The Fellowship Gathering: Third Thoughts

“It’s a mad mission/Under difficult conditions”

Patty Griffin (for Casey Wait)

My first thought was, “I’m not one of these evangelicals anymore.”

My second thought was, “We see the world’s needs very differently.”

My third thought is, “We see mission very differently.”

Uses of the term “missional” were more prevalent at the Fellowship Gathering in Minneapolis than the little butter discs that came with the bread basket. I suspect definitions of that term were just as abundant.

I’m not a progressive mainline despiser of missional-speak. I’ve read everything the Gospel and Our Culture Network has published. In seminary I chased Darrell Guder around like a puppy dog. I’ve served the church as a volunteer in mission twice. My current call has “mission” right in the title. What I notice, though, is that “missional” has become for evangelicals an orienting idea, the ramifications of which are not being fully grasped.

The big idea behind the missional turn is that North America is itself now a mission field. Indeed it always has been, but decades of a single-minded focus on foreign missions efforts obscured that reality. Today, people like Alan Roxburgh and Alan Hirsch are becoming household names in evangelical circles by forcing that issue, and even by asking, “Can The West be converted?”

All of this is a good thing. A very good thing.

Yet to hear the term “missional” employed in Minneapolis, one would think its application is limited to practices of evangelism and to a congregational polity. I noted that in almost every instance where a speaker urged a more “missional” church, they did so in connection with affirmations about unchurched people in an unchurched culture. And they did so with a clear and repeated application to congregations and not to presbyteries or the PC (USA).

[excursis: the irony of the polity observation is that, while many evangelicals in the PC (USA) express an earnest desire to be more missional than the denomination seemingly allows them to be, many of them have used the withholding of shared support for the denomination’s mission efforts as a means of protest against it.]

This equation of mission with evangelism and congregations troubles me because I owe much of my own sense of call to ordained ministry to an experience with a PC (USA) mission program, one that didn’t involve me in explicit evangelism, and one that can’t be sustained by a single congregation but depends on shared mission support.

Also, I belong to a presbytery that is being profoundly impacted by an experiment in shared mission.

[another excursis: The Presbytery of San Diego has intentionally started to call itself a “relational community” that strives to become a “mission agency.” That would seem to indicate a belief in the presbytery as a locus of Christian mission]

The mission of the church in a North American 21st Century context will probably be driven primarily by congregations, but those congregations will depend upon the support of larger networks of congregations called presbyteries and denominations. In that light, it will be interesting to see the extent to which the Fellowship of Presbyterians proposes sharing mission support with the PC (USA).

That mission will also require witness and action that includes explicit evangelism but is not limited to it. The church will need to speak in its common life and in written statements to the “powers and principalities” of our culture. That is as much mission as preaching the gospel.

In Minneapolis, that didn’t seem to be part of the “missional” emphasis.

2 thoughts on “The Fellowship Gathering: Third Thoughts

  1. YEAH, YEAH, Rocky — You got it right on some churches refusing to fund the denomination, but wanting great things to happen in mission!!!

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