Is There Really a “Missional Crisis”?

Dave Kludt, a pastor/equipper at Kairos Hollwood, writing at The Burner Blog last week suggested,

'We <3 Crisis' photo (c) 2009, Alex Guerrero - license:“The missional church faces a crisis of information saturation. Much of the missional conversation has centered on ideas — brilliant ideas, ideas rooted deeply in theology and the sending nature of God — good ideas shared over coffee, blogs, and breakout sessions — but primarily ideas.

“It’s been a conversation — an exchange of words and thoughts — a cerebral and theological exercise that allows for something akin to Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace; as long as you can talk the missional talk, the shape and structure of your church and your leadership doesn’t actually have to change.”

He goes on to give a simple answer to this pressing problem: discipleship. But not just discipleship, Kludt gives a resounding endorsement of exactly the kind of discipleship produced by Mike Breen and books and resources like Multiplying Missional Leaders produced and distributed by Breen’s 3DM organization.

Hmmm. I think Kludt has a point about the danger of the missional conversation being just that, a conversation, which could very well never lead one to take action. (Although missional people seem like some of the most motivated people I know!) And the existence of yet another missional church blog (like this one) could just be more fodder for Kludt’s argument, more talk about good ideas that goes nowhere.

I agree with him that discipleship is the answer. And I understand the appeal of Kludt’s simple solution to the proposed problem. The 3DM model seems to be a compelling and successful strategy. But …

But it’s just one model, one way of doing missional community. I doubt Breen or anyone in 3DM would argue it’s the “only way,” in fact that would be somewhat un-missional to suggest a “one size fits all solution.” I mean, how un-contextual would that be?

As the old saying goes, if everything’s a crisis then nothing is a crisis. Right? OK maybe I just made that up, but you know what I mean. We love a good crisis. And I’m not sure this is a crisis. A tragedy, maybe, yes.

It would be a tragedy to just talk about all this stuff and never take action. Fortunately, I don’t see that happening. I see people taking action and doing wonderful things all over the place. And some folks are using 3DM’s model and others are riffing off Hirsch and Frost, and others are building missional businesses or forming neo-monastic intentional communities, and and and (the list goes on).

Am I wrong? Is there really a “missional crisis”? What do you see?

  • Rachelle Mee-Chapman

    I would say that your column is not the problem — but perhaps the imbalance between thought and practice within the movement is. There is indeed far too much orthodoxy in the missional movement and not enough orthopraxis. There is quite a bit of good thinking out there, but we seem to be suffering a crisis of imagination in regards to good action. We like to talk, to write books, and to give lectures, but we don’t really risk true innovative change.

    In my opinion, the number one sticking point of both the missional movement and the emergent movement has been: “How do we create new sustainable models of community that allow us to move beyond the four walls of the classic church in order to extend the loving hand of God to the world?” What models free up our finincial resources? our time? How do we do the work of Jesus (serving the outsider, caring for the disenfranchised) rather than the work of “worship” (singing songs, praying, pontificating.)
    The only way we find out is not through thought alone, but through experimental action. If missional blogs consistently shine a spotlight on “new trees” like Kathy Silveira Escobar’s team at The Refuge, Mark A. Scandrette’s experiment-in-the-dojo-mod​el, Ronna Detrick’s alternative virtual Sunday Services project, and edge-dwelling communities like my own Flock, we might be better able to move beyond language and into action. Although truthfully, I don’t know if we want to — because it’s hard and there is loss of approval, finances, book deals, and klout. There is criticism. And it’s much harder to be vunerable “on the ground”, than clever on the page. (Although both are necessary.)

    I believe we can be rooted in our history, authentic to who we are today in our cultural reality, and creative enough to create forms of Jesus-living that can grow with us and with our neighborhoods. But we’ll never know until we try.

    (Steps off her soap box :-)

    • Steve Knight

      Good words, Rachelle, thanks.

