“TransFORM will challenge you to explore overcoming Empire, cultivating alternatives and building deep solidarity. This is the closest thing to an Emergent Theological Conversation happening in 2014.” — Steve Knight
Next month, a couple hundred folks will head to San Diego for TransFORM 2014, a gathering aimed at “transforming the language, culture, and practice of the missional church to broader movements for change.” We caught up with TransFORM’s Steve Knight to find out more about what to expect from the gathering this year and why you should go.
What is TransFORM?
TransFORM started in 2009 as a missional community formation network. We were a network of practitioners who wanted to encourage each other and challenge others to form new kinds of churches and “missional” faith communities.
I put “missional” in quote marks, because we’ve used that language from the beginning of TransFORM, but some have been questioning the relevance or utility of that word.
The word missional has gotten some pushback in the blogosphere recently for being one of those meaningless church words we banter about. What does missional mean to you, and does it still have meaning and power as a descriptor within progressive Christianity? If you could choose another word to better describe this work, what might it be?
Yeah, Nadia Bolz-Weber got some conversation going recently with that #meaninglesschurchjargon hashtag. She called out “missional imagination” for being particularly hollow.
“Missional” to me has always had historical context to it. There’s a reason we’re using that word now and not just “mission” or “missions.” It represented a theological shift in how we understand God’s mission, but very few people seem to know that historical context.
For me, “missional” means participating with God in what God is doing in the world. It means that it’s God’s mission, not our mission. We are simply invited to join God in the work of restoration, peacemaking, making all things new.
But we recognize that “missional” sounds too much like the history of oppression we inherit as Christians, including the practice of colonization and genocide. We realize that movements for change in the broader culture often have that association with the word missional. If the word itself is an obstacle to building bridges toward other communities for change, perhaps the “missional” thing to do is change the word?
I honestly don’t know what the right words might be, that’s why I’m so excited for the next TransFORM conference, where we are taking on the task of translating missional to broader cultures for change. We’re going to explore how we can translate the language, culture, and practices of missional church while intentionally listening to broader movements of change for what they need the church to be.
What are your hopes for the TransFORM 2014 gathering? And what would constitute success in your mind?
It’s time we shift the “missional” conversation. We’re only talking to ourselves – talking to the choir, if you will – when we use language that doesn’t truly serve. What we’re talking about at TransFORM 2014 is translating “missional” so that the ideas of this movement can connect and build bridges with broader movements for positive social change.
Success would be transforming the missional conversation itself so that new language emerges and bridges are built with activists from other movements.
Tell us about some of the speakers this year and what they’ll be sharing.
We’ve got theologian Joerg Rieger challenging us on “empire” and how to build solidarity along the lines of class. We’ve got pastor Alexia Salvatierra teaching us how we can mobilize the church in service to the world. Pamela Wilhelms is sharing on living systems and how healthy cells can transform a diseased system. We’ve got Paul Engler from the Center for the Working Poor in L.A. sharing his powerful personal story in unions and teaching us organizing models for change. Peace activist (and former Wild Goose Festival director) Gareth Higgins will be closing out the conference with an inspiring message about story and crafting new narratives we live by. And that’s just our keynotes. Our workshops will be amazing too!
What are you most excited about for this spring’s gathering?
This conference will be unlike any other TransFORM has ever done. This is going to be a working conference, with time after the keynotes for small group and large group processing. We want to really harness the wisdom of the group to come away from this as having produced something meaningful and lasting.
How have you been personally changed by your work with TransFORM?
When TransFORM started in 2009, I was not a part of any faith community. I was detoxing from churchianity for a few years, and after the first TransFORM conference, some friends and I were inspired to start a new church. We’ve been finding our way as a community since then, and the inspiration and community I’ve drawn from the folks I’ve connected with through TransFORM has kept me going, taught me so much, and led to life-giving friendships.
Who should come to TransFORM 2014?
Pastors and activists. Artists and theologians. Any person of faith who is interested in finding ways to partner with broader movements for social change. Everyone who wants to explore the intersection of missional church, contemplation, and activism.
Or anyone who is ready to come to sunny San Diego in March to hang out with a bunch of really cool people!