The Pink Elephant in the Missional Room

There is much discussion at the moment about the missional movement. The realisation that the church is on a back foot in the West continues to push leaders to develop solutions that will ensure that the church has a future. Therefore if you head down to your local Christian book store, you will find volumes of titles on how your church can become more missional. At anytime there is probably a bunch of Christian professionals somewhere running a conference on missional church and engagement with secular culture. At this time all over the world Christian bloggers are pressing publish on hundreds if not thousands of missional blogs, where discussions about how the church can share its good news, occur in a kind of professional dialect that is almost unintelligible to the average person.

But there is a fat, stinky pink elephant sitting in the middle of the missional conversation that everyone is ignoring. The majority of ordinary Christians are suffering a loss of confidence in their faith, this is particularly true of young adults who in the past were at the front of missional movements.

There is a parallel to be made between the missional conversation and the modern architecture movement that grew out of the German Bauhaus design school of the early 20th century . The Bauhaus school attracted fresh, hip and passionate students, who wished to change culture, by creating buildings and designs that did not feature the ornate styles of the rich, they wanted to create a new utilitarian style for the working class. The Bauhaus was the most cutting edge design and architecture movement of its day, and its influence can still be seen in design.

However there was a problem, the building designs for working class people that came out of the Bauhaus, were being designed by middle class intellectuals. Thus many of its buildings were despised by the working class people who had to live in them. Some have been demolished due to their unsuitability for habitation. The modernist architects of the Bauhas presumed that they knew what was going on in the lives of ordinary people, sadly they were only listening to their peers. I can’t help but feeling that the same dynamic is occurring today in the church in the West. Many missionalleaders, experts, authors and pastors, are simply out of touch with the day to day faith experiences of ordinary Christians.

I remember talking about the missional movement to a guy who works in a job full time secular job, after my extolling of incarnational approaches and cutting edge missional strategies he stopped me, he said “I work seventy hours a week, I have to work to pay my mortgage, I don’t even have time to cook myself a meal when I get home, At work I would love to share my faith with my co-workers but we are all so under the pump that we don’t even have time to have lunch, let alone muse on the nature of God and the Universe. When these new missional experts have a plan for how guys like me can that actually works get back to me!” I retreated with my tail between my legs.

As I get around I find that ordinary believers in the West are using most of the little energy that they have to protect their own faiths in the face of the corrosive effects of secularism. Such a crisis of confidence in faith has devastating effects upon our ability to share our faith. If you look at the success of the early church in spreading the gospel, much of this success was borne out of people being so positive and excited about their faith that they told whoever they were in contact with, and also from the transformative effect of faith upon the lives of non-believers. 

For me this is where so much of the missional movement thinking falls down. The average believer living in the MTV West is not running about telling everyone about their faith, often when I speak to groups of young adults and ask them to compile a list of people that they know who’s lives have been transformed by the gospel, they struggle to name more than a couple of names if any. In fact many young adults I meet tell me that they think that their faith erodes their quality of life.

It’s great to have wonderful new missional strategies but if you troops are suffering from low morale you are not going to win many battles.

A denominational leader who has heard me talk about this topic approached me the other day to tell me that their internal research has shown that in the last five years, people in their denomination have become far more involved in social justice projects, and in community activities outside of the Christian faith, yet they are less likely than five years ago to share their faith. The missional movement has inspired people to get outside of the four walls of the church, to get active and involvedin their community and their world, but it has made a fatal error, it has presumed that ordinary beleivers are happy, ready and willing to pass on their faith to others. The missional movement has failed to show people what it is to live a vibrant and relevant faith in the soil of 21st century culture. It has not developed a new apologetic for a hedonistic, hyper-consumerist world.

If we are to inspire a new misisonal movement in the West, we must learn to again inspire people about their faiths. 

In his book The Discovery of God: Abraham and the Birth of Monotheism  David Klinghoffer notes that there is another creation story in Genesis besides that in chapter 1 and 2. Sure we know the creation story of Adam and Eve, who’s lives and world are filled newness and naivety. But Klinghoffer notes that there is another creation story that occurs in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, those two infertile, old and cynical desert nomads, who laugh at the idea of God giving them a child. Yet God remakes them in the midst of their exhausted cynicism, out of their tired seen-it-all-beforeness God changes history. If we are going to again learn what it is to do mission in the West we must listen again to this story, missional leaders must learn like God, to breath life into tired lungs, to re-educate, re-inspire and rehabilitate. The future of the church in the West depends on it.


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