creative tension

This week I had the privilege of not only attending the "Changing World, Changing Church" conference in Palmerston North, but also giving a response to the input brought by the speakers - including Dan Kimball, Michael Frost, Mark Strom, and our own Carey staff member, Brian Krum.
In my response I tried to name six areas of creative tension that goes on within me when the subject turns to missional church (and also emerging church). Here is a brief summary of these tensions - which I do kinda enjoy grappling with:

(a) the tension between the changing and the unchanging
I do wish that 'changing world, changing church' had 'unchanging gospel' added to it. At Kiwi conferences like this one we readily assume what the gospel is - but we rarely take the time to articulate it. This encourages what is 'changing' to drive the agenda and relevance becomes dependent on contemporary trends, rather than eternal truths. This is the tension between sociology and theology and the former does tend to run the show... Our task involves looking AT the church and mission THROUGH a sociological lens in order to see what must change - but it must also include looking AT society THROUGH a biblical-theological lens in order to see what must be confronted. The authority of scripture demands no less than this.

(b) the tension between the eclipse and the lane
This is a quick history lesson on how best to interpret the 'post' words like 'postmodern' and 'postChristendom'. We tend to default to an understanding of history which sees one era being replaced, or eclipsed, by another one. The modern gives way to the postmodern. The discontinuities between the two are emphasised. This tends to make people very bold in their proclamations of a brand new era that is distinctive from all that has gone before. However I wonder if history works more like lanes... The premodern track becomes a two lane highway in the modern which then becomes a three lane motorway in the postmodern. It is this three lane motorway - with the postmodern lane being the busy and fast lane - that carries people into the future. And so continuities with the past can be seen as there is traffic still in the other lanes.
In the contemporary discussions on church which focus on eclipse, there is the danger of fleeing the arms of modernity and over into the embrace of postmodernity with the one constant being that the cultural captivity of the church remains ... But with a 'lane' understanding conversation across lanes is possible - as is being hit in our blindspots by traffic from other lanes - and a little Son-strike might help as well!

(c) the tension between 'front-door opening' and 'back-door closing' mission
We really do need both - and yet strategies for both seem to be relatively uncommon! The irony is that if we allowed the fullness of the biblical teaching on church and pastor and mission to own us - doors will open and close at the right time and in the right way. For example, take the biblical understanding of what it means to be a pastoral leader. I tend to start with five Ss: shepherd, servant, sage, seer, and steward. I am completely convinced that if these truly penetrated the lives of pastors and grew strong in them, we'd find God's Spirit take us to a whole new level in mission. This approach has not so much been tried and found wanting, but wanted and not really fully tried...

(d) the tension between the Kiwi and the North Atlantic
I stood atop Mt Maunganui earlier this month and counted 19 different waves at some stage of building towards the shore. Over my 22 years in leadership in the NZ church I could count about that many programmes and gurus in which our hopes have been placed. Two reflections on this phenomenon ... (i) there is something we should do with these waves: catch them early as they begin to swell, rather than riding them just as they begin to crash. Their application for us lies more with those early foundational principles, than with the later spectacular performance. Dan Kimball is inspirational - but probe for what shaped him and built him as a person (did I hear that he grew up in a Bible church? might that be significant?) in leadership and mission, rather than just for where he is now. The application for us is likely to be more with the earlier than with the later; (ii) there is something we should do with us: develop a culture of Kiwi-made missional research and take our own risks as we do mission in the margins and then live to tell the story...

(e) the tension between the minority world and the majority world
First World, Second World, and Third World doesn't cut it any more. Neither does Developed, Developing, and Under-developed... There is a Majority world (in the South and the East, primarily) and there is a Minority world (in the North and the West, primarily). This minority world is now a mission field - but how come we don't consult some of the mission force in the majority world for inspiration? Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom needs to be drawn into this conversation we are having as it speaks of the 'coming of a global christianity'. But we are not drawing this story into our conversation simply because the money, the power, and the media lives in the Minority world and so we don't hear these stories. Why not be really post-colonial and develop humble learning partnerships with the South and the East - and sit at their feet? When are some of our gurus going to have brown faces? When are mission trips from there to here going to commence? Within a generation only 10% of Christians will be in the North and the West and so our conversation this week starts to look like a little eddy off to the side of the mainstream of suffering and growth in the South and the East. Here in New Zealand - this remarkable confluence of North and South and East and West - we have the opportunity to lead the way.

