Gospel, Church, and City (4): The Gospel Produces Missional Planters & Churches

In the fourth session of the Greenhouse Church Planter’s CoOp, we talked about building missional churches in the 21st century post-Christendom contexts. Again, we used some passages from Keller’s Manual as starting points for our discussion.

At the beginning of the session, we talked about how we minister in the context of a dying Christendom. Christendom was marked by “cultural Christianity” in which American social institutions often stigmatized non-Christian belief and behavior. Christendom provided some advantages (such as a common language for social and moral discourse) and some disadvantages (Christian moral principles without gospel-changed hearts). Nonetheless, we increasingly recognize that we must change our Christendom-style assumptions. We cannot assume that people have heard the gospel, understand our vocabulary, will show up at our church services, etc. As we discard certain past assumptions, we must remind ourselves that:

A missional church draws people into the biblical narrative. In Christendom, the church could exhort “Christianized” people to do what they already know they should do. In a post-Christendom context, however, people do not understand or subscribe to the biblical narrative of the world. They must be taught and persuaded that the biblical narrative is the True Story of the world. Therefore, A missional church pays close attention to the surrounding culture (people and their conversations, music, movies, literature, etc.), seeking to understand its questions, felt needs, hopes, dreams, heroes, and fears. In so doing, the missional church will better be able to position that culture’s story within the True Story of the world, the narrative of God’s redemption. Augustine’s City of God is a fine example of how to do this.

A missional church speaks the language of the people. In Christendom, American culture was more monolithic and there was not as much difference between language inside and outside of the church. The current American context, however, is marked by multiple cultures and a dizzying variety of sub-cultures. The majority of these cultures and subcultures have not been exposed to the biblical narrative or to church language. Therefore, the missional church seeks to (as Keller puts it) avoid tribal language, “we-them” language, and sentimental or pompous inspirational talk in the pulpit. In particular, a missional preacher avoids talking as if non-believing people are not present. Until he does so, non-believing people are less likely to come and less likely to understand or be persuaded if they do come. In a nutshell, missional churches are adept at cross-cultural communication: they learn to communicate the gospel in a way that is faithful to the Scriptures and meaningful to the cultural context.

A missional church is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. In Christendom, Christian fellowship focused on support and accountability. In a post-Christendom context, however, Christians realize that they must embody a Christian “counter-culture.” The missional church redefines absolutely everything in life, including the three biggies: sex, money, and power. The church redefines sex: Keller writes, “We avoid both the secular society’s idolization of sex and traditional society’s fear of sex. We also exhibit love rather than hostility or fear toward those whose sexual life-patterns are different.” The church redefines money: Keller writes, “We promote a radically generous commitment of time, money, relationships, and living space to social justice and the needs of the poor, the immigrant, and the economically and physically weak.” The church redefines power: Keller writes, “We are committed to power-sharing and relationship-building between races and classes that are alienated outside of the Body of Christ.” The missional church defies categories such as “conservative” or “liberal” because it is more committed to evangelism and conversion than liberal churches and more committed to culture work (mercy ministries, vocation, culture work) than conservatives. This counter-cultural and counter-intuitive church is the only type of church that will succeed in making much of Jesus.

A missional church trains people to glorify God in all of their callings. In Christendom, the church simply trained people in prayer, Bible study, and witnessing techniques (such as wearing t-shirts that say “I’m cross-eyed,” or giving out Test-a-mints, or consoling people with clichés such as “Any time God shuts a door, he opens a window”). In a post-Christendom context, however, the church realizes that she must train her people to live “Christianly” in all of life. The missional church is full of lay people who renew their city and community by fulfilling their callings in a uniquely Christian manner. Martin Luther is a good guide here; his sermons are replete with references to a Christian’s callings to family, church, workplace, and community. Gene Veith’s God at Work is a very helpful and slim little book that teaches us how to unleash the church and the gospel through a Christian’s callings. This is the church scattered.

A missional church trains people to glorify God in all dimensions of society and culture. In Christendom, the various spheres of culture reflected (however imperfectly) a Christianized culture. In a post-Christendom context, the church realizes that she must train her people to work out the implications of the gospel in all dimensions of society and culture. Her people must consciously hold to a Christian world-and-life-view. A missional church (as Keller puts it) encourages her laypeople to venture forth humbly and boldly as Christians into the arts, the sciences, government, media, business, and education. A missional church demonstrates biblical love and true “tolerance” in the public square.

A missional church is characterized by love for those with whom they disagree. In Christendom, everybody was a “Christian.” For this reason, churches focused on defining themselves in contrast to other churches. In a post-Christendom context, however, churches find it more illuminating and helpful to define itself in contrast to “the world.” While we hold to our doctrinal convictions and limit our cooperation in various ways, we seek to love and reach out to other congregations in our local area so as to bear witness of our love for one another to a watching world.

  1 Comment

  1. ELR   •  

    Bruce,
    Thanks for sharing. These words ring true for those of us in international cities just as they are for CPers in the North American context. I needed a good reminder today. All 4 articles were right on target.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I think I will share these articles with those that I work with, crediting you and BtT.

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