The Future of Discipleship

The Future of Discipleship

About once a quarter, Catapult invites five thought leaders (and practitioners) to share their insights around the same five questions, all geared around a certain topic. The topic this quarter? The Future of Discipleship.

In almost every way we can measure, and every way we can see, it feels like the Western Church is at an inflection point. Perhaps nothing illustrates this more than what we’re seeing in the discipleship crisis that has been bubbling up and has now reached a boil. (If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, we released an infographic that has insights from a pastor’s survey we did with 3800+ respondents on the topic of discipleship. You can read it here.) There’s a lot of difficult, hard things to swallow. But it’s also not hopeless and there are things to be optimistic about. 

We loved getting to read and think through the responses from this 5-on-5 on discipleship and hope and pray it stirs your heart, mind and imagination for the future.

 

The 5-on-5 Voices

Rich Villodas

David Bailey

Mandy Smith

Bobby Harrington

Rob Wegner

Q1: What do you think the last decade has revealed about the state of discipleship in the North American church?

Rich Villodas

 

I think the last decade has revealed a few things about the goals and fruit of our discipleship strategies. First, it’s revealed the formational compartmentalization that too often shapes our approach. By formational compartmentalization, I’m referring to the segmented ways we separate core discipleship areas like addressing racism, justice, and the interior life from the gospel. Second, it’s revealed the gaps in catechesis. The lack of discernment related to politics, the inability to hold space with those we disagree with, and the measuring of our maturity through activity has shown how shallow our discipleship approaches have been.

Mandy Smith

 

We’ve come to the end of ourselves—our discipleship programs have fallen flat, our discipleship institutions are crumbling. But what feels like a crisis can become an opportunity—to remember that the One we follow has not gone anywhere. He’s just waiting for us to stop working so hard, hoping we’ll get over our self-sufficiency and remember our need for him again.

Bobby Harrington

 

At Discipleship.org we completed a national study that was an exhaustive look at disciple making in churches throughout the USA.  We found that less than 5% of churches have a disciple making culture.  Furthermore, there is massive confusion about what it means to be a disciple and to make disciples.  We will not move forward until senior leaders get very clear on what it is to be a disciple, what it is to make disciples, and the best methods.

David Bailey

 

I can’t speak for Mexico or Canada, but I definitely see within the church in the U.S. — whether it is a conservative, progressive, or liberal expression of Christianity — that the practice of reconciliation is considered optional. Engaging across difference and conflict is not recognized as a part of discipleship, and when that happens, the ends justify the means. This practice forms us into a type of Christianity inconsistent with the Scriptures. The consistent mindless consumption of media—again, no matter whether the source is secular liberal media or secular conservative media—is too often the primary form of discipleship for many American Christians. When Christians spend more time in consuming media than being formed in Scripture and spiritual practices, they begin to discern the Scriptures through their lens of the media they consume instead of discerning the media through the lens of the Scriptures.

Rob Wegner

 

We have a crisis in the church in America; Dallas Willard calls it the Great Omission.  The last command Jesus gave the church before He ascended was the mission to “make disciples.” Yet, whether it’s the landmark Reveal study released by Willow Creek, the sobering stats from Barna on the unchanged lifestyles of the people attending churches, or that growing splinter in our own minds, the evidence points the same direction: making disciples who can make disciples has been the Great Omission in much of the Western Church.  The Covid-19 Pandemic revealed the fragility of the current structures and systems in our churches, which are primarily built around public gatherings and teaching, not the long term relational ground work of real discipleship.

Q2: If the average adult Christian was one of the following (spiritual infant, child, young adult, adult or elder)…what would they be and why?

Rich Villodas

 

The elder would be someone marked by patience, self-control, and fewer, but more discerning words. The elder is someone who listens deeply, and offers wisdom out of much contemplative reflection. The elder doesn’t live for the validation of others, because she knows who she is in God. In this way, the elder need not be someone advanced in age, but someone who has regularly faced her false self, and lives from the center of God’s gracious love.

