Archive for October, 2011

Missional Discipleship

October 30, 2011

(The following is adapted from “The Missional Church in Perspective” by Craig Van Gelder and Dwight Zscheile)

Discipleship is following Christ into participation in God’s mission in the world in the power of the Spirit. This means that it lies at the heart of the missional turn. Since missional church is fundamentally about identity – about being the church – developing and deepening the Christian identity of every disciple must be at the forefront of the church’s focus. The church cannot witness credibly to or participate effectively in God’s mission without faithful discipleship. Christian identity in Christendom was assumed to be transmitted primarily through the broader culture. One learned how to be a good Christian by being a good citizen as well as a faithful family member. Today the culture can no longer be assumed to contribute constructively to Christian formation, and few families are equipped to do so. Thus Christian identity must be cultivated intentionally, patiently, and comprehensively by congregations and other Christian communities. Practices of discipleship are primarily a communal reality, given the Trinitarian understanding of the image dei. Unfortunately, late-modern culture has tended to de-emphasize the communal dimension of discipleship in favor of focusing on the individual.

One of the more fruitful developments in contemporary theology is the renewed attention to practices that shape Christian life, imagination, and discipleship. Most of the literature that is focused on practices, however, has not assumed a specific missional theological perspective. The impulse reflected in these writings is nevertheless a helpful one to holistically engage Christian formation and mission. This impulse recognizes that the Christian faith is expressed not only in doctrinal formulations but also in concrete acts. It understands that our beliefs and imaginations are shaped through patterns of behavior over time and that these patterns are grounded in and passed down by communities into which we are apprenticed. Practices of peacemaking, worship, healing, hospitality, and discernment are integral to the church’s participation in God’s mission.

It is important to resist the common tendency to reduce missional church to a set of rules to follow, discrete characteristics, or summary principles. There is no model for what a missional church looks like. Rather, missional church needs to be defined by the church’s dynamic participation in the Triune God’s movement in the world. There is thus no how-to list or set of defining characteristics for the missional church, an approach often pursued in some of the current literature. It takes on different expressions at different times and places. Missional church is a habit of mind and heart, a posture of openness and discernment and a faithful attentiveness both to the Spirit’s presence and to the world that God so loves. Recognizing and seeking the leadership of the Spirit in the church’s communal life and practice is the key.

Missional theology, understood through the framework of the church’s participation in the Triune God’s creative, redemptive, and reconciling movement in the world, invites us to recognize the missionary character of Christian practices. Practices must be understood not simply as things we do to grow spiritually but rather as concrete ways in which our participation in God’s mission is embodied in relation to our neighbor. For instance, the Christian practice of prayer – a central one, as most would agree – can take on a powerful missionary dimension when done with attentiveness to the world. Reggie McNeal offers an example of how one congregation attempted this:
“Each member of the staff at one church was instructed to go to a coffee shop, sit on a park bench, or stand in a mall parking lot and pray a simple prayer: ‘Lord, help me to see what you see.’ They were to listen for an hour to the voice of God and then reconvene to share what they had heard. This simple outing radically changed their outlook as they realized that what was in the heart of God was much bigger than typical church concerns. They began to see broken families, homeless people, at-risk children, stressed teenagers – all people they were not engaging with their church ministry.”

When this attentiveness is grounded in an imagination for God’s presence and movement in the world, our eyes are opened with compassion. We connect with God’s passionate care for all creation.

The missionary dimension of practices such as service and hospitality might seem more obvious, but a robust Trinitarian missional theology opens up their reciprocal, mutually transformative potential. When we enter into participation in the ministry of Christ with our neighbor, we expect to meet Christ in the stranger and to experience the Spirit’s movement between us and those whom we serve or welcome. We are sharing in a bigger movement that may lead us into surprising and unexpected places. Mother Teresa of Calcutta would sometimes ask those serving alongside her as she cared for the poor and dying, “Do you see Christ in them yet?” This was not a pious platitude but rather a profound spiritual insight into what happens when we follow Christ into identification with the poor. God is there, the passionate God Who suffers with the lost and downtrodden, whose Spirit breaks down walls of division and creates new community where one might least expect it.

