My Two Caveats for the Missional Church
I recently attended the Advance 2010 conference on Contextualizing the Gospel in the New Urban South. The content of the conference was excellent and the speakers were Gospel-centered and Christ-saturated. In the interest of full self-disclosure, I would willfully self-identify as being a part of the missional church movement. While steeping some of the teaching receieved, I am left with two potential pitfalls for the missional church movement.
I think the obituaries have already been written and the eulogies given for both the church growth movement and the emergent church. Hence, my first concern for the missional church movement is that it will just be another fad within evangelicalism. I’ve chronicled before the very fickle fadish-ness nature of American evangelicalism. We have the strong inclination to let our pendulums swing wildly, rarely finding any semblance of balance. If history is any predictor of the future, the missional church movement will gain steam, others will jump on the bandwagon, then the movement dies because many identified with the movement not for its intrinsic principles, but rather for its pragmatic ends. Nothing will kill a movement like the evil trinity of inauthenticity, superficiality, and pragmatism.
My second concern for the missional church movement is actually legalism. This may actually come as a surprise of anyone who saw/listened to any of the Advance 2010 material. Rightly so, Tyler Jones, Tullian Tchvidjian, Ed Stetzer and others railed against the quaint moralism (or think of Michael Horton’s, moralistic therapeutic deism) of the South. Here is how legalism could creep into the missional church movement… and it is really subtle and nasty. In your call to missional movement and mindset, create an implicit caste system within your church. In this caste system reward those who are ‘more on mission’ vs. those who are ‘less on mission.’ In this caste system the way to earn God’s favor is by doing the works of the mission of God. I don’t know if this kind of legalism is better/worse than any other form of self-salvation. Remember that legalism is one of those nasty sins like pride, that can literally manifest themselves in even the most counter-intuitive or even contradictory places (ie. one can be proud in one’s humility). We must be careful to still remind ourselves and others that our standing with God is not changed by even our greatest Gospel efforts or lack thereof.
In my view, we must guard the missional church movement from those who would see it as the next “it” way to grow your church (after shaving their soul patch and ceased showing movie clips). We must also guard against guilting people into being on mission. They must desire to be the church because of the Gospel not because it is the new way to rise in the legalistic caste system in your church.