I recently traveled with a team to a short Missio Intensive conference led by Hugh Halter, Matt Smay, Brandon Hatmaker, Caesar Kalinowski, and Dr Bob Logan. Over the next couple weeks I’m going to blog about the conference, starting today with what I was hoping for before we even arrived. My expectations going into this conference were high, and to tell you why I’m going to bring back an old friend – my (always under construction) evangelical-missional family tree. (Click here for an older version.) I love history for it’s own sake, but this particular project is more personal in that I wanted to map out the story behind the church where I serve as well as the many different kinds I hear and read about. Here is the latest:

Evangelical-Missional Family Tree (click for PDF)

In the early-20th century evangelicals became engrossed in controversies regarding issues like evolution and reading the Bible critically. On the far left of my chart (accidental irony, I promise) the “Fundamentalist Evangelicals” came out of that with an antagonistic and defensive bent, often operating with a naïve view of culture (they reject today’s popular culture but end up internalizing much of yesteryear’s intellectual culture) and a tendency to create “boundary markers” by turning secondary or supportive issues into primary ones. But many other evangelicals came out with a renewed desire to engage, which resulted in a “pragmatic” (i.e. let’s do what works) approach that morphed into the megachurch movement speared by high-character leaders like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren. They pioneered “attractional” ministry; they did everything they could to attract people to their big weekend events/gatherings. (Although both Willow Creek and Saddleback started as tiny small groups, mind you.)

This brought great gain but at the same time seemed to cater to culture in ways that made many people feel like the true gospel was being lost or impaired. Meanwhile evangelicals were awakening to a “bigger” fully Scriptural gospel through the writings of people like Dallas Willard and Stanley Grenz about God’s kingdom, discipleship formation, Trinity, and community. Around this time the “missional” movement gained steam in our culture, much of it starting with the work of a retired British missionary named Lesslie Newbigin. He had been a missionary in India for a few decades, but when he came back to England his “home” culture was hardly recognizable. He then realized that the church in the Western world could no longer feel at home in Western culture, but needed to approach her setting as any missionary would approach foreign turf. This is the essence of being missional. (See here for a brief explanation of “missional” and here for a short video about it.)

These “Missional Evangelicals” sought fresh and critical engagement with American culture. They come in many shapes and sizes but can roughly be divided into three groups.

  • There are those who see being “missional” as just another tactic to pragmatically reach the lost. They use missional language and do a good job of reaching people which often results in big and/or cool churches with high levels of performance, productivity, and (sometimes) creativity.
  • There are those who seek to be missional but maintain rigid conservative Calvinist (“Reformed”) doctrine. (Actually, their doctrine is more Fundamentalist than Calvinist, but I don’t want to digress.) Their strengths include a solid church-planting network and the strategic advantage of getting to call everyone who disagrees with them “liberal.”
  • And thirdly, there are those who allow being missional to reshape their entire approach to being the church. This often results in forms of church that are less impressive from a worldly point of view and sometimes seem less effective at reaching the lost. (They would argue that what they don’t do as well as the pragmatics is actually “reach” the “already saved,” and they may be right.)

This last group splinters out into many branches, most of which are too “radical” for normal church folks to stomach, but they’re doing some pretty great stuff. Some of my favorite examples are Shane Claiborne and new monasticism, Frank Viola and the idea of organic church, and especially David Fitch and Alan Hirsch and what Fitch has called “neo-anabaptist missional.” I could write a whole series of posts on them alone, but for my present purposes they serve as prologue.

At least this was my hope going in to this conference. (Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that this is what I’m supposedly talking about!) I came to the Missio Intensive hoping that the folks at Missio represent a true way forward: an approach to being the church on mission that was both radical and doable across a wide spectrum. I knew they advocated an approach to church and ministry they call “AND” – meaning we should keep the best of the old and the best of the new (gathered and scattered, modalic and sodalic, maybe even attractional and missional). I hoped this would represent a culmination of sorts that could provide a way forward for normal church folks who have seen that something is wrong and want to make things right.

Surprisingly, I was not disappointed! But you’ll have to read the next few posts to find out why. 🙂