  • Erik Samuelson

    I agree that there is a lot of talk, but I also know there is more action going on than we realize. Life in authentic Christian community is just frankly not as sexy as writing books and talking about authentic Christian community, and especially not as sexy as writing and talking about new and innovative ways to do worship and discipleship. But I predict in the not too distant future the literal “emergence” will be communities of practice who are currently delving deep and putting down roots and the game is going to change.

  • /dave kludt

    Hey man, thanks for the interaction! I am totally with you on the hesitancy to call all things a crisis – continuing to cry wolf eventually results in deafened ears.

    But if iron sharpens iron, then information sharpens information – so more books and ideas can only be so helpful to shaping practice. I think publishing in the missional conversation is slowly turning towards practice – which is why I’m thankful for Breen and 3DM’s willingness to ‘audaciously’ step towards the practice of missional discipleship. I know too many churches that have gotten stuck in the information abyss, and am encouraged to hear of 3DM’s success navigating through that. I don’t think they have the only answer or solution – but I do think they are helping to turn the conversation.

    Part of the story is autobiographical – I love conversation, writing, and thinking about such things (and am thankful for places like this where the conversations are curated) and often default to more information over more practice. But I’ve realized that’s only so helpful for my community and want to push us (kairos) towards embodied practice wherever possible.

    Thanks for pushing back – looking forward to hearing from others here!

    • Steve Knight

      hey Dave, thanks for graciously receiving my gentle pushback and for engaging in the comments here. I think the natural default for many of us (although certainly not all of us) is probably toward input (that was certainly high on my Strengths Finder report), where we take in more and more information all the time without really processing it or doing much with it (i.e., taking action). Knowing that about ourselves is probably the most important first step, so that we can catch ourselves before we get stuck in ruts of over-thinking and under-doing.

      I’m glad to hear you think things are turning towards a great emphasis on practice, though, even if (from your perspective) it is slow. I’m challenged by your comment that “information sharpens information – so more books and ideas can only be so helpful to shaping practice.” I think I agree with you, if the emphasis is on “more.” I do think information/books/ideas can sharpen practice, but nothing sharpens practice like practice ;-)

  • Jason Fowler

    Isn’t one of the main problems of modern Christianity the divorce of living and believing – of not really embodying what we say we believe? This issue is a problem with the Church at large and though I’m sure it is manifesting in the missional church movement – I see that the core of the missional shift is one towards orthopraxy and embodiment. We need both solid theological grounding in Scripture and practical outworking in our various contexts. Right now the concept of missional is being misunderstood by many church leaders it seems but I think truly the missional shift is one towards the embodiment of our Christian faith. Many people are doing alot more than just talking.

    • Steve Knight

      I think you just said much of what I was trying to say in my post, Jason, except you said it a lot better than I did ;-) So thanks for posting this!

  • karl wheeler

    i serve alongside kathy escobar, and she speaks often of you so i thought i might swing by for a visit.
    it feels like the “spirit is willing, the flesh is weak” conundrum. the spirit, the longing in our heart for what feels needed and right, but the flesh,a methodology steeped in only one type of discipleship: teacher/learner. i still tend to think of discipleship as acquiring new information, new knowledge. yet, i know american evangelicals are not one good sermon away from “getting it”.
    Jesus said follow and spent most of His time on a 3 year show and tell, not a 3 year tell and show.

    • Steve Knight

      Thanks for stopping by, Karl, and for posting these thoughts! Your point about Jesus’ three-year discipleship process being more “show” than “tell” is well taken. If we pay attention to the Gospels at all (and we should!), we tend to focus on the words of Jesus and think that’s the main point, but Jesus was living with his disciples 24-7, which is something we easily forget, because it’s not written down minute-by-minute. (I’m suddenly imagining Jesus tweeting what he had for breakfast … Can you imagine?) And, no, we’re not “one good sermon away from ‘getting it,’” I agree with that 100% ;-)

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