, Brad asks the reader to explore a series of questions about how we encourage people to live out the ministries in which they already participate, how the church can recognize those ministries as part of the larger ministry of the congregation, and how the church can support people in their ministry.

This is a book the cries to be read and discussed in a group setting. It is an interesting read for an individual but its power is when a group, say a congregational governing body (and/or the power-brokers—who may or may not be the same people), reads it together and talks about how that congregation might put these ideas into practice.

I have known many people in different places who are active participants in the missio Dei. Sometimes this work is through the church, often it is just because they have a passion for it. Maybe it is time we as the church started to embrace what is already happening rather than think ministry only counts when we can guide and measure and contain it?

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