Any movement should be subject to evaluation, after all. The bottom line perhaps could be two items:

* success in mobilizing believers into a life of mission
* growth in depth of faith, character, knowledge of God, obedience, and richness in shared life

There is always this double rhythm in the life of faith: inward toward God and others, and outward in mission. (Or three ways if you like, IN, OUT, and UP – but the metaphor of rhythm is so helpful, its just simpler to think in terms of two rhythms, in and out; more on this below).

Mike Breen blogs, “Why the missional movement will fail.” And really, he qualifies this in practice. It’s more like, “the missional movement will fail if it neglects discipleship.” And some will say – “Oh.. what? Isn’t mission all about taking our discipleship on the road? How can we separate these things?”

And yet in practice we do separate them. Many churches have grown inward, and their discipleship programs provide more head knowledge (like the much criticized seminary), but not more faithful practice in living out that faith among their neighbours. Others are great at generating mission, but not so good at providing nurture for those who are working all day in the hot sun. “Mission,” as Skye Jethani pointed out, can also become an idol – or we can use our efforts to pat ourselves on the back.

bicycleThe rhythm of life in Christ is inward in community, and outward in mission. We live this rhythm because we are the Body of Christ, the expression of God’s life in the world. And God is an eternal community of love, overflowing into mission (the sending of Jesus and then of the Spirit).

The picture that works well for me is the bicycle. Being formed spiritually and living the Christ life always involves two dimensions: discipleship (formation in community) and mission (formation in following). Mission is the back wheel – the back wheel generates traction. It is on mission that we are challenged to really LIFE the Christ life, and we learn new questions about our world and about God. Mission helps us keep it real and keep the edges sharp.

Discipleship is the front wheel – the front wheel provides direction and reminds us of the goal out beyond the horizon — the image of Christ and his coming kingdom. As we gather for worship, prayer and to hear the Word, we are reshaped in our identity and being, restored and healed, and then we go out again to give away what we have taken in.

The wheels have to keep moving, or the bicycle falls down. The traction is provided by mission. We can’t reverse the wheels. You won’t get traction on discipleship, you will spin the wheels. Discipleship provides telos – direction – memory of the end goal. If we try to get traction with the end goal we become driven, activists.

But working together, we can really go places!

In 2008 Paul Fromont linked a paper by Mark Berry. Mark quotes George Lings, Director of the Sheffield Centre, who wrote a paper on missional orders. George hints at another great analogy for the need to hold discipleship and mission together.

“an Order has the strategic chance to embody that church and mission are intrinsically connected; they act as a double helix, with both intertwining and growing. The essential linkage between church and mission is first rooted in Trinity as Community-in-Mission. This is played out in New Testament language that sees church as both sower and fruit of the gospel. Fruit is the precursor to more seeds. No sooner is church the consequence of mission, than it becomes also the conductor of mission. The New Testament also tells us church is more than the bearer of the message, it also embodies the message. This is related to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit who gives us a foretaste of what we proclaim.”

Alan Roxburgh makes Mike Breen’s point in a different way. In his book MISSIONAL, Alan warns us that we keep turning this into a conversation about the Church. But it is not the church of God that has a mission in the world, it is the God of mission who has a church in the world.

In his book Alan confesses that he had not realized until recently that even his own conversations were still dominated by an ecclesial imagination. How do we move beyond this framework? We are still working on “church growth” but now with a missional label. Alan asks for a “new text.” Matthew 28:18-20 is inscribed in the memory of most Christians of the past generation. This text dominated our imagination – and became the horizon at which we aimed. But it was a text that came to prominence in a certain social context. That environment is almost gone, and exists only in isolated stands of areas largely clear-cut by modernity.

The texts that are critical for Alan in attempting to develop a new set of ears and eyes are Luke 10, and perhaps secondarily John 20. These texts have become critical to many of us in the past five years. How do we enter these texts and let them form a new imagination? This answer is critical. We don’t form a new imagination by further study – but by EXPERIENCE. We actually GO OUT two by two with Jesus. If we enter the texts and let them read us, at the same time as we engage in listening in our neighbourhoods, there may be hope for the Gospel in our generation.

Or put another way, (Charles Ringma)

“The missional church vision is not a programmatic response to the crisis of relevance, purpose and identity that the church in the Western World is facing, but a recapturing of biblical views of the Church all too frequently abandoned, ignored, or obscured through long periods of church history. It is a renewed theological vision of the church in mission, which redefines the nature, the mission and the organization of the local church around Jesus’ proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom. Missional churches seek to respond to God’s invitation to join Him in His mission in and for the world, as a sign, a servant and a foretaste of His Kingdom.”

See also “Ontology of Missional Community

6 Comments on the missional movement – evaluation

  1. great stuff. i also see them as connected. thanks

  2. robin dugall says:

    good post Len – I’m with Andrew…all is connected…this isn’t an either/or…it is a both/and

  3. […] Hjalmarson wrote an interesting response on the blog NextReformation in which he attempts to reconnect mission and discipleship.  It is […]

  4. len says:

    Later thoughts – “traction” from the back wheel is partly related to context. The place and space where we put that rubber on the road will determine not only the shape of the missional response, but the quality and character of discipleship moving forward. It is faith communities that grow inward and lose touch with the rhythms of the place they are called to inhabit that lose the missional edge.

  5. John L says:

    “Alan confesses that he had not realized until recently that even his own conversations were still dominated by an ecclesial imagination.”

    Yeah, I think a lot of us are realizing how deeply THAT rabbit hole goes. I especially like what Phil Clayton had to say recently about religious tribalism, in context of his experience with the Jains,

    “Who are my brothers? Before my new Jain friendships this summer, I assumed that my brothers and sisters were those with whom I am most familiar. But Jesus’ same topsy-turvy set of values applies to religious difference as well. Brotherhood and sisterhood, I now realize, applies in inverse proportion to familiarity.”

    …which strongly echoes both Bonhoeffer’s various confessions from prison and Volf’s thesis from “Exclusion and Embrace”

    I do think that a reflexive “loving of enemy” sits at the very crux of what we seek.

  6. […] Len weighs in on the future of the missional movement. The rhythm of life in Christ is inward in community, and outward in mission. We live this rhythm because we are the Body of Christ, the expression of God’s life in the world. And God is an eternal community of love, overflowing into mission (the sending of Jesus and then of the Spirit). […]