Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why are we so anxious?

Anxiety-driven "missional" approaches to Christian ministry may be the new colonialism. 

At least in the old colonialism, colonialists had the hubris and chutzpah to do mission driven by confidence in the gospel (as they understood it).

Colonialism was often wrong, frequently violent, and presents a massive problem for Christian mission in a post-colonial world; nevertheless, at least it knew what it was, and was comfortable in its xenophobic skin.

Today, the church is not powerful (well, except when it is). Instead, it is desperate. It perceives decline, a loss of influence, a flattening of growth, and out of those perceptions, latches on to ecclesial fads.

In its most crass forms, church members say, "We need to reach out to people who aren't in church because if we don't, we won't be able to pay the bills next year."

In its more subtle forms, leaders say, "We are losing a generation, and its a generation that is pretty and young and beautiful. We have to find a way to reach them, even if it means changing everything and jettisoning the things we most value."

Either way, mission driven thus is no mission at all, and no matter how busy we get being missional, no matter how pretty our theology and structured our missional designs, it will still be a mission driven by the opposite of the peace Christ gives.

A colleague recently posted this quote from Chris Huebner's examination of the theology of John Howard Yoder:

"Like Barth, Yoder refused to let the doubters set the agenda for Christian theology. Second, Yoder consistently rejected the kind of instrumentalist thinking that such an apologetic approach exemplifies as contributing to just the kind of violent operation of power to which the church is called to witness an alternative. He did not seek a new nonviolent way of transforming society or securing the future. Rather, he claimed that the peace of Christ involves a rejection of the possessive logic of security and social control."
Shifting from an attractional to a missional model for the life of the church, in order to be faithful, needs to abide in Christ's peace. It necessarily needs to be about self-differentiated, non-anxious presence in the world.

In other words, if it leads, it leads with repentance. It is sent as the community that has given up possessiveness and finds its safety in the God who is sending it.

I should add, this is not the same as apathy. Non-anxious presence is not at all the same thing as acedia. When mission is energized by peace-making and self-differentiated leadership, it is a living and active and vibrant thing.

This weekend I'm giving a series of lectures in the Northern Texas/Northern Louisiana Mission Area (a synod of the ELCA). The title: Releasing Missional Networks.

All three words in the title matter, but it occurred to me, reading this quote from Huebner today, that the  word "releasing" is the one most at risk of misunderstanding. The irony is that we might "grasp" releasing by holding onto it more tightly. 

Letting go can be a new form of control, if driven by anxiety or desperation. As in, "We have to release these missional networks, or we won't reach all these communities we want to reach!!!"

All of which brings to mind Dwight Friesen's fantastic insight into kenotic connective leadership in Thy Kingdom Connected: What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks.

He writes:

"That's what connective leaders do; they humbly serve those connected to them, linking them to others even at great personal cost... An thoughtful person serving as a connective leader for a faith community will seek to link its participants with other nodes within their cluster, but they will not stop there. Connective leaders will aid each connecting node in weaving a web that safely and uniquely cradles that node." 
At one point, he quotes Sally Morgenthaler:
"Leadership in a truly flattened world has no precedents. Never in the history of humankind have individuals and communities had the power to influence so much, so quickly. The rules of engagement have changed, and they have changed in the favor of those who leave the addictive world of hierarchy to function relationally, intuitively, systematically, and contextually." 
To function relationally, intuitively, systematically, and contextually, a connective leader needs to be relaxed. Mission begins in peace. 

Peace is missional. God's mission is peace. 

Networks are not frantic; networks rest.

To release, you have to open your hands. Then that fish flops out into the blue water and swims, far away, touched by you but no longer led or controlled or hooked. 

Missional, if it is anything at all, is a movement of resting in God's mission, which is to set the world free to rest and relax and have life. Until our approach to missional church rests, truly rests, relaxes, repents, it will always still be the new colonialism, a reaching out to the other to colonize them and make them like us.

Which is no mission at all, because the mission of God isn't to make others like us, but for all of us together, stewarding the ecology of our relationships, to become truly, for the first time, who we already are.

In all likelihood, this probably means missional is about prayer, both as a beginning, middle, and end. Prayer is the rest of the church in God's mission.


  1. This is the most important thing for us to get across today. I think Peter Steinke does a good job in "A Door Set Open"

  2. Clint, thanks for this! Really good observations! I have experienced anxiety-driven mission quite a bit lately. It's helpful to name it!