For this reason, spiritual formation or Christian discipleship, from a missional view, cannot be merely an in-house affair. We must engage the curriculum of the world as we expect to encounter God’s presence in the neighbor or stranger. Congregations must make space for deep engagement with the biblical narrative in direct relationship to an engagement with the world. We are formed spiritually as faithful disciples through immersion not only in a vibrant practicing community where we learn from mature mentors in the faith, but also through coming to recognize the signs of the Triune God’s movement in the lives of our neighbors and our w


Launching the Missional Leadership Process

October 2, 2011

In the fall of 2010, Clark Cowden, Executive Presbyter in San Diego, and Bob Conover, Executive Presbyter in the Presbytery of the Redwoods, began working on an idea for a grant application to fund a missional leadership development process for the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii and the Synod of the Pacific. The General Assembly Mission Council had money remaining in the Heiserman Fund, which had been given years ago for projects that two or more synods wanted to work on together. Clark and Bob suggested the idea to their respective synods and approval was given to apply for the funds. The grant request was approved, the money was received, and the process has now begun.

Three events for pastors were held this past spring. One was held in Arcadia (near Pasadena), one in Sacramento, and one in Portland. About 90-100 pastors attended the spring events on Leadership in Times of Discontinuous Change. They were invited to be a part of a ten month pastor cohort process. Over the summer, the pastors filled out the Pastor 360 survey and asked at least 20 church members to fill out the survey on them as well. The Executive Presbyters who had volunteered to coach the pastor cohort groups also filled out the Executive 360 survey and had about 20 people fill out the surveys on them, as well.

On September 29, 2011, a gathering of pastors and coaches was held with leaders from The Missional Network (Alan Roxburgh, Mark and Nina Lau Branson, and John McLaverty) to give them the results of their 360 surveys and to kick off the ten month cohort process. Three groups met the same day in Pasadena, Sacramento, and Portland, and were connected by a video conferencing system.

The missional leadership process has been influenced by Everett Rogers’ work on the Diffusion of Innovation, which asks how do you do culture change within an organization? What are the skills and capacities that leaders need in order to be able to lead their people through adaptive change? We are facing challenges we have not seen before. We were trained for a world that doesn’t exist anymore, and we are discovering our way into the new world. We are going on a journey together where we are learning as we go. Our context is different than it was just ten years ago. This is a process in just-in-time learning.

We used the image that the church is like a sailboat. The church, like the sailboat, is not something that you can “drive”, but is something that is driven by the winds of the Holy Spirit. We can’t predict or control what happens. We are tacking and weaving our way across the water, trying to stay in the path of where the wind of the Spirit is blowing.

Why are we going on this journey? There is A Great Unraveling going on in both the church and the culture. We have been inside a wonderful tradition that has been woven together for centuries. It has been a good tradition and we don’t want to throw it away. But, it is coming apart. There is something deeply important being lost. We want to figure out how to lead in this time of unraveling, when the Spirit is pushing us places we have not been before.

Leadership cultivates environments that release the missional imagination of God’s people in a particular locale. These environments are where we go to learn again to listen to and discern the Spirit of God. We need this new imagination, because we know that our management strategies and techniques aren’t working so well anymore.

Our metaphor is that pastors are teaching elders. That is still important an important role, but it is no longer sufficient. We need to be cultivators who form a people in the likeness of Jesus Christ, asking what God is up to in our neighborhoods and how do we join that work? This is about change. We are invited into a journey of change. This leadership process is not about how to change the church, though. The focus is on what kind of change we need to make as leaders. We know that this kind of change does not happen in a straight line like going from point A to point B. It is like the tacking and weaving of the sailboat as it goes from the left to the right to the left to the right as it crosses the water.

The 360 survey looks at characteristics and skills in four areas: personal foundation attributes, creating a shared future, forming a congregational culture/environment, and engaging our context. If we are going to go through real change, then we must begin with listening to what is going on. We begin moving through the Missional Change model, which moves from Awareness to Understanding to Evaluation to Experimentation and then to Commitment. The 360 survey begins this process by getting leaders going with Awareness and Understanding. This is about culture change and culture change is always adaptive change.

This process looks at forming new habits, values, attitudes, and practices. It looks at a new way of leading. As we learn to be different people, and as we learn to become different leaders, we are also looking at how we change the culture of our congregations, our presbyteries, and our synods. How do we cultivate a new imagination of what a presbytery and a synod could be? Can we begin to create a culture where we are asking different kinds of questions? Can we as leaders become open enough to say, look, we are facing problems we don’t know how to solve. How do we do this? How do we do this together? Can we make this the emerging culture of the synod?

I think this is part of our connectional ministry. Bringing people together in learning communities is important to the cultivation of a positive, viable, hope-filled future. Regardless of the unraveling that is going on around us, this is one way that we continue to build strength into our leaders, our congregations, and our presbyteries, so that we will be a part of what God is doing in our world. Please pray for us as we move through this process this year. It will be interesting see where Christ will lead us and what will come out of this!