Introduction to the Missional Church Patterns

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Introduction to the Missional Church Patterns

A missional church listens to God’s specific call.  It experiences and participates in God’s sending it and the Holy Spirit’s empowering it to participate in God’s mission in the world. It does this in such a way that both its outreach and its life together as a church are a witness to Jesus Christ.

There is no easy formula: do these three things and you will be a missional church.  There is no handy checklist of activities you can perform in order to be successful.  Instead, researchers have identified eight somewhat overlapping “Patterns” that they have found in missional congregations.  These are explained in more detail in the book Treasure in Clay Jars, where you will also find congregational stories illustrating these Patterns.

You can recognize patterns, even if they are not identical.  For example, a plaid pattern on fabric may look different from one piece of fabric to another.  Plaids may have different colors, even different numbers of colors.  They may be symmetrical or not.  The repeat may be small or large. The fabric may be broadcloth or corduroy, cotton or wool.  But you can still identify the pattern as a plaid. That’s the way it is with these “Patterns in Missional Faithfulness.”  They may take different form in small congregations versus large congregations, in different cultural settings, in different denominational traditions, but you can still identify the pattern.

Missional Pattern 7: Journeying Toward the Reign of God

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Missional Pattern 7:  Journeying Toward the Reign of God

The missional church understands its vocation within the context of the reign of God.  The church has seen God’s rule in the past and present, and anticipates that in God’s future that reign will be fulfilled.  Someday “every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10).
The missional church has a “journey” mindset.  It knows it has not yet arrived, but it is on the road to the reign of God.  It knows that the church and the kingdom of God are not the same.  It is not the reign of God, but points toward it.   It is a sometimes fuzzy, sometimes clear picture of what God intends for the whole world.  So the missional church is always engaged in its own transformation. Missional congregations are generally modest about how far they have come on the journey.  They expect that the Spirit will transform them more and more into what God wants the church to be.  They are open to change.
The missional church teaches its members about the reign of God.  It is sometimes easy for the concept of the reign of God to get lost in countries that have no king or queen.  Not everyone comes into the church knowing what the reign of God means.  As the missional church trains its members, it tells them about the reign of God and teaches them the practices of the reign of God.  This is a continuing process of discovery for the church.
The missional church is an instrument of the reign of God.  What the church does in the service of the reign of God is determined by its missional vocation.  Through this vocation, the church participates in God’s mission in the world.  The church discerns what God is doing and joins God in that action, aligning itself with God’s purposes.
The missional church is a sign of the reign of God.  By its life together and its witness in the world, the church demonstrates the character of life in the reign of God.  Not only through its doing and speaking, but through its being, the missional church points toward the reign of God.
The missional church is a foretaste of the reign of God.  In this age, the church still awaits the fulfillment of the reign of God.  But the life and witness of the church now are a sample of God’s future.  Missional congregations have hope in that future, in spite of the way things may look now.  They experience tension, struggle, resistance to change, and exciting breakthroughs into new understandings of what it means to be a preview of the reign of God.

Ritual in liturgical and missional perspective

Written by Frederick on . Posted in PMC News

Date: April 2nd 2009

Time: 9:00-11:30

Place: Communitas, Faculty of Theology

RSVP: cwepener@sun.ac.za

9:00 – Welcome and introduction (Frederick Marais and Cas Wepener)

9:30 – Liturgy in the context van modern sacred domains: the heterotopy perspective. (Prof. dr. Paul Post)

10:00 – Open discssion

11:00 – Coffee/Tea and Book presentation: Wepener, CJ. 2009. From fast to feast. A ritual-liturgical exploration of reconciliation in South African cultural contexts. Liturgia Condenda 19. Leuven: Peeters Pers.


Trauma and conflict as prerequisites for identity transformation –

Written by Frederick on . Posted in PMC Articles

H Jurgens Hendriks
Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Trauma and conflict as prerequisites for identity transformation –
lessons from the South African Partnership for Missional Churches


This paper researches the process of identity transformation that is taking place in mainline congrega¬tions in post-apartheid South Africa. I is a descriptive study of the growth in the South African Partnership for Missional  Churches and describes the transformation by making use of the pattern found in the Psalms: orientation-disorientation-reorientation transition,
The research will test the following hypotheses that are viewed as prerequisites for identity transformation:
† Trauma and conflict caused by new power structures in society were the necessary disorientating forces that led to a theologically-based reorientation in churches;
† The change in theological epistemology led to a new culture of doing theology (including the way church meetings are held);
† Other prerequisites for a change in identity within the Southern African scenario are: leadership, the crossing of boundaries, the art of listening to “the other” and the mystery and motivation of the movement of the Spirit of God.


The 2008 theme of the Religious Research Association on “Conflict and Renewal” (http://rra.hartsem.edu/conf2008call.htm – downloaded 09-18-2008) prompted this article. From a global perspective (Schreiter 1998:12; Friedman 2007:420-426), the Christian Church of the Western world is in decline, which leads to penetrating analyses on the reasons for the decline.  This phenomenon is juxtaposed by the growth of the non-Western church. Christianity’s centre of gravity is undeniably shifting southwards. Typically, mainline congregations are in decline in the West. 
In South Africa, the Christian Church has been growing ever since records were kept. How¬ever, whether viewed from a perspective on market-share or numerical figures, the trends indicate growth in the African Initiated Churches as well as in new, mostly Indepen¬dent and Pentecostal-charismatic Churches. Mainline churches are in decline (Hendriks 2005:88-111). 
The contextual situation of mainline churches in typical Western countries differs from those in South Africa. When typical mainline denominations in South Africa interpret the decline phenomenon they do so from a situation where trauma and conflict are very real entities and where power balances have shifted, placing the typical member of these churches in a vastly different position than that of their Western brothers and sisters. One example: most churches were racially divided and still are, but, especially in mainline congregations, there is a deliberate urge towards unification processes and multicultural congregations. Currently, the business and socio-political worlds are integrating racial groups by means of affirmative action that is supported and driven by legislation. Unemployment remains high and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening even after the new dis¬pensation came about in 1994 (http://www.csae.ox.ac.uk/resprogs/usam/default.html downloaded 09-18-2008). Thus, crime stays unacceptably high and skilled people are emi¬grating. Against the backdrop of this scenario, the natural tendency for a typical traditional Afrikaans white congregation is to keep their laager tightly closed in order to have at least one place “where you can be at home with your own people, language and friends.” The fact that quite a substantial number of congregations are moving away from this “natural” but theolo¬gically unacceptable position, begs investigation. The hypothesis is that a pro¬found theological transition process is taking place and is resulting in an identity transforma¬tion of the congregations involved. How can this be explained? 