Mandy Smith

 

I’m hesitant to make generalizations because it depends on where you look. If you look at those Western Christians who are seen as representative, they might look mature because they’ve done all the right things. At the same time, on the margins, in the places where we may not usually look to find the “average” Christian, I see people who are spiritual giants. And the irony is that these ones who are most grown up in their faith seem so to me because they’ve never forgotten how to be children—not childish but open to input, willing to follow, receptive to every longing of the Spirit, courageous and joyful.

Bobby Harrington

 

We use a paradigm where we add grand-parent after adult, meaning someone who makes disciples, who makes other disciples, as a grand-parent has grand-children.  The average North American Christian is either an infant, or a child because that is how we have raised them and  allowed them to become stunted.  I estimate that only 15 to 20% would be qualified as adults, parents and grand-parents. 

David Bailey

 

I would say puberty. Puberty is the awkward stage when a child begins the process of becoming an adult, while still not yet having left all the childish things. If you’ve spent any time with middle schoolers, you understand the challenge of not knowing if the maturing adult is going to show up or the child. I think we are seeing in our day a combination of some childishness and some maturing. The practice of engaging in biblically rooted reconciliation is one of the most significant pathways to maturity. Biblically rooted reconciliation focuses on transformation from the inside-out instead of resolving conflict from the outside in. The common practice for fallen humans is to say, “the problem is with those people,” but maturing Christians say, “Those people may have a problem, but let me self-examine first and see what God wants to change in me before I try to change something in them.” I’ve found this to be true when I practice this in my marriage and anytime I put this into practice. 

Rob Wegner

 

Child stage or young adult, at best.  In the Kingdom and in nature, mature things have the capacity to reproduce.  The ultimate outcome of the creation narrative, and God’s first command to humanity, was, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28 NLT). Later God entered the creation through his Son to recreate this world and restore shalom. That plan for restoration would once again be contingent on the ability to reproduce and multiply. The same command he gave humanity in the garden he gives now to the church in the Great Commission: “Multiply and fill the earth!” In the creation narrative it was, “Make babies! Fill the earth!” In the new creation narrative, it is, “Make disciples! Fill the earth!” When you consider the statistics,  that virtually no adult Christians actually make new disciples via personal evangelism and discipleship, then it’s clear that the average adult Christian has not reached the adult or elder stage.  They are missing the greatest joys of the faith.

Q3: What practical coaching would you give pastors looking to create a culture of increasing spiritual maturity?

Rich Villodas

 

My first point would be to create a regular, unhurried environment of teaching and community, where key leaders are developed first in their character formation. Second, I would—especially in this pandemic—provide spaces to guide people in prayer. I’ve discovered over the past year that many, if not most people, don’t know how to pray. Pastors must model prayer for their people, much like Jesus did with his disciples.

Mandy Smith

 

Set aside the Western mindset of expecting to ever feel finished, or to be able to measure all the outcomes, personally and in our work. If God is mysterious and humans are messy then one of the best cultures for spiritual maturity is one that has capacity for mess and mystery. It means being able to lament what is broken, rejoice for the healing we can’t see, and trust that God does some of His best work when we feel deeply confused and uncomfortable. There are people (often marginalized people) who already have capacity for this mess and mystery so invite them to help shape the culture.

Bobby Harrington

 

The first thing that I would do is press a pastor on the theological necessity of disciple making.  I would try to get them to see that behind everything in the New Testament is God’s desire that people would form their lives around Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit – and that is the focus of disciple making.  I would want them to see that it is the core mission of the church and then I would seek to win them over to replicate Jesus’ method of disciple making.

David Bailey

 

In any great movie, conflict is essential—for character development and for the satisfaction of resolution at the end of the movie. Over the last 40+ years, much of the predominant church growth strategies have been predicated on marketing to consumer preference of targeted demographics which has consequently often minimized diversity. When communities do have diversity of experiences and perspectives, the opportunity for conflict increases. If a pastor sees conflict as something to be avoided, then the objective is to deflect conflict. If the pastor sees conflict as an opportunity for character development and Kingdom resolution, then learning how to engage in effective cross-cultural conflict resolution skills is essential practice for your community’s spiritual maturity.