(f) the tension between the critiqued and the affirmed
It has been understandably 'slippery' - but something has been critiqued this week (with some welcome restraint, I might add) and I think it has something to do with institutional - established - traditional church ... and something else has been affirmed and I think it has something to do with missional and emerging church. My suspicion is that what is being criticised is not as bad as we think and what is being affirmed is not as good as we think. It is possible to put a missional engine into an institutional chassis and I suspect that this is what God requires of most of us - rather than going home to 'clear the decks' and start again. But either way, embrace a principle of good research as you do so: engage with the best exponent of the opposing view, rather than with the weakest one. And so for those of us who have found the presentations both inspirational and aspirational (me included!), draw in a book like David Wells Above All Earthly Pow'rs (Eerdmans, 2005) as a conversation partner. You'll be the better for it...

A longer posting this time - sorry!

nice chatting

Paul Windsor


Paul Fromont said…
Paul, thanks so much for taking the time to share your reflections on the conference for those of us unable to make it.

stu said…
some neat ideas there Paul. especially the missional engine in an institutional chassis, and i'm also challenged to rethink my initial response to seeking guidance from the 'majority' my shame i think i'm reacting because of an deeply latent imperialism! eeek!

one observation though, that i would want to respond to is the idea of the unchanging gospel. i think we both agree that at its kernel it is unchanging, but its articulation is idiomatic and in that sense, it appears to change. if we don't acknowledge this then we run the risk of searching for the historic gospel which is just another articulation of that kernel.

I think the Gospel we are needing to articulate is the Gospel that is continually impacting us as we journey through our faith. in that sense, it's an articulation of response and hope, rather than the 'correct' gospel. this 'Gospel from the heart' is where i think missional thinking is at its best.

i seek the kernel with all my faith, but i articulate it differently at different stages of my life and perhaps this thought gives me clues to my internal response to 'majority' world evangelism — i don't know whether (***generalisation alert***) they are employing our historic methods or pioneering unique and indigenous forms of evangelism for their context. if it's the latter, then we could learn. but we need some more examples of that.

[i'd love it if you turned on rss syndication on your blog preferences]
Paul Windsor said…
I think I understand what you are saying, Stu - but do I hear an unwillingness to affirm something that does not change - be it gospel, or be it truth? What exactly is this 'kernel'? It sounds very, very small(!) while this ever-changing journey of yours sounds very, very big in your thinking?
I guess I'd want to affirm that there is a truth revealed to which we bend and align our lives and 'the seeking the kernel with all my faith' is subordinate to that revelation and dependent on it...
Stu Mcgregor said…
thanks paul for your response. i think that the word kernel might have different nuances for us! to me kernel is a very large and solid engine type thing in an open source operating system like linux and unix (and even windows but that's another story). so it's big and important, but also exceedingly complex.

in that sense i think we would both agree that the most significant and energising components of the Gospel are unchanging. Love God, love people : will never change in my understanding. but the expressions that develop from that particular 'linguistically small' but 'conceptually giant' phrase will look quite different.

this is where the problem lies for me, that our 'bending and aligning' toward the revelation, as you put it, still requires that we respond to it—and our responses are dictated by our interpretation or understanding of something. we can't get away from that. so the revelation might be pure but our glasses are dirty.

i speak about truth passionately and regularly. but i am careful in ensuring that i can only have some small understanding of what that Truth is. there's the journey component.
Paul Windsor said…
Ah - that Stu! How good of you to grace this blog with your informed presence!! Seriously - this is good, meaty stuff which you raise.

Sure we do respond to this revelation - but I'd like first to assert the 'givenness' of it more strongly.
Plus I may be more optimistic about the possibility of knowing more truth truly and with certainty, even if it can't be known exhaustively. The 'dirty glasses' dilemma need not be as big an issue as is often made out - particularly if there is humble, open, listening to the text by those who together come to it from different perspectives.
I do find DA Carson's discussion of this in that much-maligned-by-the-emerging-church book of his (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church) ... the images of spiral and asymptote, in particular.

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