About the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann (1986:24) says they, “…are not used in a vacuum, but in a history where we are dying and rising, and in a history where God is at work, ending our lives and making gracious new beginnings for us.” He proposes (16):
I suggest, in a simple schematic fashion, that our life of faith consists in moving with God in terms of (a) being securely oriented, (b) being painfully disoriented, and (c) being surprisingly reoriented.
This schematic design is most helpful when explaining some of the differences between North and South with regard to mainline churches and what is happening in, and to, them. The first hypothesis of this article applies:
• Trauma and conflict caused by new power structures in society were the necessary disorientating forces that led to a theologically based re-orientation in these churches.
One could mention “Nelson Mandela” and “1994” to describe the context of what we are discussing. The country and all its peoples experienced a relatively peaceful transition of political power. However, this transition changed everything. The equilibrium, power and stability experienced by most white mainline people have disappeared and disorientation has set in. Brueggemann again (1986:22):
… the lament Psalm, for all its preoccupation with the hard issue at hand, invariably calls God by name and expects a response. At this crucial point, the Psalm parts com¬pany with our newspaper evidence and most of our experience, for it is disorientation addressed to God. And in that address, something happens to the disorientation … The other movement of human life is the surprising move from disorientation to a new orientation, which is quite unlike the status quo.
We believe that this is what is happening in the hearts and lives of many South African Christians. The context has changed and has led to disorientation. In their disorientation people once again turned to God, trusted God, and experienced the strange sensation that their hearts had changed and their eyes had begun to perceive life from a new perspective. Now “the other” is viewed differently and is found to be a brother or sister. For many a profound shift in orientation is taking place. Previously, for the privi¬leged, everything was bent on preserving the status quo. After the revelations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Tutu 1999; Krog 1998) nobody could dispute the rotten ideology on which the previous dispensation was based. This disorientation has taken the form of both confession as well as shock, because of the realities of the new dispensation that, 14 years down the road, is also very far from perfect. For many who longed for a just and peaceful society, this was the nadir of disappointment and despair. Where do we turn to now? Those who turn to God experience a mysterious new beginning, a reorientation. They are profoundly aware of their status as broken vessels, but rediscover the treasure that God, in his mercy, puts in clay jars (2 Cor 4; Barrett 2004).
Perhaps one of the most unknown realities of the difference between the West and Africa is the fact that God is a more theoretic concept in the West, while Africa’s realities force one to abandon all hope in human solutions and turn to the resources of faith that escape reason and manipulation. In Africa, faith is no theory – it’s a love affair. Although this is an extremely general statement, it is true that, by and large, God is still “feared” in Africa. For Africans, God is a reality to be reckoned with (Nürnberger 2007). This makes a difference. The West has not (not yet?) experienced the type of disorientation that so many in Africa know so well.
In South Africa, there are congregations where people live with a new attitude, a new vision and hope. These (mainline) congregations have experienced a complete change of identity. How did this happen?


3.1 The wells from which we drank
This article focuses on the work and growth of the South African Partnership of Missional Churches (SAPMC – https://www.communitas.co.za/ ).  The initiators of the SAPMC mostly worked and studied at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Theology and the church-related centres.  From the very outset, the leaders followed and attended the Gospel and Our Culture Movement’s work (http://www.gospel-culture.org.uk/resources.htm). Other institutions, such as Church Innovations (http://www.churchinnovations.org/) and Allelon (http://www.allelon.org/main.cfm ) are regarded as close partners with whom the SAPMC cooperate, learn from, and share research. A loose partnership exists between proponents of missional church movements on all continents.
During a 2002 sabbatical Prof Pat Keifert of the Luther Seminary / Church Innovations (St Paul’s MN, USA) introduced their work to South African pastors. A group of ten South African pastors then visited the USA to learn from the USA’s Partnership for Missional Churches (PMC). Subsequently, the SAPMC was formed with Keifert present at the first training sessions, which the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa (URCSA), and Anglican ministers attended. Members financed the movement. It grew rapidly and developed South African material and leadership. Lay leaders play an important role in both leadership and research. Prof Pat Taylor-Ellison of Church Innovations helped the SAPMC to develop research methodology, especially the practical aspects of ethnographic research and the coaching of the reading teams. In 2006, Stellenbosch Uni¬versity started an MTh program on Ministry: Missional transformation. From its inception, it was extremely popular and supported the process with research at both Master’s and Doctoral levels. The PMC movement’s leaders play an important role in the program and research.
The two most influential theologians who influenced these movements are Lesslie Newbigin (1978, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1995, 2003), the erstwhile Anglican Bishop in India who, upon his retirement in his home country, discovered that Britain was a more difficult mission field than India! He profoundly questioned the epistemological parameters of Western Theology. The missional church movement’s second father-figure is the South African missiologist, David Bosch, whose magna carta work, Transforming mission (1991), is an introductory work for Missiology scholars worldwide.

3.2 Statistics
Towards the end of 2008, 139 congregations were paying their dues of about R6000 a year to be guided through a process of missional transformation. Of these, 80% are DRC congrega¬tions with predominantly white Afrikaans speaking members; 85% of these DRC congrega¬tions are urban with only 16 in small rural towns with a single DRC congregation. The most conservative communities are rural. The remainder are 20 congregations from eight denominations. These 139 congregations who are involved in the PMC, by and large, are trendsetters and cooperate in 15 clusters spread quite evenly through South Africa and Namibia.

3.3 The discernment  journey
Significant transformation has taken place in most of the congregations that departed on the missional transformation journey. The Partnership for Missional Churches started operations in 2004. Working in close coopera¬tion with the Church Innovation Institute from St Paul’s Minneapolis, USA, it used and adapted a methodology that helped congregations to escape from the mould of the Christen¬dom paradigm. In this section, the process that guided the congregations will be described. 
 Congregations seeking a new way forward form a cluster after obtaining their respective church councils’ permission. They appoint leaders to guide them through the process. Laity play a key role, but not without their clergy’s integral involvement. The cluster of congregations then departs on a missional discernment journey of approximately three years. This journey has four phases during which they seek to build five capacities:
1 Discovery  building the capacity to listen.
2 Engagement   building the capacity to take risks.
3 Visioning  building the capacity to focus.
4 Practice and growth building the capacity to learn and grow.
The fifth capacity, that of sharing and mentoring, is built throughout the process.
Clusters meet nine times over the three-year period and these meetings have the following set of activities that form the agenda of each meeting:
• Dwelling in the Word
• Reflection on what was learned
• Learning from one another
• Function-orientated teaching
• Practising the teaching.
A few remarks to highlight key aspects of the journey:
• After each cluster event a protocol exists for getting things done and communicating / integrating what was learned into the congregational way of life.
• Throughout the journey “dwelling in the Word” plays a key role. In all the SAPMC meetings Luke 10:1-12 was repeatedly read, reflected upon and discussed. It becomes a well-trodden path that challenges one to “step out” in faith on a journey across new frontiers, being guided by scriptural / spiritual principles.
• Community plays a central role in the process. Not only do the different teams in a congregation together experience an exhilarating spiritual journey that usually has a contagious effect in a congregation, but the stories of the various congregations told at the cluster meetings lead to meaningful growth and learning, as well as the formation of strong bonds and the intensification of vocation.
• In small steps people of faith venture out of their laagers and break through cultural, class, racial, gender and language barriers. The Gospel is, and brings, good news. The experience of both this and the fact that people “on the other side” can be brothers and sisters is most enriching and fulfilling. Suddenly the “others” are no longer strangers but partners who face the same contextual realities, problems and challenges of any given society.
• Lives (and congregations), immersed in the self-indulgence of Western individualism on the one hand but, on the other, also in the trauma and conflict (insecurity) of intense socio-political transformation processes, discover community coupled with a vision of a better reality (the Kingdom of God). Love, faith and hope erupt in new experiences that lead to a transformation process.
• There is more to this journey than simply sociologically describing a process. In Africa, people are less secularised; they believe in the Triune God’s involvement and the power of the Holy Spirit (Nürnberger 2007:212-258).
A brief outline of the journey, examining what happens during the nine cluster events, will be helpful. Before the first cluster event, the leadership of the participating congregations appoint a number of committees who are entrusted with doing basic research and administrative work. The second hypothesis explains what now happens: by doing theology in a new epistemologi¬cal key, transformation takes place. Theological knowledge is not simply gained by studying texts, dogmatics or listening to sermons. A shift in focus takes place. A praxis based process focuses on the triune God. Both the Word and systematic theological teaching is drawn into a discernment process that is action based and continually reflected on. The nine cluster events illustrate this process.