Rob Wegner

 

Begin with yourself.  Find your twelve and begin to reorder your life to meet regularly, do life together, and practice a basic set of spiritual habits that are focused on developing the Spirit’s outcomes: Character and Calling.  Together identify where each of you has been sent as a missionary to make new disciples.  Debrief on that mission each week.  Ask each other, “What is Jesus saying to you?   What are you doing about it?  How can we help you?  Who will you share this with?”    As you build your twelve, invite them with a high challenge and maintain high accountability.   Build expectation that they will be changed and that they will do what you are doing for them…make disciples.   

Q4: What’s the most significant leadership lesson you’ve learned about discipleship in the last 5 years?

Rich Villodas

 

I’ve learned that my biggest task as a leader is to be a non-anxious presence. This is not easy by any means. The last 5 years have brought many polarizing issues to the surface in compounding ways—political hostility, racial injustice, economic disparities, and a global health crisis to name a few. I’ve learned that my most important task is to remain close to myself, while remaining close to others in times of high anxiety.

Mandy Smith

 

That while it makes me (as a perfectionist and introvert) incredibly uncomfortable, the most powerful lessons people in my congregation say they have learned from me are from the ways they’ve watched me follow the Lord. I’m choosing to get used to that discomfort because it also means freedom for me to discover that my job is not to be the perfect one people follow but simply to model what it looks like follow Him, inviting people behind the scenes of my joy and longing, my hope and wrestling. It’s hard to do it well but I have to trust that there’s a way that our leadership doesn’t have to be divorced from our personal relationship with God.

Bobby Harrington

 

We must train those who are leaders in the church that their job is not just to make disciples, but to make disciple makers.  If everyone in the leadership position in the church would see that their primary role as a leader is to make other disciple makers, we can start to make progress on the church becoming a disciple making movement.  The other leadership lesson I have learned is that if we want to sustain a disciple making movement, we have to have a theology of what it means to be a disciple and how it necessitates disciple making.

David Bailey

 

My friend Jason Caine taught me that “Proximity brings empathy and empathy brings unity.” This pithy statement articulates the significance of Jesus’ ministry of incarnation. If God thought it was important to get into proximity with humanity for unity and transformation, then I need to do the same. We can’t “phone in” transformation. We can’t ideate transformation. We have to get into proximity with those we hope God uses us to bring transformation. Why? Because empathy is key to transformation. Hebrews 4 and 7 teaches us that Jesus’ prays differently because of being in proximity with humanity. My prayer life is different now that I understand the power of proximity. 

Rob Wegner

 

The need for two different types of discipleship pathways.   Two forms of disciple-making are required in post-Christian, postmodern America.  Churches that discover both forms of mobilization will have the “best of both worlds,” revival in the church, and spiritual awakening among the lost.   They can operate synergistically, like a flywheel.  

Disciple-Making Movements (DMM): a rapid, immediately viral, multiplicative, indigenous movement, creating new disciples from lostness four generations deep on multiple strands. The direction of mobilization is from the harvest toward the church. The focus is regeneration of the lost into disciple-makers.  

Movement of Disciple-Making (MDM): a slower, eventually viral, multiplicative, indigenous movement, creating new disciples from believers in the church four generations deep on multiple strands. The direction of mobilization is from the church toward the harvest. The focus is catalyzation of believers into disciple-makers. 

Churches can actually engage both at the same time, but will likely major in MDM, and begin a “skunk works” DMM effort. These can run in tandem and even help amplify each other.  We dig deeper into this in The Starfish and The Spirit, with examples of both pathways. 

Q5: Let’s talk about the future of discipleship in the western Church. Where do you have the most trepidation and where are you most optimistic? 

Rich Villodas

 

I have most trepidation around the issue of Christian Nationalism. This is an issue that is not going anywhere anytime soon. It is a rival god with the deceptive trappings of evangelical language. I’m most optimistic about the emerging generation. I think the emerging generation is passionate about holding together aspects of discipleship that are often segmented—like justice and the interior life. This is cause for hope and optimism.

Mandy Smith

 

My trepidation and optimism come from the same thing—this current crisis we’re watching in the church as denominations split, congregations shrink, individuals walk away from Jesus. This is a wonderful moment of truth revealing that what we’ve been doing doesn’t work. Will we  just walk away or will it be a moment of redemption, even of revival? To me the difference lies in our hearts—will we continue in this desperate habit of fixing, controlling, understanding, which ultimately makes us independent from God?  Or will we finally have a moment to confess that we cannot do this on our own? That turning in our hearts will, itself, be our salvation. I’ve watched it become a moment of revival in myself and others as we discover that our despair holds an opportunity for dependence.

