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P is for Emerging Missional Church

1 April, 2004 3:48 PM

On Saturday after I did my little presentation on the missional church there was another guy speaking by the name of Mike Frost from Sydney. Some of you will know him from his excellent book The Shaping of Things to Come. Mike is an incredible storyteller and speaker who I've found inspiring to listen to for many years.

The part of his talk that I enjoyed most where is exploration of 4 Characteristics of the Emerging Missional Church which I found really helpful in describing a lot of what I see happening in some of the more missional emerging churches around the globe. I've expanded on his main points below with some of my own reflections and a look at a biblical narrative that I find helpful in unpacking it.

Proximity - Many of these new communities (and older ones who are 'remissionalizing') are exploring creative ways of having proximity to those who do not yet follow Christ. By proximity he means that we are putting ourselves into positions where we will bump into and interact with our world. This might happen on any number of levels both formally and informally, individually and corporately. For example my friends in Hobart all decided to move into a suburb 5 minutes walk from a particular pub. They live amongst that community and socialize in that one pub every Sunday night at the same time. They have proximity to both staff and patrons of the hotel.

Another group in Sydney have started a cafe as a business. They run exhibitions, have bands and all the things that normal cafes have and in the midst of it a group of followers of Christ are having daily interactions with those who are not yet believers.

It also comes down to an individual informal level. I go to a local cafe to drink coffee at the same time each day. In doing so I find myself in a space where I begin to know and relate to other regulars and staff. Others in our group have proximity in their sporting clubs, work places, universities, book groups etc.

I love the story of Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26-40. Philip in this story allows God to put him in proximity to the Ethiopian. God tells Philip to go to a particular road and then to go walk beside the carriage the Ethiopian was traveling in. Initially all he was instructed to do was to 'stay close' to the carriage. It was out of this closeness to the Ethiopian than an opportunity arose.

I guess the question needs to be asked of the Church and Christians today - what are we in proximity to? Are we living in proximity to those in our community or do we tend to spend more time in proximity to one another as fellow believers? It strikes me that often as churches we make our members so busy with Church related activity (committees, bible studies, services, leadership teams etc) that there is barely enough time for quality time with our own families - let alone be intentional about living in proximity to our world.

Presence - Proximity alone is not enough. Rubbing shoulders is a step in the right direction but just to be near someone generally does not have much impact. Presence is about relationship, about knowing and being known.

Our friends in the pub in Hobart not only go each Sunday night, but they make an effort to know and interact with others in that place. They talk, they buy them a beer, they listen, they invite them home for a bbq. All of these things build presence.

The group running the cafe in Sydney run their business as any other cafe owners would, except that they are intentional about hearing the stories of their patrons, knowing their names and becoming involved in their lives. In this sense they are the presence of Christ in that space.

In my local cafe I've started to learn the names of the staff, have meaningful conversations etc. Others in our community are very intentional about their relationships with those they work, play and socialize with by sharing meals, baby sitting kids, sending cards etc.

In Acts 8 - because Philip was close to the carriage he was able to hear what was going on in the life of the Ethiopian. He heard the searching that was going on and found himself in a position to enter into some kind of relationship with the other man. At the invitation of the Ethiopian (he was very respectful and didn't force himself on anyone) Philip got into the carriage and began to travel with him. He went from being close by to being in relationship with.

Again we need to ask ourselves are we willing to practice this presence in the world? Before we glibly answer in the affirmative lets remember that such an approach is often one of the long haul that can be one of sacrifice.

Powerlessness - If Mike wasn't such a 'Christian' he'd probably have resisted the urge to have a 'P' word here and call it 'Humility'.

Often we attempt to do mission in a very 'powerful' way. We hedge our bets by putting all the resources we can into our 'outreach events' - have the best band, the best speaker, the best venue to optimize the chances of success. We do everything we can to 'make it work' so that all God has to do is 'close the deal'. We also often tend to take the power away from the other person in our missional activities and often 'set the agenda' in our often systematic approaches to mission.