3.4 The nine cluster events of the journey
Cluster event 1: This meeting focuses on how we discover God, his essence and character.  To become a missional congregation means taking part in God’s mission of redemption, restoration and reconciliation. The group discusses what God is doing or wants done, juxtaposed by the question: What is the church and its purpose? Church models are critically analysed and methods of analysing current church practices and culture are discussed. The Christendom and post-Christendom theological paradigms, as well as the role of leadership and the PMC in transition processes, are explained. In this process, discernment and innovation play crucial roles, which are also clarified. Louis Barrett’s (et al 2004) eight patterns of missional faithfulness are discussed and form a basic theological platform for all of the nine cluster meetings. Keifert (2006) describes and discusses the basic methodology. The skills of reflective listening and open, boundary-crossing discussion are fostered in this and all subsequent meetings. Reading and listening / observational tasks are given based on what was discussed at the first cluster. This will be reported on in the second cluster – a set pattern for all cluster meetings.
Two very important “research” or listening activities take place in the discovery phase. A listening team of three to six persons is appointed and trained to ask 24 people eight questions about the congregation. Eight must be active and influential “family members”; eight “inside members” – people who attend regularly but who are not very involved; and eight “outside members” who basically only use the church and its various services when required. The purpose of the ethnographic research is to understand the identity of the congregation. This is formulated in a “reading report” that, in a way, summarizes the message of the 24 ethno¬graphic interviews. The second research team does a community analysis. A missional God sends his people as servants to take care of “the problems and challenges” of this world. But, what are they? What gifts are present in the community that are addressing these problems and challenges? Where do things happen in either the congregation (first listening exercise) or in the community, in which the congregation can participate and make a difference?
Cluster event 2: This is the second discovery phase event. The reading report and feedback on tasks received at the first meeting form a substantial part of the second cluster – a pattern followed in all subsequent clusters. The congregations now discover patterns and partners – or a lack thereof – within their congregations and communities. Barrett’s (et al 2004) eight patterns of missional faithfulness are discussed against the background of the realities exposed by the listening team who interviewed the 24 people and read the scriptural passage of Luke 10:1-12. As such, the PMC is an example of corporate spiritual discernment. The concept and practice are explained and applied throughout the journey. The congregational guide summarises: Spiritual discernment is therefore a practice of belief or a way of thinking. When we think about matters we go to the Scripture again to align with Christ and choose for the cross and make it true in our lives. By listening to both the Word and their world, the cluster practises (by doing the exercise) and thus prepares for a congregational meeting where the same exercise will be repeated.
Cluster event 3: The steering team invites the church council to attend this discovery phase event at a retreat. The basic activities of listening to (i) the Word (Luke 10:1-12), (ii) the eight patterns of missional faithfulness and (iii) the World, the feedbacks of the listening research task teams take place. At this stage, a larger group is on board and more people revise the information. Now, at least three missional challenges should be identified as issues that the congregation feels God is putting on their agenda for their attention. Theoretical input on the difference between adaptive and technical change is discussed, emphasizing the captivity caused by setting up boundaries in the Christendom paradigm’s way of being church. This destroys a church spiritually because it no longer is true to its basic identity of being the missional body of Christ. Escaping this captivity opens the door to new missional challenges for which engagement teams are needed. The work and method of these teams are discussed and they are formed, trained and mentored. The cluster then works on planning a church council retreat where the question: What is God’s preferred and promised future for us as a congregation? is addressed. The process of discerning what the needs of the local community are is once again addressed. This spiral-like process of innovative listening, reflection and then moving towards engagement is, in itself, a discernment process into which more and more members of the congregation are drawn.

During the discovery phase, the process of evaluation about what a congregation has learnt is continuous. Congregations share their insight with the cluster, as well as with congregations in the community. This is called Sharing and mentorship. This phase takes about one year.
Cluster 4 is the first in the engagement phase. Feedback from congregational meetings and the church council retreat are discussed and the three missional challenges of each congrega¬tion in the cluster are shared. This cluster focuses on the engagement spiral and the plunge technique.  Now, the congregations must learn more about the people to whom they will reach out. These people have different views on life and different customs. Contact with people outside the traditional laager means involvement in a culture that could be alien to the missional congregation. They discover invisible walls between themselves and the “others” and learn how to build relationships with them. The listening plunge is then carefully planned and the engagement teams (maximum 2) are selected and trained. The first plunges are care¬fully reported and reflected upon. With the church council’s support, a mentor plays an important role in this. Communication with the congregation remains an essential element of this process.
Cluster 5 is the second meeting in the engagement phase. The missional challenges have been prioritised and engagement teams have been formed who reached out (plunged) to where the congregation believes God is sending them. Once these first plunges have taken place, the events are reported and reflected upon. What has been discovered and what are the reactions? Has a bridge community been established? If indeed so, the engagement spiral requires some low risk experimental work to be done, such as becoming involved in a community project. Communication and planning remain a vital part of the process.
Cluster 6 is the first cluster that deals with the visioning phase. A very thorough discernment-motivated feedback is undertaken to reflect on the plunges and experiments. The congrega¬tions are growing in their understanding of God’s missional character through their sustained contact with the Word of God. Their contact with the world (through plunges where boundaries are crossed) helps them to discover the walls that have been erected between themselves and the community over the years. These walls made them deaf and blind to their responsibility of being a sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s reign in the community. They now realize that the church is not a kingdom on its own, but a sign of the coming kingdom and, as such, a dream / vision is born of being used by God’s Spirit to erect signs of this coming kingdom in their midst. This vision appears in a process of constant deliberations and communication between all involved – the congregation, as well as the partners in the cluster.
Cluster 7 (the visioning phase) finalises the experiments and works towards consensus of the missional tasks / challenges that the congregation is addressing. Communication with the con¬gregation and information on the experiments, what happened and what was learned receive focused attention. At the cluster meeting, this is accompanied by juxtapositioning it with systematic theology on congregational vocation, identity and purpose. The central question: Who is God? is once again asked, coupled with questions such as: What is God doing in our church? and: What is God doing in our community? etc. Each congregation is challenged to phrase a clear congregational calling based on this dialogue between the Word and the world, both of which have been speaking to them.
Cluster 8. The report on cluster 7’s conclusions to the church council is evaluated. The church council must approve the report before it is shared with the congregation. Now, the vision can be spelled out in a tangible form. Cluster 8 is applied to do the detailed planning of reorganising or realigning the congregation’s staff and structures towards being missional and towards achieving the vision and goals. This must be covenanted with the staff of each con¬gregation in the cluster. Usually, the SAPMC supplies a consultant who leads the process in every congregation. Thereafter, a detailed long-term ministry plan (from the immediate first steps to a dream about what must be achieved 4 to 5 years hence) is documented. In this process, the eight missional patterns serve as a valuable theological grid. Once all involved in the teams – staff as well as those of the bridge community – agree to the long-term plan, the church council approves it. Now, it must be shared with the cluster-partners.
Cluster 9 takes place towards the end of a three-year journey and deals with phase four: “Exercise and grow.” At this stage, there should be consensus in each congregation on which of the eight missional patterns are basic strengths, as well as specifically focused upon, in the congregation. The missional challenges resulted in bridging communities and specific minis¬tries. The congregation has gone through a “wake-up” experience during which it was realign¬ed away from institutional self-care towards missional outreach, away from a focus on the self towards a focus on God and his agenda, which leads congregations out of their laagers. The last cluster not only revisits the theological parameters on being a missional church, but deli¬berately plans to establish a missional culture to broaden the church’s missional capacity.


