There is no doubt that complacency runs rampant in the North American Church. This has spurred on a call to missional renewal and greater faithfulness to rediscover the way of Jesus. However, I wonder how much of the current rhetoric of what it means to follow Jesus and live the missional life is steeped in a romanticism that ultimately frustrates those seeking to follow Jesus in everyday context and ordinary ways.
Sure, Jesus performed miracles and confronted the religious elite. We like that Jesus. He is like a radical rabbi gone rogue. He also walked with God in the ordinary. Sharing ordinary meals with ordinary folks in ordinary places. His disciples were a band of ordinary men and women (though we like to romanticizing them too). Perhaps some good ole’ fashion historical study would help us see that Jesus walked with the common folk and the common folk were “common” because they were, well, common. Then Jesus told us to do the most common thing possible, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It seems that isn’t sexy enough for us North American missional thinkers and theorists. We have to lift up provocative terms like “radical” and “maverick” and so on to get our point across. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. Many Christ-followers in North America have grown complacent and complicit to a dressed-down version of Christianity. You might even say this dressed-down version is the new “ordinary” and we must push against it to cast a clearer vision of the gospel of God’s kingdom. I get it. When necessary I do it. But I think there is an inherent danger present in this rhetoric that we must be aware of and I hear it in the frustrated voices of many that drink deeply from the wells of missional living.
The danger is that our reaction to the complacent and complicit can tempt us to set the bar so high that the everyday Christ-follower can’t reach it and experience what some describe as missional living.
They walk right passed their next door neighbor and into the woods to find the homeless woman (which I believe deeply in by the way, I just encourage both). They want their gatherings filled with the utter most marginalized (as so do I) and miss the banker sitting next to them who feels isolated and alone as his life quietly falls apart. Most often we rail against certain forms of church, namely the “institutional Church” with all her seductive entrapments, and persuade people to a more missional expression, like missional communities or house churches. But we fail to emphasize the raw essentiality of the “one another” texts of Scripture which when embraced, makes community more Christ-like and missional, regardless of form.¹ Instead, those living in these “more faithful” expressions of a missional faith grow frustrated because they cannot figure out how to include their children, or they feel a lack of generational diversity. Soon these expressions look less like everyday relationships–a mixture of old and young with ethnic and socio-economic diversity–and more like themselves. In a book or blog it sounds great, but in the living room or at the coffee shop where they meet it looks less glamorous. Their frustrations show it and they are apathetic or worse, wounded and cynical.
But the thinkers and theorists write on and conference after conference speak on of our need for a radical and untamed Christian faith pushing far beyond the ancient ordinariness of missional living so that the everyday Christian is unable to experience the missional life unless they perform the grandiose gesture for the radical and maverick Jesus. Consequently, the gritty ordinariness of the missional life is being trumped by the romanticized versions of missional Christianity most often perpetuated by the thinkers and theorists often not living as daily practitioners of a faith easier to write and speak of than live in the gritty ordinariness of everyday life in the rhythms of stable community.
Does God expect us to offer only grand sacrifices or the daily sacrifice of a worshipful life lived in a community of worshippers attentive to His work in, among and through them? Has God’s presence and mission become so illusive that He is no longer concerned with your co-worker, next door neighbor, or second cousin?
The unintended result of romanticized missional speech is at best we miss the gritty ancient ordinariness of our faith, or at worst we promote a works-based gospel of fundamentalism dressed in new language.
I miss the royal Son of God who became the Nazarene son of a carpenter that recruited ordinary folk to proclaim and demonstrate a shared ordinary life, rooted in His kingdom for the good of all–the common and the uncommon folk.
My hope is that we will remember that it was in the gritty ordinariness of life that the extraordinary happened–God put skin on and made His dwelling among us, as one of us, alongside of us. And it still happens like that today, anywhere His everyday people are participating in His life in the most ordinary of ways.
Someone recently asked me what I mean by the “ancient ordinariness of missional living.” I’ll offer some thoughts and examples based on personal experience in a follow up post soon. In the meantime feel free to push back.
1. I do believe some forms/expressions of the Church are healthier than others. Where I am we are what some call a “mixed economy” as we gather in large gatherings in what some might say looks like an “institutional” church and embrace what some call a parish church expressions, or what some call “house churches.” My suggestion is that in our deconstruction of the Church we must offer guidance toward a faithful reconstruction, and do so with the Christian in mind who did not and may not ever read the likes of Barth, Bosch, or Guder.