Bobby Harrington

 

My biggest trepidation is the difficulty of transitioning to the new operating system needed for disciple making in contra distinction with the established ways we have been raising Christians. Most optimistic: Ten years ago very few people bought the idea that disciple making was the core mission of the church, and now most people are gravitating to the idea, at least disciple making should be a big focus. 

David Bailey

 

I love reading history and the Bible (especially the Old Testament) because it helps me see how the story of humanity is the same throughout history, just the names of the characters change. When I see the pattern of Israel going in and out of idolatry over and over again, I see that they had a hard time not putting faith in the things they could make and control (idols). Over and over again God told them not to put the faith of their salvation in other nations because it would cause them to compromise. When we look at the history of the church in America, there has and currently is a lot of faith in our man-made systems and especially faith for salvation in our government to the point where there is a significant amount of compromising going on. My trepidation and optimism are on the same coin. I believe God has and is sending many prophetic voices telling us to “Wake up! Repent! Find your hope in King Jesus and the Kingdom of God!” My hope is that we would respond like Hezakiah responded to Micah and repent. My fear is that we will be like the other kings who didn’t.

Rob Wegner

 

My greatest trepidation is for those church leaders who are waiting for the time when “things will get back to normal.”  They will have missed the greatest opportunity in a century to reboot their church culture around disciple-making.   I am most optimistic about the growing remnant of church leaders, who hungry and humble in this time of upheaval.  They are beginning again in prayer, fasting,  and seeking to return to Jesus’ way of disciple-making.  We need Jesus methods, not just His message.

BONUS: If a pastor or Christian leader has never personally been discipled before, what should they do?

Rich Villodas

 

Do what I’ve done for many years; identify as many people that I want to learn from. More than anything, I look for people whose character I want to emulate. I email, DM, and call until someone is willing to take me on. I ask them to meet with me once per month or more if their schedule is open. I come with lots of questions—personal and vocational. I take lots of notes and ask if we can do it again. When that season is up, I look for someone else.

Mandy Smith

 

Don’t despair because ultimately, we are discipled by Jesus so no circumstance or lack of mentors can keep us from following him. But it is important to have friends on the journey to help us listen to Jesus. For me, regular spiritual direction is essential. My friends, Sandie and Owen Brock, have helped me through many difficult seasons. They do amazing work and will do one-time calls so no commitment necessary and will meet virtually so distance is not an issue.   http://antiphio.com

Also Catholic monasteries often have trained spiritual directors so look for one in your city. I’ve met monthly with a Benedictine nun for the past 4 years and found it deeply transformative.

Bobby Harrington

 

Get discipled by another leader, even if it is online discipling, punctuated by face-to-face meetings every month or two. 

David Bailey

 

I believe that every Christian leader should have five types of relationships: someone who is discipling you, someone you are discipling, a therapist, a coach, and a peer companion. You gotta practice what you preach. I don’t trust anyone who is discipling people and not being discipled themselves. You shouldn’t trust them either. If you don’t have someone who is discipling you…pray, seek, and find. Be a disciple yourself. At the same time, go even further to make sure you are healthy as a spiritual leader by establishing a rhythm with a therapist. Being a pastor or Christian leader comes with so many temptations that can pull you toward being an emotionally unhealthy person. A rhythm with a therapist is a great guardrail from going off the deep end. A coach helps you to get from where you are to where you want to go, and a good peer companion helps you to be and stay honest. Everything starts with being discipled, but don’t have the expectation for that one person to be everything to you. 

