Treasure in Jars of Clay

by Len Hjalmarson

Review: Treasure in Jars of Clay
Author: Guder, Barret et al
Publisher: Eerdmans, GOCN 2004
172 pp

Back at ACTS last fall Roland mentioned the title by Lois Barrett, Darrell Guder, George Hunsberger et al: Treasure in Jars of Clay: Patterns of Missional Faithfulness. This was a follow-up work to Missional Church. The book is published by Eerdmans, and a short review is written by Jon Kerschner at Barclay Press. He writes,

“The conviction of the authors is that “the church does not exist for itself, but for participation in God’s mission of reconciliation” (hence the term missional) in whatever context the church finds itself (p. ix). The cohesiveness of this conviction would seem to imply that the authors are themselves homogenous, but this is far from the case. Among the authors are men and women of several different denominations, ages, and professions.

“Like the authors themselves, the congregations profiled in Treasure in Clay Jars are a diverse group ranging from a small United Methodist church to an inner-city charismatic church, a large suburban church, and a Roman Catholic parish, among others. After profiling the congregations, the book is divided into eight chapters, one for each “pattern of missional faithfulness,” with each pattern illustrated by specific examples from the profiled congregations.”

In other words, this is not a “how-to” book, but rather addresses the question, “How would you know a missional church if you saw one?” It also encourages communities of faith that are in transition. What in the life of a church indicates that it is missional? How can communities find the courage to move toward being more outward oriented? The first book, Missional Church, was a study of the missional character of the church, and not just of its mission activities. Missional churches are shaped by participating in God’s mission, a mission that is always sensitive to context.

This second book began by taking the 12 indicators of a missional church that grew out of the first book, and then asking people across North America to nominate congregations that fit the indicators. In the process the authors discovered that the 12 indicators were not adequate. Secondly, they realized that none of the indicators had to do with leaders, yet authority within the congregation was a key factor in the movement toward becoming missional. Finally, the authors realized that what they had were not indicators, but “patterns.” The result was the identification of eight patterns of missional faithfulness.

The authors note that as they wrote and reflected on their findings they were drawn to 2 Cor. 4:7, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” Then they discovered that in fact all eight patterns had some reference in chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians, and so this book is built in some ways around that chapter.

Here are the eight patterns:

Pattern 1, Missional Vocation.

The congregation is discovering together the missional vocation of the community. It is beginning to redefine “success” and “vitality” in terms of faithfulness to God’s calling and sending. It is seeking to discern God’s specific missional vocation (”charisms”) for the entire community and for all of its members.

“We have this ministry through the mercy shown to us.” (2 Cor. 4:1)

Pattern 2, Biblical Formation and Discipleship.

The missional church is a community in which all members are involved in learning what it means to be disciples of Jesus. The Bible is normative in this church’s life. Biblical formation and discipling are essential for members of the congregation.

“We have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture. … Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:13, i6)

Pattern 3, Taking Risks as a Contrast Community.

The missional church is learning to take risks for the sake of the gospel. It understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death, and resurrection of its Lord. It is raising questions, often threatening ones, about the church’s cultural captivity, and it is grappling with the ethical and structural implications of its missional vocation. It is learning to deal with internal and external resistance.

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are headed toward destruction. In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not given to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor. 4:3-4, 8-9)

Pattern 4, Practices That Demonstrate God’s Intent for the World.

The pattern of the church’s life as community is a demonstration of what God intends for the life of the whole world. The practices of the church embody mutual care, reconciliation, loving accountability, and hospitality. A missional church is indicated by how Christians behave toward one another.

“We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” (2 Cor. 4:2)

Pattern 5, Worship as Public Witness.

Worship is the central act by which the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future. Flowing out of its worship, the community has a vital public witness.

“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. . . . For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:5-6)

Pattern 6: Dependence on the Holy Spirit.

The missional community confesses its dependence upon the Holy Spirit, shown in particular in its practices of corporate prayer.

“So that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Cor. 4:7b)

Pattern 7: Pointing Toward the Reign of God.

The missional church understands its calling as witness to the gospel of the in-breaking reign of God, and strives to be an instrument, agent, and sign of that reign. As it makes its witness through its identity, activity, and communication, it is keenly aware of the provisional character of all that it is and does. It points coward the reign of God that God will certainly bring about, but knows that its own response is incomplete, and that its own conversion is a continuing necessity.

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:17-18)

Pattern 8: Missional Authority.

The Holy Spirit gives the missional church a community of persons who, in a variety of ways and with a diversity of functional roles and titles, together practice the missional authority that cultivates within the community the discernment of missional vocation and is intentional about the practices that embed that vocation in the community’s life.

“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5)

Chapter 1, “Discerning Missional Vocation”

This chapter is written by George Hunsberger. The pattern is this:

The congregation is discovering together the missional vocation of the community. It is beginning to redefine “success” and “vitality” in terms of faithfulness to God’s calling and sending. It is seeking to discern God’s specific missional vocation (”charisms”) for the entire community and for all of its members.

After summarizing how this looks in some of the church communities considered by the authors, George then considers “the vocation of the congregation.” The community that reflects this pattern describe themselves with familiar phrases, like “We are Matthew 25,” or “We have this ministry,” or “We have this treasure…” These attitudes lie at the heart of missional communities. George writes, “No grand program of success does it.. Simply the humility of being God’s servants. Being a missional church is all about a sense of identity, shared pervasively in a congregation that knows it is caught up into God’s intent for the world. It comes from having heard, one way or another, the still, small voice that says, “You are mine. I have called you to me.” (36) He continues,

“There is a sense that they are here for some reason, and that reason is bound up with the call of God.They are in service to something bigger than themselves.The reign of God has captivated them in Jesus Christ, and increasingly it defines them.The mission of God defines what their own mission must be. Their mission is not defined by some discernable group of potential clients for whom they might provide certain services. Not is it defined by identifying potential members of their organization.. it is a matter of faithfulness to a God-given vocation.

“Vocation is a word that has gone out of fashion. When it is used.. it conceives as vocation as a narrow band of activities — the work-related ones. Originally, when Christians spoke of vocation, the word had greater depth and breadth. In his definition, Paul Stevens picks up the fuller meaning. For him, vocation is “experiencing and living by a calling” in such a way that “it provides a fundamental orientation to everyday life” (in The Dictionary of Christianity in Everyday Life, ed. by Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens).

“The book Missional Church was deliberate about describing the missional quality of the church as being “called and sent” by God. These are not two separate acts of God, with one as the prior condition of the other, or one as the counterbalance of the other. They are one and the same! For the church to understand itself as missional (”sent”) is to discern its vocation (”calling.”) To be called by God is to be taken into a way of life and mission.” (37)

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• © 2005-2008 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated in January, 2008