Douglass Hall on Relentless Discipleship

Discipleship of the crucified Christ is characterized by a faith that drives its adherents into the world with a relentlessness and a daring they could not manage on the basis of human volition alone.[1]

[1] Douglass John Hall, The Cross in Our Context. pg 183

Becoming Missional

Dallas Willard, in his book on the spiritual life The Divine Conspiracy, he argues that in the Sermon on the Mount and in the famous Pauline love chapter (I Cor 13) Jesus and Paul aren’t exhorting us to do certain things. We aren’t supposed to try to be patient and we aren’t supposed to try to love our enemies. Rather, we should aim to be the kind of people who would naturally do those things.

This is a small, but significant distinction. It really cuts to the heart of the matter—the heart. One’s heart is always more important than outwardly appearances betray. This was the great folly of the Jewish leaders Jesus interacted with so much. And while I think there is something to be said for doing things in order to become something, I think Willard is on to something important.

A lot of church like to do things, without becoming a different kind of church. They’ll want that program or that model that will cause them to be missional. They want to know what they can do to be missional, when in reality, missional is more about ontology than it is about practices.

Churches should seek to be the kind of church that would do missional engagement of cultures.

What do you think? Is missional about what you do or is about ontology? Or maybe it doesn’t matter…after all, the world is supposed to end today.

The Gospel of the Kingdom & the Missional Manifesto

Recently, some leading thinkers and practitioner in the missional movement have framed what’s been called the “Missional Manifesto.” I have not looked at it, but I plan to do so soon. Ed Stetzer (who is one of the contributors) has been blogging through the various components of it—again, I haven’t followed this either, but its been added to my “Read Later” section in Evernote. I did, however, catch this post where he grapples with the role “Kingdom” plays with missional churches.

At some point during my third year at OSU, I decided to live in the gospel of Luke for a year. So I asked around and got some good commentaries, and spent the bulk of my time digging into Luke’s narrative. Of course I in typical fashion got distracted and never really finished that study, and I’m still digging into it. One of the things that was most enlightening to me during those first couple of months was this stream that flows through the narrative. The stream is the “good news of the Kingdom of God.” It’s in other gospels, but it was the first time I began to grapple with the Kingdom as good news—or, as the good news.

I had always been taught that the gospel was that Jesus died in my place to pay for my sins—what is referred to by scholars as penal substitutionary atonement. Jesus died to pay the penalty for us and acted as a substitute for our death so that we could be forgiven and go to heaven. In my church we directly tied “gospel” to I Corinthians 15.1-3, but I always struggled to see how the resurrection had anything to do with gospel if the gospel was all about Jesus subtitutionary death.

Now, let me be clear: I believe that Jesus died for our sins and suffered death in our place which allows us to stand as righteous before God and experience eternal life with him.

But for much of my life (even before I was a follower of Jesus), I thought that this penal subtitutionary atonement was the sum-total of the gospel. It’s all that I heard and it’s all that I knew. So when I saw that prominence that the good news of the Kingdom of God had in Jesus’ preaching, it shook my paradigms. I later came to know that the idea of the cross as the divine pacifier in the mouth of God was only about 200 years old. The particular understanding that’s so popular today and viciously defended as the only form of gospel orthodoxy rose out of modern western legal theory.

The gospel of the Kingdom helps us to develop a fuller picture of the work of God in the world. More specifically, it changes our notions of what faithful service looks like for the church. If the gospel is the kingdom, then its not enough for get a bunch of people to pray “the Sinner’s Prayer” or get baptized. Nor is it enough to get the form of worship and structure right. Because the gospel is bigger than that. Those things are included (in as much as they are included in Scripture…), but the church’s role is bigger than that because the gospel is bigger than that.

Congregations are called to cultivate the knowledge of the rule of the King throughout the world. This means that local churches cannot be ends in themselves because the church is not the ultimate end of mission. Local churches are, rather, the instruments of something much larger than themselves.

For example, when people look into the church (not the building of course, but the covenant community of Christ followers) and they see marriages restored, people made whole, and miracles taking place, they should say, “Oh, that’s what the Kingdom of God looks like.” Thus, the church is a sign and an instrument of the Kingdom. It engages in Kingdom work for a Kingdom agenda. The church is the Kingdom’s tool.

Ministry: iPhones vs. Newspapers

Over at the Catalyst blog, Brad Russell just wrote a very interesting piece on the shape of ministry in this technologically-inundated era of iPhones and the like. Here’s the full piece, called “A Bible in One Hand, an iPhone in the Other.”

Smartphones vs Newspapers — this is just one example of the changing nature of cultures and generational disconnect around us.
I am an associate minister with a very traditional, fairly conservative church of Christ. As an associate minister, I do a little (sometimes a lot) of everything, but I primarily work on a day-to-day basis with our senior minister, and work with the part-time youth minister and youth a good bit. This makes for an interesting dynamic for me, as I’m learning ministry. It’s almost as if I’m in two different worlds. There’s the world of traditional congregation ministry for those folks 45 and over. Then there’s the ministry to the teens and 20s that is almost always done involving a smartphone or facebook. There’s also the ministry to the parents of the teens who have a foot in both camps. It’s especially challenging as I look down the road into a world where most of the folks I’ll minster with will be the iPod generation, yet my “Paul” (day-to-day ministry mentor) has been doing minsitry (and doing it incredibly well!) in the world of tape recorders for significantly more years than I’ve been alive.
Here’s a paragraph from Mr. Russell that captures well the ministry conundrum I find myself in right now:
The world of face-to-face visits, notes of encouragement, and pastoral phone calls has been seriously challenged by increasing walls of privacy, the rapid pace of communication via social media, the broadening geographical territory of members that diminishes casual contact, the sheer scale of our operations, and decreased accessibility to people at certain times of the day and week. That’s not to say the methods of former years still serve us well in some settings, and may even be superior in some ways, but if we aren’t connecting, caring and staying in people’s life loop, we are in danger of becoming at best uninformed and at worst ineffective and irrelevant.

Coincidentally, this is one reason why I love the Missional Church Leadership graduate program at Rochester College so much. It’s equipping us to do ministry in a world where iPhones are more prevalent than newspapers, but also where religious skepticism is more prevalent than Christian devotion and where the church is on the margins of acceptability and not right in the middle of it.