Imagine Conference and Some Assessments…

Missional Training Network - All Blog Entries-3-1

There is a great opportunity here at the conference to network and connect with people interested in church planting from across canada. The diversity of context in our culture alone is a testimony to the rapidly changing Canadian culture we find ourselves in. At one point, I was in conversation about culture with Mark Chapman, Associate Director of the Canadian Theological Seminary. His insight into the complexity of culture alone illuminated the magnitude of the interpretive and hermeneutic task we have before us. Our cultural make up is one that consists of multiple streams of modernity and postmodernity, that not only span geography, but also self identity. As we are enmeshed within culture, this conference is, in a way, a microcosm of this cultural make up and is interesting to note. All sorts are here, from emerging to modern. The importance of this mingling is the cross pollination that can happen to foster new questions about the church.

What is interesting to note is how popular the term “missional” has become. This popularity has spawned a question within me that I have sought to answer throughout the gathering. The question is: “To what degree has the term “missional” been co-opted by motives for numerical church growth”? Wisdom prompts me at this point to qualify myself a bit by suggesting that numerical growth to a degree is important, but should not serve as the primary ‘metric’ to drive ecclesiology. By focusing on numerical growth primarily, one risks the danger of distorting the gospel commodifying people in terms of market share. To go the other way, disregard for people who do not know Christ is a distortion because it neglects the reconciliatory and redemptive impulse of the Trinity. Thus we find ourselves in between trying to navigate the tides of faithfulness, which I might suggest should be the essence and goal of the church. Numerical growth is a result of faithfully embodying the gospel that is not formulaic, but a gift by the work of the Spirit’s discretion.

My assessment of this conference, through some interaction at the MTN Booth, is that the term is being co-opted by some; however, there is a strong movement away from seeing “missional” as a programmatic tweak to an existing model and more a systemic change and critique to church growth assumptions. How do I know this? People are exhausted by the tweaking and pulling of levers to never experience the depths of discipleship needed for missional transformation. Some of Alan Hirsch’s contributions to the discussion are helpful in this regard. They are asking great questions about discipleship and the church that is an encouragement to hear and in essence forms the conversation that guides the initiative of the Missional Training Network.

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