Mobilising missional disciples - 2
From an interview by Exponential
See first part here.
Following on from interest in the articles, Repositioning church as a mission agency and The Underground, I listened in to an interview with Jon Ritner who heads up a missional community in Hollywood, California. He continues..
We've been here now six years and are slowly turning that ship and in that process, learning what sort of patterns and paradigms we might need for this new adventure ahead. A book, Positively Irritating emerged from this experience. It's resonating with people who are facing the same sort of challenges of post Christianity - the declining place of the church and culture, the marginalisation of the church as a source of good news. How do we reimagine or reinvent ourselves knowing that Jesus himself is always good news in the world?
One of the observations that I've made about churches as a whole is that we do really well when we are in a place of control and a place of prominence, having advantages, cultural advantages. And for so long within Christianity, the church was a central institution that lived at the centre of society, that created social connections, that often gave people their sense of identity, that was a place to land when you moved around. And there was a natural gravitational pull into churches, primarily meaning Sunday mornings and programmes. And then COVID just shut down that attractional pull in that there was no gravity pulling people into a gathering, because everyone had to stay away. And I think how we respond to that sort of change is so significant.
We lost 85 people post-Covid attendance. We're not a large community. I have a friend at a mega church. He says that 1000 people haven't re-engaged with church. I think now the challenge is what do we do? How do we respond to this crisis moment? An irritant can cause discomfort and can be removed or it can be embraced to make a pearl. It actually creates something of beauty that it can offer the world.
I think the church needs to recognise that more and more in post Christianity, in secularism, in the world going forward, a world of pandemics and international crises and things like this, there are going to be more and more irritants. We are going to have to really think through what's our posture when we get squeezed, irritated. Is it a posture that embraces them and creates beauty? Or is it a posture of isolation and separation that's always trying to stop the world from irritating us? Were/Are our practices really Western cultural ideologies or just ways of the world and ways of the flesh? There is a call for us to return to Jesus rather than worldly culture and norms.
So what does it look like to shift from being an attractional church where everybody has to come on Sunday to being a more missional church?
There's a trend to put the word missional on your website or in your mission statement and just assume now that it's done. God has a mission. And his mission is the redemption and renewal of all creation through Jesus Christ. Mike Green once said that, "Mission lives at the intersection of covenant and kingdom." The covenant is the reconciliation of a relationship with God and with others. Getting people to be in a right relationship with Jesus and right relationship with others. But then the kingdom side is this redemption and renewal of all creation. It's the making all the broken things beautiful. It's what will the world look like in the age to come when God's reign is fully declared through Jesus Christ.
As you think about disciple making, the phrase we like to use is making disciples who participate in the redemption and renewal of all creation. So, that we're combining both of those things - restoring covenant relationship and engaging people in kingdom work. It's Jesus stepping out of a place of comfort and security and entering into a world of brokenness in order to have a positive impact there.
Jesus says actually I can go into Matthew's house where all the 'unclean' people live and I can bring cleansing. And the Pharisees minds are blown because they're outside going no, no, wait a minute. The posture of a missionary is that you are sent to where people live and work, and in this case sent to the dinner table amongst these everyday people to try to bring the redemption and renewal there.
The other day I was driving down the street and I saw a local church, well-meaning church doing their best to reach the community, but they had a big sign out and the sign said, "You belong here." And I remember thinking like, I love their heart. They want to create belonging. But the implicit message, the implicit posture of that sign is saying to the world who doesn't go to church, or maybe doesn't even follow Jesus. If you come here, you will find belonging. And what I thought would be a better sign is to make smaller signs with the church's logo and it said , 'Your church logo, you belong here'. And to go put them all over the town at the gym, the pub, the workplace, the golf course, etc.
So, that as church members went around their day, they kept being reminded, "Oh, I belong here. I belong out in the world as a redemptive source of good news here". And then as I enter into that space, I seek to create belonging, but I may actually engage the space more as a guest and try to be a learner and humble and then maybe I need to create a sense of belonging.
My own experience was that the primary disciple making pathway we have in the church has been Sunday morning worship gathering with professionals and usually a significant investment of property. Then moving people from worship to community, and community is usually programme driven - it's small groups, life groups, discipleship groups, Bible study, Sunday, school, whatever. And then from community inviting them to participate in mission. But mission is often more like volunteering to sustain our existing worshipping community ministries - it's Sunday centric or programme centric or maybe it's volunteering with a local organisation. Usually we're holding their hand and recruiting them. It's not really equipping and releasing.
In post-Christianity, I really believe that, that front door of Sunday worship is such a cultural gap for someone who has not experienced a Christian upbringing. The language, the practises, the liturgies, the rituals, the attire, the world, it's all so different that they're not comfortable entering into a Sunday worship service - that's what we saw in Europe. You could invite people until the cows come home and no one's coming to church. They don't know what church is. They thought that was the thing in the past. And they can't possibly imagine a reason why they would want to go to this cultural institution that maybe has a bad reputation due to media spotlight on some scandals. They like you but they turn your invite down. And so imagine years from now, that being true in your city, where no one in your community could successfully invite someone to church, then you will need to close that front door for good.
What I realised in the churches that I ran was that I didn't have much, because the engine of disciple-making was professionals, programmes and property. And all of those existed primarily on a Sunday morning. So what I've learned in this new world is that we need to flip that pipeline and lead with mission - to put all of our eggs in the basket of training every day ordinary Christians to live as missionaries, to be disciple makers out in the everyday spaces of life, to not think in terms of property, to not think in terms of how do I get them to the professionals. But to have the professionals empower and equip people. And so that's what our journey has been here.
We still have a Sunday service, we still have some community groups. We know there are still Christians moving to Hollywood who will join us through that old funnel of Sunday mornings and then a community group but we are decreasing the amount of resources we put into it. We are putting more and more of that time and energy into creating a pathway that trains and equips everyday people to live as missionaries. How do we send them out into the world and support what they're doing out there? And so that inverted pipeline. Lead with mission in those missional spaces. Begin to create community through hospitality, through shared meals, through mentoring relationships, and then trust that the Spirit is working in people's lives to lead them to want to worship Jesus, as you engage in the life of Jesus.
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