The process described above indicates the point made by the third hypothesis. The importance of taking a congregation through a series of small discernment steps and exposing them to the realities of a broken world where people are suffering is undergirded and, in a sense, propel¬led by the mysterious work of the triune God. People change and congregations experience transition. The first hypothesis stated the context that, in a way, put enough pressure (in the form of risk and insecurity of specific communities) to reach out and do something in the environment in which they live. The second hypothesis formulated the importance that transi¬tion can happen only if the set patterns of thought and theological moulds of the Christendom paradigm are dismantled. Thus, a new church culture emerges.
Two remarks in closure: transition can take place only if there are leaders who dream of an alternative future. The core of the PMC leadership group was from theological seminaries and was, in a way, “fine tuned” through Master’s and Doctoral programs that addressed the issues under discussion. The case study of the SAPMC describes one such group. There are other similar groups (http://etd.rau.ac.za/theses/available/etd-06082005-124417/restricted/BylaeFinaal.pdf – downloaded 09-18-2008).
The SAPMC is about to start a research project to acquire more direct information on the questions: what, where and how much? concerning the transformation processes in these congregations and communities. What has been achieved? What must be learned if the phenomenon is scrutinized?


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Newbigin, L. 1995. Proper confidence, faith, doubt and certainty in Christian discipleship. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Newbigin, Leslie (Ed. Geoffrey Wainwright). 2003. Signs amid the rubble: The purpose of God in human history. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.
Niebuhr, R Richard. 1963. The responsible self: An essay in Christian moral philosophy. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Nürnberger, Klaus. The living dead and the living God. Christ and the ancestors in a changing Africa. Pretoria: CB Powell Bible Centre.
Olsen, Charles M. 2000. Transforming church boards into communities of spiritual leaders. Alban Institute.
Roozen, David A & Hadaway, C Kirk. 1993. Church and denominational growth. Nashville: Abingdon.
Roxburgh, Alan J. 2005. The sky is falling!?! Leaders lost in transition. Eagle, Idaho: ACI.
Roxburgh, Alan J & Romanuk, Fred. 2006. The missional leader: Equipping your church to reach a changing world. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Sanneh, Lamin. 2003. Whose religion is Christianity? The Gospel beyond the West. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Schreiter, Robert J. 1998. The new catholicity: Theology between the global and the local. New York: Orbis.
Smit, Arnold. 2001. Meetings that matter: Leadership, spirituality and discernment in congregations. Wellington: Lux Verbi BM.
South African Partnership for Missional Church. 2007. Congregational guide for their journey of spiritual discernment. Unpublished ring-bind document. Stellenbosch: Communitas.
Stevens, S, Lardear, Pamela & Duger, Sharon. 1998. Seeking and doing God’s will: Discernment for the community of faith. Nashville: Discipleship Resources.
Sweet, L. 2004. Summoned to lead. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.
Tutu, Desmond M. 1999. No future without forgiveness. New York: Doubleday.
Van Gelder, C (ed). 1999. Confident witness – changing world: Rediscovering the Gospel in North America. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Van Gelder, C. 2000. The essence of the church: A community created by the Spirit. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Van Gelder, Craig. 2007. The ministry of the missional church: A community led by the Spirit. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.
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Walls, Andrew F. 2002. The cross-cultural process in Christian history. Maryknoll NY: Orbis.
Wolff, Pierre. 2003. Discernment: The art of choosing well, Revised edition. Liguori, Missouri: Liguori/Triumph.
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KEY WORDS: Missional church, identity, culture, transformation, trauma and conflict. 
SLEUTELWOORDE: Missionale kerk, identiteit, kultuur, transformasie, trauma en konflik.

“Mission in Western Culture Project” – Report – From Payette Lake (2006) to Lusaka (2008)

Written by webmeester on . Posted in PMC-Blog


In 2006, Allelon sponsored a gathering of missiologists, theologians and practitioners at Payette Lake, Idaho.  Most of those who attended were from the USA.  Others came from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.  Our commonality was the life and work of Lesslie Newbigin.  Our conversation was framed by a question Newbigin asked twenty years earlier in Foolishness to the Greeks: “What is a missionary engagement with late modern, Western culture?” He was raising a fundamental challenge facing Christian life in the West.  Newbigin’s work generated an intellectual engagement of the Christian narrative with a modernity that was, itself, beginning to fundamentally question some of its basic understanding of the nature of truth and rationality.  What was clear was that the West was now a mission field.

Newbigin helped us to ask critical questions about what would be involved in a missionary engagement with our own culture.  Part of his contribution to this re-engagement was the insight that we must focus around questions of the relationship between the Biblical narratives and the cultural narratives of modernity.  For him the locus of engagement involved questions of how public narratives are formed and change, especially in relationship to the Biblical narrative.  He took both sides of this question with utter seriousness, both the narratives of modernity and the Biblical text, engaging them on their own terms, seeking to listen to the cultural narratives for what they were in themselves in order to hear, in a fresh way, the Biblical narratives in dialogue with this context.