Rob Wegner

 

Go back to question 3.   The Lord will be faithful.   Ask Him to give you a mentor as you begin to make disciples.  He will provide.  Currently, with Disciples Made we have a cohort of pastors from one conference of a denomination with an incredible origin story of disciple-making.  This cohort is made up incredible men and woman, who are doing their best to lay their life down for the church.   Most would admit that although their denomination has this great heritage, they personally have been challenged by the lack of transformation in their discipleship culture and programs.  About a month or so into the cohort process,  about 25% of the pastors realized, “I’ve never personally been discipled.”   We reorganized the cohort, so those pastors could go through a sixth month disciple-making experience called Followers Made.   The rest of the cohort continued with a focus on moving toward four generations of reproduction in disciple-making.   I was humbled and amazed that none of the 25% dropped out.  None of them caved to shame, pride, or condemnation.  They humbly said, “Disciple me.”   I have GREAT hopes for their disciple-making future.

Resources from These Leaders

Race, Class & the Kingdom of God Study Series
by David Bailey and the Arrabon Team

Futurist Church Series :: Where is “Missional” 10 Years on?

Futurist Church Series :: Where is “Missional” 10 Years on?

Ten years ago, the idea of “missional” was driving almost all conversations in leadership circles and I think it’s fair to say 2009/10(ish) was the hay-day of the “missional conversation.” But was there a difference between the “conversation” happening in evangelical leadership circles and the movement itself?

Obviously things are different now. For this article of the Futurist Church Series, we invited 5 thought leaders who were in the thick of it 10 years ago to speak on the matter; people everyone would consider leading voices within the missional conversation. We asked each of them the same 5 questions to get a sense of where missional is and where it might be headed.

The 5-on-5 Voices

Q1: When the “missional conversation” was at its peak 10 year ago, what was your hope about where it would take the Western church?

 

For one, I’m not sure if it peaked ten years ago or was simply just first registering in the minds of many leaders across North America. But that aside, my hopes and dreams were that we would see a new wave of missional activity, the rise of new movements, and more by way of innovative church planting.  My belief then, and still is, is that if we do not find our way to a missional expression of the church, Christianity in the West will continue towards precipitous decline. 

 

Nearly ten years ago, I wrote The Road to Missional, and if you read my introduction to that book you’ll see I was responding to people who were saying the missional conversation was over back then. I wanted the book to be a gentle rebuke to those people who were saying the missional thing was good, we liked it, but it’s kinda over now. My point was that if you think this was a passing fad, the latest get-church-quick scheme, you didn’t understand the missional conversation in the first place. So if you’re asking what my hope was ten years ago, it was exactly that – that the church would stop seeing mission as a fad or a scheme or a strategy, and start to see it as the means by which we mirror God’s work in the world and glorify him. Ten years ago, I wanted the church to (a) embrace the cruciform nature of incarnational witness, (b) understand mission as bringing reconciliation, justice and beauty to a broken world, (c) see mission as wider than evangelism, (d) practice evangelism as more than the four spiritual laws, and (e) embrace its identity as a sent community of disciples. That’s all.

 

My hope was that the priesthood of the believer on mission in the everyday stuff of life would become the new norm – that every Christian would not only see themselves as a missionary, but be actively participating in everyday mission in effective ways that would lead to each believer making disciples who make disciples. As a result, the Church would grow in unprecedented ways through conversion grow and multiplication grow.

 

I simply hoped that more and more churches would see the need to activate all the people of God to engage in God’s mission more fully. I had no illusions that the entire Western church would make the shift, but I was hopeful that many would.

 

My hope for the “missional conversation” was a hope for renewal of mission in North America, not North America to the world, but incarnational mission in North America. For me this meant a wave of incarnational church plants, incarnational renewal of traditional churches. By ‘incarnational’ I meant Christian presence for the gospel outside the traditional four walls of church gatherings.

Q2: In one sentence or short phrase, how would you describe the state of “missional” today?

 

Well I think there is still a lot of activity going on that could be called broadly missional.  For instance an uptake in church planting, new focus on discipleship, fledgling movements emerging, the phenomenal uptake on APEST typology of ministry across the spectrum, etc. (I listed some of these in my new edition of The Forgotten Ways).  These are hopeful expressions….it is simply that there are not enough of them and we have yet to unequivocally demonstrate proof of concept.

 

Splintered. Those who saw missional as a strategy, and felt disappointed by it, have pursued its ideas into specialist areas, searching for the silver bullet to grow their churches. This has led to whole sub-conversations like fivefold, the parish/neighborhood conversation, bivo/covo, missional discipleship, community development, etc. etc.  Missional was never meant to be a strategy so thinking you can parse it into increasingly bite-sized strategic objectives is to lose the beauty of what we all dreamed of 20 years ago.