As I read Acts I see a community who really had very little power - they didn't hedge their bets - they were rather 'ordinary' and powerless - they totally relied upon God. As they bumbled along and experimented and explored life and related to their world - God did the mission and they played a humble almost secondary role at times.

It is often when we are most out of our depth and reliant upon God that they most powerful missional interactions happen. I guess this is where another P comes in - that of Prayer.

In the story of Philip we again see this characteristic played out. Who was the powerful character in this interaction? Who took the initiative? As I read the story it seems to be more about God and the Ethiopian to me. Philip seems to be a secondary player in many ways. It is God who seems to be already doing something in the Ethiopian's life even before Philip shows up. Then it is the Ethiopian who seems to take most of the initiative in the interaction with Philip. He invites Philip into the carriage, he asks the questions, he asks if he can be baptized. Philip does speak but it is a genuine response to what God is already doing in the other's life.

It is out of his humble relating to the Ethiopian that God moves in his power.

Proclaimation - It is all very well to be close by, to have relationship and to be humble - but in most cases (or all?) there comes a time where some sort of appropriate proclamation is needed. Of course here I'm not just talking about proclamation by words (although in most cases there probably needs to be some element of this) but also proclamation in action.

In the story we see a time where Philip (in the context of an invitation and questions from the Ethiopian) does some appropriate explaining and teaching. He seemingly joins the dots between the experience and searching on the Ethiopian to the person of Jesus in a very gentle way as they travelled along the road together. The whole process if very much a two way interaction where the experience of the Ethiopian is respected.

Proclamation can be scary for many of us, especially when we take the 'powerless' approach and allow the other to set the agenda and take initiative in the process. But I guess we need to remember the bigger picture and that we have a God who is also involved in the missional endeavor we play a part in.

It strikes me as I look through the four points above that in my own experience of Church that everything there I would agree with and have heard before - however mission often ends up looking quite the opposite. To use some more P words - many of the missional approaches I've been involved with previously have been rather Programatic and Process driven. Maybe its time for a fresh approach?

I'm still working on this - interested in others thoughts.



Perhaps Persistance?

I was talking to someone recently about the emerging church phenomonon - they were skeptical about the lack of consistent, effective results & growth in numbers.

Putting aside the fact the existing church also has those problems, I countered with the fact that developing new things always takes time.
It will see some (if not many) failures. It will result in many ideas which end up on the scrap heap.

Thomas Edison had thousands of failed attempts at the light bulb before it eventually worked!

Diddle » 1 April, 2004 5:08 PM

enough P words! I feel a sermon emerging ...

hamo » 1 April, 2004 7:05 PM

in recent times we have decided to impact our local community - our street of 6 houses is the start. one is involved so far regularly and we have had 5 to our first get together bbq - the next is easter monday.
I think big picture is another descriptive word. it would be easy to be discouraged by the apparent lack of activity yet - after 7 months. however we are slowlly forging long and dont intend to quit
i look at hamo's story in brighton and am getting some great ideas also - thanks hamo

tim » 2 April, 2004 2:08 AM

P, P... OK, I think I need to go to the bathroom. ;-)

Jon Reid » 2 April, 2004 5:54 AM

Pondering proximity at your informal level and this statement: "Others in our group have proximity in their sporting clubs, work places, universities, book groups etc" - this sounds like friendship evangelism, which is not exactly new or emerging. So what makes it distinct in the "emerging" context?

I agree that proximity formally, is unique, but not sure of the informal.

steve » 3 April, 2004 3:28 PM

I totally agree Steve. Actually i'm not sure any of it is really 'unique' or completely new. I guess that i quoted Acts proves its been around for a while.

Perhaps I misrepresented Mike Frost a tad with my post - he was not saying what is unique about the Emerging church, but more so talking about 'missional church'...referring specifically to some of the newer models.

I guess I'm a big believer in friendship/relational evangelism - whether its attached to the EC or an established church.

Darren Rowse » 4 April, 2004 7:43 PM

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