Newbigin’s work caught the imagination of a new generation of missiologists.  A number of Gospel and Our Culture Networks (GOCN) sprung up in the UK, New Zealand and North America taking up Newbigin’s question in their own contexts.  A team in the North America GOCN wrote Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.  It connected with a growing sense of dis-ease about the state of the church and shaped the imagination of a new generation of church leaders.  By the beginning of the new millennium GOCN seemed to lose its way. The missional conversation – for Newbigin an engagement with the Gospel and the cultures of the West – became just another term for the tactics of attractional church effectiveness.   

Why did Newbigin’s missiological insights and the promising developments of the GOCN lose their way?   Around 2005, in North America and the UK, some began to frame a response.  They believed Newbigin’s insights and his basic question remained the right ones.  Two things stood out in the midst of a series of reasons for this loss of focus.  First, Newbigin had remained attentive to a specific imagination about the sources and processes of cultural change in the modern West.  Out of his own shaping in 20th century rationality he directed his work around the conviction that the primary ways in which the Christian imagination would re-engage and transform Western culture would be as the best minds worked on the intellectual challenges of a post-critical modernity.  He sought to ask the question of how the Biblical narrative might again sit at the center of the cultural table in dialogue with the pluralized narratives of modernity.  Implicit in Newbigin’s methodology was the assumption that experts, intellectuals and elites are the primary drivers of this dialogue and of social transformation.  Without diminishing the importance of this intellectual work, several of us were wrestling with the awareness that cultural transformation involves more than this top-down process.  It involves a complex set of processes and interactions that are more about the narratives and tactics of ordinary people in their interactions than the strategies of elites or the analysis of experts.  We believed Newbigin’s question needed a new starting point.

Second, GOCNs focus and energy had shifted from questions of the relationship between the Biblical and cultural narratives to that of ecclesiology.  An unforeseen result was that the missional conversation became, almost exclusively, a conversation about the church.  This was not Newbigin’s intention. Ecclesiology had displaced his brilliant dialogue between the Biblical narratives and the culture(s) of modernity.  We suspected that when questions of the church (its nature, purpose and function) became the primary locus of the missional conversation, it turned the missional question into a series of tactical conversations for improving church effectiveness in a time of diminishing returns.

We were convinced that to address the question of a missionary encounter with our culture(s) required a different starting point.  It had to begin in, with, and under the narratives of ordinary people in their specific contexts.  It called for a deliberate turning aside from ecclesiology toward a renewed focus on the intersections of the Biblical narratives with the cultural narratives of ordinary people in their contexts.  We viewed ecclesiology as a secondary and derivative conversation rather than the primary lens through which to have the missional conversation.  This was especially the case in North America.  To test these assumptions and the potential of a research project into how we form leaders for a new kind of missional life in Western culture(s) we gathered at Payette Lake in Idaho in the summer of 06.

Payette Lake, Idaho 2006

At Payette Lake the conviction emerged that we were called to a mutually critical dialogue across with local churches where the narratives shaping people’s lives and their engagements with Scripture become primary clues to the nature of a missional life.  We agreed on elements that should shape the Project in each country:
1.    Partnering local churches to understand the contextual narratives.
2.    Designing methodologies for listening to and engaging these local narratives.
3.    Engaging them with the Biblical narratives.
4.    Seeking to discern and articulate common themes across the countries involved.
5.    Working with practitioners/leaders to reflect upon learning with researchers.
6.    Co-designing experiments in ministry contexts based upon 1-5.
7.    Reflecting upon experiments, design further experiments around the nature of mission-shaped leadership and the interface of Scripture.
8.    Developing training resources for local and parachurch leaders to assist in mission-shaped engagement the diverse contexts of western culture.

Key moments occurred at Payette Lake that required time to understand.  First, the turn to the ordinary narratives of people in their local contexts would require a research project not shaped by external researchers detached from the local narratives using local as sites for their own abstracted work.  It needed a method of mutually critical dialogue between researcher and local context.  Many of us did not understand the implications of this.  Several at Payette Lake, including Frederick Marias from South Africa and Steve Taylor from New Zealand, raised questions about method.  Frederick said the project required us to learn how to listen deeply to people in local contexts.  Steve cautioned us about the importance of designing in ways that privileged and attended to what was happening among the ordinary and local.  We would need time before we could grasp the nature of this work to which we committed ourselves.

Payette Lake invited us to attend, once more, to the local church and return the center of our work to the local church rather than the focus on denominationalism that had characterized the 20th century. Even here, we did not fully understand the implications or dynamics implicit in this return to the local church.  Few of us grasped the depth of the ecclesiocentric imagination shaping the thinking of the church in the West.  We hadn’t come to terms with the extent to which local churches, turned in on themselves, transformed ‘missional’ into another expression of church effectiveness.  All this lay ahead.  Payette Lake began the journey of asking from a new standpoint what it might mean for a missionary engagement with Western culture(s).  Between Payette Lake and Skamania (2007) Allelon developed a funding proposal and moved the conversation forward in the UK, New Zealand and Australia.


Second Consultation – Skamania, Washington July 16 -18, 2007

Skamania followed the rhythm of Payette Lake with dwelling in Scripture and process of spiritual discernment.  Methodology papers were presented and a draft design developed.  

Skamania was a difficult consultation. Its attendance was double that of Payette Lake as we expanded national representation. This increase resulted in confusion and friction.  That a majority of those present were from North America created dynamics that did not form an open table for others.  In retrospect, we can now see that we had embarked on a project requiring ways of working together that we only understood in very limited ways.  We were proposing to test the conviction that the resources, imagination and tactics for addressing Newbigin’s basic missional question lay in the interface of local narratives in engagement with Biblical narratives.  The approach was counter-intuitive to how we normally approach research and the work of the church.  The proposal was right but we had little experience in how to construct a bottom-up process.  We assumed too quickly a basic understanding of what was at stake and moved too easily into questions of method.

Skamania made it clear we were traveling along new learning paths in terms of how we practice the deep listening.   While we understood the central role of listening and discernment, we didn’t really know how to do this.  The majority of us couldn’t articulate that at the time.  As a result, we focused on method and drafted a project design.

Payette Lake broke fresh ground. We named problems in Newbigin’s method identifying a more generative starting point.  Our assumption, however, that we could simply move forward with method design, needed to be challenged.  We were missing the experience and practices for doing together the listening we knew would be required.  Skamania jumped too far ahead because we did not fully appreciate these issues. 

Frederick Marias’ voice was not heard during the consultation but he repeated his invitation for the Allelon team to visit Africa and allow different voices to show us the level of deep listening we needed.

From Skamania to Lusaka

Following Skamania, Allelon staff met with the national groups in each country.  Alan Roxburgh visited South Africa in November 07 as part of meetings in the UK.   By the end of the Skamania, we were recognizing that the pre-occupation of the missional question in the North American with ecclesiology revealed how deeply embedded a functional Christendom remained despite all protestations of a post- Christendom situation.   Could this preoccupation be a means of deflecting systemic questions of cultural captivity to power, consumerism, individualism and their manifestations in the developing globalization of free-market capitalism?  Was it possible for North American Christians to hear these more substantive missional questions without the intervention of voices from the outside?  These questions were part of God’s preparations for what would unfold in South Africa.