 

For many Christians, missional seems optional and especially reserved for the most mature Christian.

 

Because the muscle memory of church growth thinking is so strong, the move towards mission is still in process for many churches.

 

“Missional” is a brand that has become domesticated to (and by) the traditional forms of protestant church in N. America.

Q3: In your opinion, what happened to missional conversation since its hey day? Why did it fade out or morph into something else?

 

As mentioned above, I’m not sure it has faded out.  While the word missional is not being used as extensively, the phenomenon it has morphed into sub-conversations, e.g. multiplication, 5Q, etc.  This is good and bad.  Good in that the conversation is keeping, bad in that it is being done in ways that are reductionistic….many of them lack a comprehensive model of the church as missional movement.  There is not as much ’symphony’ going on right now.  

 

As I say above, it has fractured into specialist areas. Church leaders are looking for the special sauce. But while the missional vision includes fivefold, neighborhood, bivo, discipleship, etc, it involves much more. You pull each piece out from the whole at your peril. Fivefold won’t work in a traditional, unchanging church. Emphasizing neighborhood makes no sense in a dispersed suburban megachurch. I sometimes compare it to the 1980s third wave charismatic movement. That movement insisted that the gifts of the Spirit hadn’t ceased, demanding that we submit to this new move of God, encouraging us to speak in tongues and practice deliverance and words of knowledge. It represented a wholescale rethink of who we are and how we do church. But within ten years, conservative Protestant churches had just incorporated contemporary music, bands, and hand-raising while resisting full renewal by the Holy Spirit. I fear we’re at that place in the missional era. It’s as if the church is trying to retro-fit a few missional pieces into their existing machinery. But in The Shaping of Things to Come, Alan Hirsch and imagined a complete ecclesial overhaul with mission as its organizing principle.       

 

First of all, I don’t believe it was carefully defined. As a result, every co-opted the term for anything they were doing outside the formal gathering of Sunday. Second, I think missional was seen as an action-oriented push for believers to look and move outward while lacking the deep formational aspect of developing believers into maturity in order to sustain any kind of healthy gospel movement.  As a result, in a very pragmatic context, it turned into a new fadish strategy to grow a church (wrong goal). In turn, many churches did not see the outcomes they had hoped for and concluded that “missional” doesn’t work. They saw it as a strategy that turned into a short-lived fad because they failed to recognize that their theology, and theological vision was broken before they ever tried a ‘missional approach’.  We needed a deeper repentance and correction about what we believe about God, the Gospel, and our view of the Church and her mission. Because this didn’t happen in most cases, the church merely shifted its programs and practices, while failing to repent of its poor theology and ministry philosophy.

 

I wouldn’t say it has faded out, it has simply been discovered to be difficult and counter to how many Christians have been taught and therefore not often embraced on a deep level.

 

“Missional” never moved, in my opinion, from an idea, a concept, challenge, or aspiration, to an actual practice of church in mission. It therefore got absorbed into modern Christendom systems of church.

Q4: What was the biggest positive contribution the missional conversation made in Western church culture in the last 20 years?

 

Mission has awakened the church to God’s purposes beyond the narrow confines of the worshipping conversion.  It has led to numerous ‘fresh expressions’ (innovations) in new forms of church, it has indelibly impacted theological discourse (most seminaries will now have missional subjects and streams whereas these did not exist ten years ago.  

 

It challenged the gross over-steer of the church growth movement, which had come to reject the importance of social action, and emphasized evangelism-as-recruitment, the homogenous unit principle (where like attracts like), and the Sunday service as the doorway to the church. Missional was like a rock thrown into the steady flowing stream of church growth theory. It interrupted the flow. It questioned the assumptions and gave new ways of thinking about the church’s mission, ways that emphasized go rather than come. It unleashed young evangelicals into the world of justice-seeking, placemaking, and church planting.

 

It has led to a more honest critique of our scorecard and a willingness to admit we are not actually making disciples in the church as we thought. It also has shifted the conversation away just conversion and addition to a more holistic mission that includes all of life (as evidenced by faith and work initiatives) and is raising awareness about a need to focus on multiplication as well.

