"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
April 30, 2007

Being A Missional Gospel For The Institutional Church?

For some time now it has been a fashion amongst Christian futurists of a low-church bent to talk about the demise of the institutional church. So, it’s not surprising that a number of writers in the emerging/missional camp have taken this sort of line, sometimes being so bold as to name a timeframe – 30 […]

For some time now it has been a fashion amongst Christian futurists of a low-church bent to talk about the demise of the institutional church. So, it’s not surprising that a number of writers in the emerging/missional camp have taken this sort of line, sometimes being so bold as to name a timeframe – 30 years being the current figure picked from the ether. I guess if one is trying to market a book or seminar based on radical and urgent moment we apparently live in, then choosing a number that sits well within the lifetime of one’s target audience would make sense.

Not that we don’t need radical changes in how we do church; but maybe we don’t need to gloat about the death of a failed ecclesiological culture quite so loudly and arrogantly?

It’s a thought that came to mind repeatedly while reading Charles Taylor’s recent piece in the NYRB, A Different Kind of Courage. Taylor reviews Jonathan Lear’s book, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, a work that does not directly address the question of church structure at all, but does address the challenges and struggles faced by those who see their culture destroyed by social change.

Of course, this is a massive issue for many in our world today – not just those within the church.

But maybe, those of us proclaiming new ways of expressing our faith, new ways of engaging with our world could pause a little more often to count the cost for those who are struggling to adapt. It’s all to easy, when we hear the accusations from those who do not understand our project, to miss the pain in their voices. Globalisation, contingency, postmodernism, multiculturalism – these have never not been a part of my life and I’ve chosen them as much as they’ve chosen me. But for many, these are now being forced upon them, not by choice and there is a fight to adapt.

Perhaps instead of merrily announcing the immenent demise of the institutional church, celebrating the death of that culture, we should instead be asking ourselves how we are “good news,” or “gospel” to those who are still God’s people within those structures?

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Responses
Paul 15 years ago

the collapse of IC always seems to me to more springing from idealisation empire building that emerging church is somehow a better way and therfore must be the future – there is a lot of great stuff that the church of england is doing to pioneer fresh expressions and i think i’m with mark twain that news of their demise has been greatly exagerated.

I wonder how a move towards a deep ecclesiology would help us share our mission together as churches rather than as friendly rivals – but then again i wouldn’t want to get all idealistic now 😉

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Oh, I agree that rumours of the institutional church’s demise are greatly exagerated – which makes me wonder about the cheerleaders for it. Maybe the rivalry is not all that friendly?

That said, I’m glad you brought up deep ecclesiology, because I suspect that connects and broadens what I was trying to say. Maybe it’s a paradox of the emerging and missional scene that we try to be real about our failures, but sometimes become unrealistic about the instutional church and our mission to and alongside it?

Paul 15 years ago

yes, i wonder why we become so unrealistic – maybe its a desire to be different and put clear purple water between the them and the us? or we’re just in denial about how similiar we are and therefore how closely related? or we’re seeking our identity and doing so by working out what we’re against rather than what we are for – so our focus is on the limited points of style but ignores so much of what we have in common/share? all of them? none of them? What do you think?

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Paul, I suspect that for a number of people I’ve read and spoken to, the reality of past hurts and disappoints sits very close to the surface. The negativity and unrealistic outlook arises from a “good” desire to create something that doens’t embody as many of the systems that either hurt us, or the people we love. That sits quite well with a few of the points you’ve noted.

But, along with that there is also, maybe less often, an unhealthy tendency to feel special, novel, innovative.

Paul 15 years ago

thanks Fernando, your thoughts have inspired my own post on the demise of the institutional church…

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Paul, I’m looking forward to the other two posts in your current series!

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