South Africa – November 07

The SA trip involved meetings with a wide variety of church leaders. The conversations challenged our understanding of issues we had to address in this Project and broadened our sense of what God wanted to do through the project.  We heard stories of mission and witness.  We sat with Christian Afrikaners listening to their stories of shame and humiliation following Apartheid and their confessions of complicity even though many brave souls who gave costly protest.  We met Black African leaders and missiologists still feeling their voice is not heard though they have so much to contribute around issues of mission and kingdom in the emerging ‘western’ globalized culture reshaping Africa.

In Frederick Marias’ own setting, I realized I had not been able to hear what he was saying to us because I had not sat at his table in SA to experience his place and people.  Frederick and many others are wrestling with issues of reconciliation, justice, shame, and huge socio-economic challenges while seeing God bring people together across divides to be missionally shaped in their own contexts.  These challenges emerged:

1.    The missional conversation in Africa is radically different from the way it has been framed in North America.  In South Africa it is about a people losing power and experiencing shame. It is about people creating safe spaces (an important phrase) wherein difference (Black, Colored and White) might cross boundaries to meet at the table, listen deeply to one another, and be changed for the sake of the Kingdom.  Being missional is about boundary crossing, addressing terrible poverty and injustice. I saw how important boundary crossing experiences would be to the MIWC project.

2.    I witnessed people enter such processes not from positions of power and control but out of a rediscovery of the Gospel from their shame, grief and confession.

3.    It seemed to me that in North America we’re asking the wrong questions about the missional challenges we face.  Across almost every group (church planting movements, emergent and existing church systems) the missional question is almost exclusively a conversation about making the church work.  In a globalized, late modern North America the missional questions must be about our addictions to power, control, consumption, and affluence.  We’re not doing that! The default of turning everything missional into questions of church effectiveness is deep – it will be a hard journey.

4.    North America can’t make this journey without embracing and becoming a listening partner with brothers and sisters in Africa. We need the partnership of African church leaders if the MIWC project is to be God-shaped.

5.    The ways Newbigin framed the missional question in Foolishness to the Greeks emerged from the context of the UK in the early 90’s. It cannot frame the questions for South Africa nor is it sufficient for North America – given the ways we turned Newbigin’s brilliant insights about the missional challenge in the West into conversations about the church.  We need other, outside voices (such as Africa and NZ – those ‘insignificant’ and ‘out of the way’ places and peoples) as partners to journey with us in discerning the Spirit.  Until we learn to sit with such partners, to work with them in creating safe spaces for listening and crossing boundaries we will not understand the missional questions for North America.

6.    Leadership formation is a key missional challenge we must address across all cultures.

On the basis of this visit to Africa that Allelon agreed to hold the third consultation in Lusaka, Zambia in August 2008.  A distinctive African voice in the Project could contribute in the following ways:

1.    Africa is asking questions other countries in the Project are not, specifically, questions of HIV-AIDs, poverty and the important contribution to assisting other cultures in engaging the deeper issues of mission in Western culture(s).  With the African participation contexts such as North America could learn to reflect on their own missional questions in ways that would be impossible by themselves.
2.    Reflecting on the ecclesial trap of putting Newbigin into church growth and effectiveness strategies.  It must be understood that mission isn’t a task of the church it is an attribute of God whom the church serves and worships.
3.    Learning how to cross boundaries.  Africa has had to learn this through past and ongoing challenges such as: tribalism, xenophobia, colonizations by other powers and cultures, and denominationalism.  Such challenges have created spaces where people are more humble about their assumptions and frameworks.
4.    Modernity: in many ways the church in Africa is collapsing into modernity.
5.    Poverty: this project must take into account the dynamics of modernity, globalization and poverty if it is to construct a research methodology of listening to people on the ground.
6.    Interculturation and reconstruction: discernment around the dominance of Western culture(s), the shaming of African cultures and the reconstruction of African cultures as missional dynamics with applications across the participating nations.


Lusaka Consultation August 2 – 7, 2008

The consultation was an interactive dialogue around two foci – a) listening to one another, placing our preconceptions on the table as people from differing cultures and nations and b) reflecting on questions of the Project’s focus and steps forward.
The means of doing each of these were:
1.    Formation into indaba groups for the event.
2.    Site visits and listening to Africans in the midst of their issues and challenges.
3.    A limited number of papers for discussion
4.    The co-chairing of the event among three people:

  • Japhet Ndhlovu  (Coordinator of All African Council of Churches)
  • Neil Crosbie  (Director of SGM Lifewords, UK)
  • Alan Roxburgh (Allelon, North America).

The tone and underlying theme of the event was set in the welcome from Dr D T Banda, Principal of Justo Mwale Theological College.  He described how important names are to Africans and how “AIDs and poverty were rendering our people nameless.” Dr Banda’s comment rang true for all the Africans around the table.  This theme of seeking to name the place where we find ourselves became a central way in which we were hearing the Spirit.  Whether in Africa or each of the other nations at the table what gathered us was that in the context of modernity and globalization we all found ourselves in new space we were not able to name.

Indaba Groups

We formed into indaba groups.  Africans describe these in term of something more than a small group.  In an indaba group, we seek to meet each other in the ordinariness of our lives and stories.  They are places where we gently seek to create the safe space to enter one another’s stories to risk crossing boundaries and meet each other on the ground. Indaba groups were the way we listened and discerned the Spirit.  Frederick Marias suggested simple rules for the indaba conversations:

  • Listening – take time to hear the other and respond by feeding back what you heard.
  • Affirm – as you listen to the other’s story.
  • Listen beyond your assumptions – we bring assumptions to a conversation, hearing the other through our on filters; we were invited to work at moving past these places of safety and power in order to enter the story of the other.

Our first indaba group met for several hours as five or six of us from very different contexts and nations shared stories of our contexts and the missional questions in our settings.   Our stories were very different but in each we heard the language such as: confusion, fear, crisis, struggle, survival, looking for hope, identity.  They were words about the church in our various contexts and personal experiences in our own countries.  It was also language seeking to give words to experiences of change difficult to name or see with clarity.  A Korean brother spoke of a context where the people (especially the young) where becoming hostile to Christianity and a church that always sided with government and power structures.  Something had failed in terms of the church and its mission; pastors and leaders did not know what to do.  A Zimbabwean brother told of the church’s beginnings in that troubled country and how it had been swallowed up in politics so that it could no longer speak into the terrible pain of its people.  He described how HIV-AIDs was affecting a people who could not get access to medicine. 

These stories connected us but they were stories about churches and mission that no longer connected with what was happening to people on the ground.  We did not have the language to name this common experience.  When we shared in the larger group our listening about people struggling in the midst of poverty, AIDS, the insecurities of nations and the confusion caused by the effects of modernity, no matter what the country or the context, there emerged a sense that the churches as we know them don’t know how to respond to the crisis modernity in all its forms has brought us to.

