That is, the first-ever Missio Alliance National Gathering.
And if I have one hope for this conference, this meeting of some wonderful and diverse minds, it is this:
I hope we can bring unsexy missional back.
Now, I’m not saying that Mike Friesen shouldn’t dance like Timberlake in front of a lot of people, because he totally should you guys. And I’m also not saying that people shouldn’t admire my almost-cool beard, because they should do that too (in moderation, i.e., don’t stroke it please). But other than that stuff, I want to see a whole lot of unsexiness at this conference. I want to see dudes and ladies who proudly identify as OVER IT when it comes to the slick, the produced, the superficial cool, and the underlying cha-ching of American “missional church.”
And in place of the sexy that has so often defined missional, I wanna see substance.
So, without further ado, here are three ways I hope we can unsexify missional next week:
1. Acknowledge our insignificance. Here’s the deal with “missional” churches and conferences over the last 10 years: they take themselves WAY too seriously. From the neo-reformed relevants (think big leather ESV’s and Jersey Shore graphic tees) to the dangerously-doubting emergents (think deconstruction and anger) to the neo-monastic claibornites (think dreads), the tone has generally been, “THE CHURCH IS DYING AND SO IS THE WORLD AND WE ARE THE ANSWER TO IT ALL!”
How will we neo-anabaptist missionals enter the fray?
I hope we’ll show up, first and foremost, with some self-deprecating jokes. You know, about how small our churches are. Or about the revolutionary “bi-vo” budget that our financial team just created – “financial team” meaning my wife and I, and “revolutionary” meaning I now work at Starbucks AND the grocery store. Or about how crazy our PR guys have been lately fielding controversial questions on Twitter, no wait, that was just some spammer DMing me that I was “in a video”…
I hope, honestly, that we will talk about “Post-Christendom North America” with a whole lot of humility, believing our contribution to be much less than saving the West, but certainly more than just sitting on our asses while the fundamentalists drive this thing into the ground.
In fact, if “the future of the gospel” could have a blue collar subheading attached to it, “let’s not sit on our asses while the fundamentalists drive this thing into the ground” would be a good one :).
2. Choose function over fashion, substance over form, every time. The evangelical missional conversation has been plagued these last 10 years by a growing pragmatism that equates missional with a certain form of church. It has led to a programmatic approach that is not unlike the seeker church movement that preceded it: Just do church in these three ways, and it will be a missional church! Of course, that approach only applies a superficial band-aid to the much deeper problems facing the church in the West. And those problems will only begin to be addressed if we get down to the guts of things.
In other words, the two proposed forms in the missional conversation to date – culturally relevant megachurch and communally embedded microchurch (house church, missional communities, et al.) – and all the associated techniques for doing church in these ways, can entirely miss the deep meaning of missional. The hip systems approach of mega and the earthy organic approach of micro, for all of their sexiness and cha-ching in Christian culture, have often been equally bankrupt of that which substantially sustains rooted engagement with the mission of God in the “far country” of our cultural millieu.
I hope that Missio Alliance makes unsexy strides forward in dismantling our superficial preoccupation and bringing us to the juicy theological, spiritual, personal core of what it means to orient ourselves around the mission of God. And, don’t get me wrong, we should get practical – but we should do so as a secondary conversation, humbly drawing out the practical implications in such a way that keeps function over fashion and puts the “aesthetics” of missional church in their proper place every time.
3. David Fitch. Now, don’t get me wrong – Dave is an attractive man (in a middle-aged hockey fan sort of way). But in the best possible sense, Dave epitomizes the unsexy of missional. In fact, I think his seminal book, The End of Evangelicalism?, could have sold way more copies if it had simply been titled Unsexy. Because that’s exactly what it is.
What Dave accomplishes in that book, and on a regular basis over at his blog, in his speaking and lecturing, etc., is the devastating deconstruction of evangelicalism’s “empty politic,” its tendency to attach itself to external signifiers that betray stark internal hypocrisies and a shocking departure from embodying the “hospitable presence of Jesus” (a politic of fullness!) in the world. But it’s not deconstruction for the sake of being controversial and moody (i.e., getting all Pete-Rollins-sexy) - it’s an optimistic sort of demolition. The aim is to further the evangelical project and ethos for the sake of the kingdom, not to lay waste to it while raking in the book sales (i.e., cha-ching).
Could this conference perhaps be one of such optimistic demolition? Where we are even willing to lay the axe at our own roots that we might get back to bearing good fruit? I hope so. And I hope Dave, in his wonderfully unsexy way, brings it.
Like a blue line slapshot.
I leave you with this tweet from Dave himself, which I think gets at the unsexifying of missional, and a chastening word to all of us attending this hopefully unsexiest of conferences:
So how about you? Are you going to #futuregospel? Are you on board with bringing unsexy missional back? Or do you have some other hopes for the event?