For those who have actually leaned into the conversation, it has been the recapturing of the missionary nature of the church.

The missional conversation led to a invigorated discussion on how to engage culture with the gospel. It offered many an opportunity to ‘reset’ what it means to be church. There are lasting effects to this day among many because of it.

Q5: What is your hope for the soul and deeper meaning of missional moving forward?

 

We have to keep focussed and not let the broader cultural malaise and ideological debate derail what is likely to be one of the most important conversation in our time.  But I do think we now have to major on correcting the defective Christology that lies at the heart of what is the prevailing cultural Christianity.  Unless we get Jesus right, everything else will be fundamentally wrong…even toxic and dangerous.  

 

It’s so important to remember that missional is intrinsically rooted in Trinity and Kingdom. The missional mandate emerges from the character and action of the Triune God, not from the need to reach out. And its mission is not chiefly about planting and growing churches. It is about alerting everyone everywhere to the universal reign of God through Christ. This involves evangelism, but also has implications for racial reconciliation, social justice, creation care, and community development. There’s still so much more work to be done in these areas. As I said earlier, I think missional is in danger of becoming church growth theory 2.0. I truly hope the church can recover a more biblical missiology moving forward.    

 

I am hopeful that we will see a true affirming and mobilization of the priesthood of every believer which includes an affirmation that all of life is ministry. I also am expecting a much deeper emphasis on spiritual formation that moves out on mission, not just one or the other. I am also hopeful for a greater ownership of the mission of the church by unpaid staff. In all of this, I am praying for a gospel saturation movement in North America.

 

My deepest hope is that the church would do everything possible to diminish the clergy-laity divide, which would lead to activating ALL the people of God to engage in His mission.

I hope and pray the “missional” conversation turns into a movement of some kind that cultivates leadership, practices of ecclesiology, sufficient to replant the church of His Kingdom in N. America at a time when evangelicalism is imploding and protestant mainline church keeps shrinking.

BONUS QUESTION: In one way, the burnout of the missional conversation is a cautionary tale for how things are co-opted and then changed. What advice would you give to leaders who will experience thought movements going forward?

 

Keep focussed.  Steady on the ship. Have a ten year plan.  Cut the faddish nonsense and the need for reductionistic formulas.  Do the right thing because it is the right thing not because it expedient or pragmatic.  

 

I think the challenges posed by missional thinkers as long ago as Bishop Newbigin in the 80s and the American Newbiginians in the 90s and the emerging missional church leaders in the 00s are as fresh and as necessary as ever. Such movements need their prophets to stay the course, to refuse to give in to domesticating forces, and to continue to ruffle feathers. It’s lonely work, but important.    

Properly identify the real problem. Clarify terms where a new word or concept is introduced, ensuring that the concept is deeply biblical. Recognize that the change needed is not just strategic, but theological and philosophical. Call leadership to repentance. Make sure leaders fully embrace and embody whatever it is they intend to lead others in. Then, be very clear about the cost necessary.

 

Again, I would push back a bit on the idea that the missional conversation has experienced “burnout.” If a movement is rooted theologically and missiologically, then it will not fade. I think what was called the “emergent movement” was a renewal movement that was more about style than mission. However, because a genuine missional conversation is rooted in the missionary nature of the Triune God (theology) and the interplay of the church with culture (missiology) I am not too concerned about it becoming a fading emphasis.

Don’t get sucked up in the hoopla. Focus on slow, steady, on the ground cultivating of actual communities where change and sustenance happens.

One Last Word from Alan Hirsch:

I am more convinced than ever of the rightness of the movement.  The degraded state of the contemporary evangelical Christianity necessitates the very focii that the missional movement brings—a radical recentering on the life, teachings, and ministry of Jesus Christ; a theology of Lordship and not just personal salvation; a call to integrate justice into mission; incarnational forms of church planting; a recovery of full biblical typology of ministry (APEST); a recovery of the priority of discipleship; calling the church to rally around God’s purposes in the world as opposed to theological navel-gazing; etc..  We need these now more than ever!  We must not stop in our efforts to remissionalize the church, in fact I believe we need to double down on them.