Stories and Boundary Crossing

If practices of listening are at the heart of this Project we needed to enter and learn them for ourselves.  This continued as we heard the stories from two people dealing with HIV AIDs.  We listened to their stories of stigmatization and rejection by family and church in the midst of massive crisis.  They deeply they affected us all as we realized that in Africa AIDs and poverty are not concepts or problems; they’re huge numbers of people – brothers, sisters, spouses, children with names and faces.  They are stories of boundary crossing and immense courage as a church tries to come to terms with people they would often sooner put outside.   We then spent a morning at the Garden Church in a very poor area of Lusaka meeting a community of women, each with HIV/AIDs, who told of their struggle with illness, silence, discrimination, rejection and poverty. 

They are part of Circles of Hope were, as women with AIDs, they tell their stories, support one another and find small, inconspicuous experiments in empowerment.  We were all amazed at the strength and hope these women were fining in their tiny experiments of hope.  Sitting together we crossed boundaries hearing their stories and visiting their homes where they wrestled with poverty and challenges of finding enough sustenance for a day.  These difficult encounters took us more deeply into the ways of listening and being present critical to being the church where it is difficult to name what is happening.

We acknowledged, in crossing boundaries, the challenges we needed to address in framing our work in the MIWC Project.  Even this way of describing our work was brought into question: Can we call it a ‘Project’?  Is there something more going on than described in the ‘Mission in Western Culture’ title?  What was the Spirit saying to us about the nature of this work and how to shape it in fresh ways? We shared a conviction that while it was about mission in Western culture it was also more than that but we still couldn’t name that something else.

We did see that leadership is critical to boundary crossing.  It seemed to us there were characteristics emerging from our listening about the nature of such leadership:

  • A willingness to live as a risking person – those who faced the issues of AIDs/HIV in their churches and nations took huge risks.  
  • Experimenting:  it was increasingly difficult to clearly name the issues we had to address; there are no clear maps or strategies for success.  We needed to risk experiments knowing it always involved failure but that this was the only way to move forward in contexts where we can’t name what is happening.
  • The mobilization of the whole people in a community:  The way forward can’t be designed and named by leaders on their own.  The challenges are so massive, complex and beyond naming that the hopeful way forward is learning to empower the whole people of God.  This is hard for those trained to believe they must have the answers and strategies.
  • Vulnerability:  Each of these elements implicates leadership in living vulnerable, open lives in the public spaces where the issues of mission and Gospel are lived out. 

Our question became:  Are we so different (the West and Africa and Asia) there’s no common space for learning and boundary crossing or is there a common space were we can hear and learn from one another?  We were recognizing we do have common issues and a need for one another in the midst of this space we cannot yet name.  Was it late modernity or the postmodern or the globalized world or something else?  We weren’t able to say; but we recognized this need for one another, for indaba, the listening and the crossing of boundaries.   The Mission in Western Culture Project was on the right track but in a process of transformation.


Philosophies and Methodologies

Dr Colin Greene prepared a paper “From Newbigin to Metavista – the changing contours of the missiological engagement with Western, secular, culture” which laid the basis for understanding the multiple modernities shaping a globalized world.  He described basic assumptions framing modernity outlining the ways its rationality had been deconstructed.  Dr Greene spoke of multiple modernities and the shifted from a world shaped by an emphasis on rationality to one shaped by imagination.  How do we engage these new contexts as God’s missionary people?  How do the Biblical narratives engage this new world?  The African response came in two forms.   First, an expression of deep appreciation for the paper and a desire of them to meet in an African indaba to discuss its meaning for them.  Second, Dr Uma Onwunta a professor of missiology from Nigeria provided a response asking the question about multiple modernities and their application to an African context.

What was important about these discussions was the recognition by all that we were in a new space as churches in our various nations.  This space was a like entering a clearing none of us had been in before.  Late modernity, in all its new forms and imaginaries, had brought us into this clearing that we could not properly name and where we had no maps.   This was a generative conversation in which we all sensed that the Mission in Western Culture Project was finding ways of naming where it found itself and shaping some steps forward.  

Dr Alan Roxburgh (North America), Dr X Simon (South Africa) and Neil Crosbie (United Kingdom) presented a forum on methodology and the Project in the following theses:
1.    We all find ourselves in a clearing were none of us have been before.  It’s difficult to name this clearing; this is at the heart of the missional challenge we face.
2.    This clearing is the work of the Spirit.  It is not a mistake or accident but something the Spirit is doing.  It’s an invitation to journey in a place where we have few maps.
3.    Our default is always to turn to experts, to those who clear the confusion and provide solid answers.  In this clearing experts can only tell us where we’ve been not where we are.  We cannot, therefore, depend upon or be shaped by methodologies and answers shaped by experts.  What then is the way forward?
4.    We journey in this clearing through entering and dwelling with the narratives and stories of ordinary men and women in local contexts.  We have ample stories to sustain the argument that it these spaces and tables where we will discern a way forward.  In stories such as Japhet’s Circles of Hope, Steve Taylor’s hairdresser, De Certeau’s making do and Vaclav Havel’s inadvertent poems of protest, and a host of others change and transformation in the midst of the clearing comes from among the ordinary and everyday.
5.    We must ask how we enter and listen to these stories; how we give them voice and in so doing help people name their experiences.  We bring stories into conversations with the Biblical narratives and ask what the Spirit might be saying through the ordinary to our missional contexts and new social imaginaries.
6.    From this asking we risk experiments in new ways of Christian life in the midst of the clearing without the need for big strategies or complete answers.  These experiments become simple, bottom-up tactics in the practices of hope and spiritual discernment. 

These conversations connected with people.  The room held a sense that the Spirit was up to something in our midst: the Mission in Western Culture Project had found a new voice and was being re-shaped among us.  But first we needed space to meet in two indaba groups: the Africans and those from the other nations.

A:  Western Indaba (For want of a better title)

In our discussions we noted the following:

  • Notions of ‘sending and receiving’ form our imagination for mission; we keep thinking inside this world, which is no longer an appropriate framing of our realities.
  • The African context isn’t totally different from the Western as we might be assuming.
  • We are still in the situation where mission is sub-contract out to others and so isn’t at the center of what a church is about.
  • Mission now is seen as ‘from everywhere to everywhere’ but we need to construct a new paradigm and use new metaphors its no longer from or to, we’re all ‘in’ a missionary situation.
  • We are in a space where the question is how we listen to the movements of the kingdom of God in a diverse set of globalized cultures.  Our calling is to enter the spaces and clearings that are in and between these cultures to listen, discern and release the poets and imaginations of what the Spirit might be doing.  This is far more than a process of developing new missionary strategies but learning to hear the voices of God’s people in the midst of globalized cultures.

