I didn’t know what to expect from this book, with only vague memories of the original Mustard Seed Conspiracy. But I remember a conversation with Tom over pancakes in 1987, and I’ve visited the Mustard Seed website from time to time, particularly their resource on intentional Christian community. Given his particular bent as a “futurist,” the pace of change of these times and the number of God initiatives springing from the soil, I felt the book worth a look.
Globalization — the good, the bad, and the ugly — seems to be the main target. As the book opens Tom presents a taxonomy of hope in four small streams that are washing over the roots of a sprawling and ailing church: missional, emerging, monastic and mosaic. My experience and conversation extend to only the first three, because my own context is a mid size Canadian town that is known for its monoculturalism.. not to mention a lot of churches. So what are these streams and where do they originate?
Andrew Perrimann has summarized neatly, and I’ll quote him here.
The emerging stream is traced back to the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s when a number of young leaders, variously defining themselves as post-evangelical or postmodern, â€˜took initiative to begin the world over againâ€™. The movement was marked by a desire to reflect on culture and faith, a preference for narrative rather than propositional forms of theology, a distrust of the â€˜old certaintiesâ€™ of modernity, a sense of mystery and wonder in worship, a recovery of ancient symbols and practices, and a search for â€˜the sacred in the profaneâ€™.
Next is the missional stream. Tom writes that, “Whereas the emerging church movement was birthed by practitioners reinventing the church for a postmodern context, the missional church movement was birthed out of the academy.” The missional stream has its roots in the work of Lesslie Newbigin, but the book Missional Church (with contributors like Innagrace Dieterich, George Hunsberger, Lois Barrett, Darryl Guder and Alan Roxburgh) initiated this shift among traditional churches in the US. Tom notes that the movement has strong support in US seminaries and is more theologically articulate than the emerging stream, but also notes that missional practice is more strongly evidenced in emerging churches than in many churches who use the missional label.
Andrew writes of the third stream, the mosaic:
The mosaic stream is defined by diversity: Hip Hop churches at one end of the scale, large multicultural city churches at the other. â€˜God is indeed raising up new conspirators who are determined to create churches that look like Godâ€™s multicultural kingdom.â€™ These churches are characterized, on the one hand, by the â€˜rich gifts of different culturesâ€™, and on the other, by a determination to acknowledge a history of prejudice and redress injustices.
The final stream is the monastic, and according to Tom it differs from the other three in that it has no interest in church planting (I wonder if that is always true?), and tends to be represented by an older demographic (this part is definitely right. In general those in the monastic movement have been around the bush a few times, and that has fueled their search for alternatives and their concern for sustainability). Tom also notes that the monastic stream is asking questions about what it means to â€˜be disciples of Jesus, be the church and do the mission of the churchâ€™. He also acknowledges the diversity within this expression: there are those drawn mostly to spiritual practices, and there are those who view following Christ as “living in community, working and living incarnationally with the poor and taking time for serious spiritual practices.”
Tom references the origins of the movement in the lay Franciscans, the Order of Mission in the UK as well as the Northumbria Community, and also references InnerCHANGE and UNOH. Tom notes the recent visibility and increasing viability of the monastic stream in “the new monastic movement,” which began in Raleigh Durham in 2005 and quotes Scott Bessenecker of IVP that, “God’s Spirit is moving through [these twenty-first century monks and nuns] .. intent on pouring out their lives for people on the fringe.” Tom notes the increasing visibility of “the new monastic movement” via events like that in Raleigh-Durham in 2005, out of which came Schools for Conversion: Twelve Marks of the New Monasticism.
What interests me this morning is that in my experience at least three streams have been gradually converging. And I dare say I am not the only one who is experiencing this.
In October I sat beside Andrew Jones in a meeting in Seabeck, Washington (emerging – though I would say Andrew started there and is now more within the monastic). The meeting was opened by Alan Roxburgh (missional). After saying the daily office together, we shared some stories and then sought to discern what God was telling us. The conversation was toward the formation of a missional order (monastic). In that room we strongly represented missional and emerging groups, and yet here we are bridging into monasticism. We had reps of both UNOH and Northumbria with us. Sorry, there wasn’t really any evidence of the mosaic stream in this conversation.. yet.
In my own town the conversation around missional orders has continued, and we will initiate a missional order in the coming weeks. In the fall we will oversee the birth of a leadership training center. We are all involved in equipping ministry already, one of us is a church planter, and most of us also involved at some level with the poor.
My question.. are others experiencing this convergence? What does it mean?
Note: Mustard Seed Associates have a new website.