Friday, March 12, 2010

Tetrad : Missional Communities

What does the cultural paradigm-shift from inherited forms of church to missional communities enhance, make obsolete, retrieve, and potentially flip into?


Creating ‘oikoi’ enhances the whole person (the person – as opposed to the individual – is created/defined by/exists in the context of relationships, on a ‘household’ scale)...and extends the whole church (described using the metaphor of the body of Christ).


The Sunday service as the event that the life of the church flows into (e.g. building relationships at the parents and toddlers group > inviting people to Alpha > they start to come to church, church being the Sunday service) is made obsolete. The Sunday service as attempt to replicate on a smaller scale but on a weekly basis the experience of the place of pilgrimage on High Days and Holidays (whether, historically, the Cathedral – from where parish churches copied the organ and choir – or, today, the summer conference – from where parish churches have copied the worship band) is made obsolete.

Moreover, the Sunday service becomes obsolete in all its parts e.g. the sermon. That is, the sermon, which – however good the content - shapes us as passive academic learners indebted to an expert (let’s not kid ourselves that giving people questions to discuss some days later does anything more than tinker with this), is made obsolete by sharing life, through practical discipleship, eating together, testimony (story), sharing vision and weighing it together. (Personally, I do not believe that anyone can digest more than one sermon a month, and that most of what we listen to passes through us without benefit.)

Therefore, if it is to continue to have a role, the Sunday service must re-invent itself: I would suggest as the place of High Day celebrations (our population is far greater than in the past, when congregations gathered to the cathedral) and place where all the ‘oikoi’ within a given area connect – not weekly! - and share resources.


The ‘oikos’ – the household of extended family, and community built around different roles within a shared purpose – that had been both the primary unit of the early church, lost when Christianity became the official cultic practice of Europe; and the primary unit of society, lost when the invention of the individual made the person-in-community obsolete in the Modern era.

Also retrieves far greater participation.

Flips into

Looking at what happened to the thing retrieved gives us clues here. The early church, in a given city, was made up of several oikoi, some predominantly Jewish and some predominantly Greek. These cultural differences led to certain tensions that needed to be worked through. We should expect similar issues, and the potential for a ‘flip into’ closed tribalism where pushed to an extreme.

While oikoi possessed great potential for growth under (state) persecution, once persecution was replaced by (state) endorsement, their genius was neutralised. They lost sight of the oikos as primary unit of engaging with society (oikos as economic unit, deeply involved in the life of the community – ‘oikos’ is the root of our word ‘economics’), and focused on cultic rituals (how we worship). State endorsement made that cultic activity the attractional growth strategy – people have to come to us, if they want to prosper in business, etc. Where the missional community is endorsed by the church but its genius not understood – that is, where co-option is pushed to an extreme - we should expect a strong pull towards the potential to ‘flip into’ a closed group that has simply relocated where and when it meets.

Pushed to an extreme, greater participation ‘flips into’ confusing babble.

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