From these discussions we tentatively named what we had been wresting with all week in this way:
1.    God is calling forth a new world.
2.    As Christians from a variety of nations shaped by Western, modern cultures we all find ourselves in a clearing where none of us have been before.
3.    Our calling (the work of this Project) is:

Discerning the mission of the Spirit of God, by
Hearing the local voices of God’s people
Amidst globalized cultures.

B: African Indaba

Our Africa brothers and sisters noted the following:

  • Affirmation of the conversations at Stellenbosch in November 07
  • The African entry point into the Project is through existing structures and relationships such as NetAct, PMC and Christian Literature Fund.  The energies around these organizations need to help the African group with organized space for dialogue on to be missional leaders in Africa.
  • Yes, the terrain and challenges of mission in Africa has changed.
  • Local congregations are facing new narratives, especially from younger generation.
  • The challenge is how we present the Gospel narrative in ways that are heard and understood?
  • There is the challenge of material wealth coming into Africa with modernity – telecommunications, multi-national corporations.  The church needs to reflect on the impact of modernity it Africa.
  • We do not need to become prisoners of terms and jargon but rather learn to name the challenges we face.  We do not want to be dragged into a determined agenda but to determine our own agenda.
  • Methodologically, the Spirit of God is moving.  We have noticed attempts to do critical, reflective and praxis missional engagements in our endeavor to lift public issues that affect human dignity and relate them to the Gospel narratives.
  • We need to balance reflection with praxis (local congregation leaders and academicians) to catch what the Spirit of God is doing in the world today.
  • We need to balance this marriage of local narratives and academic discourse.
  • We need to constantly revisit the ways we train our ministers of the gospel, we seem to still be caught up in western models of training.  Contextualization seems to face some strong resistance where some seem to be saying the past is better and there seems to be no clarity on what should continue and what should be discontinued.
  • Leadership is critical for transformational work.
  • We need to capture the stories, record them and even publish books which can be sued for inspiration, guidance and further reflection as we move into praxis on public issues.
  • We want to be partners in the Project, is it possible to be part of the decision making in Allelon or shall we just be recipients?

Some of the missiological challenges that cannot be ignored are:

  • Poverty
  • HIV and AIDS –questions of sexuality, masculinity etc
  • Economic justice – modernity coming with economic development an globalization
  • Trends in theological education
  • Power – ecclesiastical, political, gender and spiritual powers
  • Healing – influences of the African Independent Churches, Pentecostal Churches and the role of witch doctors in African cosmology.
  • The position of women
  • Peace, reconciliation and conflict transformation
  • Reconstruction theologies
  • Ecological challenges
  • The way we structure our churches – most of us have inherited structures from the western models for just sustaining and maintaining rather then being missional.

In the indaba group reports we heard commonality around the nature of the MIWC Project and commitment to move forward together. The proposals to move forward were:
1.    Over the next twelve months the Project will be jointly chaired by:
a.    Japhet Ndhlovu (Africa)
b.    Neil Crosbie (UK)
c.    Alan Roxburgh (North America)

The group will meet on Skype and through email to oversee the next steps.  This is pro-tem proposal in order to appropriately move the Project forward.

2.    The Chairs ask each country to identify several potential sites for the initiation of the Project within the next six months.

3.    A team comprised of Andrew Menzies, Steve Taylor, D T Banda and Frederick Marais work to develop the protocols and method elements required for initiating the project in the local contexts.  What we are looking for is not a pre-determined set of research protocols that rigidly define how every location must engage the Project but the ways we can present process that move across all the contexts to allow for research to take place.

4.    A team comprised of Dr X Simon (Stellenbosch) and Dr S Savage (Cambridge) design the research protocols for that will enable the project to read the framing questions it will bring to the table.

5.    The Chairs identify the initial small number of locations to beta test 3 and 4.

These proposals where discussed throughout the last day of the consultation and affirmed as the appropriate next steps in the Project.

Allelon Mission in Western Culture – Project

Written by webmeester on . Posted in PMC-Blog


At Lusaka we recognized the MIWC was being shaped in a new direction.  While its basic purposes were affirmed, we also recognized God was shaping something more in our midst.  You will find attached several reports on the Lusaka meetings.  One is from Al Roxburgh in preparation for reports he needs to make in NA.  This contains a summary of the previous meetings as well as the Lusaka meetings.  A second report is from Colin Greene written for Lifewords in the UK.  In the days ahead we will be asking others to write some their reflections and make these available to everyone. 

Some of the highlights of the meetings were as follows (abstracted from Al Roxburgh’s report):

A.    Focus and direction of the project is tentatively stated in these terms:

1.    God is calling forth a new world.
2.    As Christians from a variety of nations shaped by Western, modern cultures we all find ourselves in a clearing where none of us have been before.
3.    Our calling (the work of this Project) is:
a.    Discerning the mission of the Spirit of God, by
b.    Hearing the local voices of God’s people
c.    Amidst globalized cultures.

B.    The decision we made in terms of the go-forward were:

1.    Over the next twelve months the Project will be jointly chaired by:
a.    Japhet Ndhlovu (Africa)
b.    Neil Crosbie (UK)
c.    Alan Roxburgh (North America)

The group will meet on Skype and through email to oversee the next steps.  This is pro tem proposal in order to appropriately move the Project forward.

2.    The Chairs ask each country to identify several potential sites for the initiation of the Project within the next six months.

3.    A team comprised of Andrew Menzies, Steve Taylor, D T Banda and Frederick Marais work to develop the protocols and method elements required for initiating the project in the local contexts.  What we are looking for is not a pre-determined set of research protocols that rigidly define how every location must engage the Project but the ways we can present process that move across all the contexts to allow for research to take place.

4.    A team comprised of Dr X Simon (Stellenbosch) and Dr S Savage (Cambridge) design the research protocols for that will enable the project to read the framing questions it will bring to the table.

5.    The Chairs identify the initial small number of locations to beta test 3 and 4.

Japhet, Neil and Al reviewed these commitments on our initial Skype call a couple of week.  We agreed that our role in this coming year is to:

  • Assure we facilitate the continual dialogue among us all across our diverse contexts.
  • As quickly as possible, put into place the processes for the continuation of this vital dialogue in each of the national, local contexts.
  • Oversee the actioning of the 2 – 4 above.
  • Discern and continue to cultivate the atmosphere of our work together, especially as this was formed through the indaba process.
  • Work at the development of the theological and biblical engagements we all saw as vital to the intellectual work that must shape our way forward.

Over the next several weeks we will be assembling all of the notes taken in Lusaka in order to create a detailed process of our steps forward.  You will receive a second, follow up, communication piece later this month that proposes the way forward based on our agreements.   We are also working with ways to use the Allelon web site for our continuing communications with one another so that we can produce an environment for interactive and ongoing communication.

Attached are the two reports mentioned above.

We are also being asked already about the dates for our 2009 meetings.  These will be in July or August 2009 and we will seek to have a set of proposed dates to you as soon as possible.

Thanks again for making Lusaka a time when we experienced the leading of the Spirit.

Japhet, Neil, Al