Tag Archive: Community

In chapter eight, the authors argued that particular missional communities are the crux of God’s mission in the world.  Such communities, however, cannot operate in isolation from one another.  “Particularity is not exclusivity” (248).  Rather, the people of God are a universal community of communities (248).  Individual communities flow from the particular of their contexts into the wholeness of the catholic church.  However, this oneness is not limited to institutional unity or good public relations.  Rather, particular missional communities existing in more concrete, practical, and fruitful ways to give a unified witness to the one Lord.

How did the early church do this? (As you can by now, “Let’s get back to the early church” is a prominent theme in Missional Church).  The early church, the writers argue, demonstrated its connectedness through the canonization of scripture and formation of doctrine and confessions.  However, the early church’s strong connectedness eventually succumbed to institutionalization.  David Bosch argues that the failure of the early church was that it ceased to be a movement and turned into an institution (252).  As an institution, the structures of the church in the first centuries (as well as today) may be susceptible to cultural compromise.  For Christians today this susceptibility may mean adopting the latest corporate marketing strategies or hiring processes over and against the biblical witness of fair, faithful, and just business practices.

The authors also explore the four Nicean “marks of the Church” (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic), and their implications for today.  An apostolic church is based on the teaching and preaching of the apostles, carrying forward their legacy.  In the same way the apostles gave witness in their lives and work to the good news of Jesus Christ, so too the Church follows in their footsteps.  The Church’s catholicity is demonstrated in all the ways that the Church witnesses to the one gospel that draws all people unto Christ (257).  Particular communities live out this catholicity when they serve Christ in their own context, yet understand that is it not the only way to be a Christian community.  A community of holiness is expressed in the ways a particular community functions as one set apart for God’s mission. Holiness becomes evident in communal practices of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, righteousness, and justice.  Finally, the oneness of the Church – unity – is the result of the Church’s faithfulness to apostolicity, holiness, and catholicity.  In the midst of a world of competitiveness, wastefulness, and contention, the Church exists to offer a different way, a united way.

The authors conclude their discussion of the connected nature of the missional church by arguing that the four marks of the church are essential for a connected, missional church.  Such “marks,” when faithfully and honestly lived, represent the missional unity that “transcends all human boundaries and cultural distinctions” (265).  This unity, or connectedness, is the future of the faithful church embodying God’s reign.  Accountability and cooperation, not classic congregationalism, is the way forward for connected missional communities.

While I greatly appreciate the vision the authors present for the church of the 21st century, I remain fuzzy on the details.  The idea of a “community of communities” sounds absolutely faithful, fruitful, and scriptural.  However, I’m unclear what this “looks like.”  It does not seem as if the authors are arguing for institutional unity or uniform organizational polity.  A national “connected” church that exists as collaboration among the thousands of already existing churches does not appear to be the goal.  What then does this “community” look like?  There is no doubt that a conversion of existing church structures is needed if the Church is to be more “unified, holy, apostolic, and catholic,” but how do we discern the next move?

This is the ninth review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.


After describing the nature and leadership of a missional church, the authors examine how such a church might organize itself for its missional vocation?  The authors outline three principles for the structuring of the missional church.  First, the scriptures are authoritative for the formation of the structures.  The authors point to the early church as one that makes clear that the church must have structure.  The early church structured its life around regular meetings, mutual encouragement, hymns, and instruction.  Leadership functioned for guidance and oversight.  Even more, in each early church context, the church was a concrete reality (think of the Incarnation), not a nebulous abstraction.

Second, the authors claim that a missional church structure must have cultural diversity within its structures.  They argue that from the outset, the church was mandated to be multicultural (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth).  We might also think of those gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost.  The Church is multicultural because God’s people are formed in distinctive ways in each context (233).

Finally, the local particular community is the basic missional structure of the church.  “The basic form of Christian witness is a company of followers of Jesus called by God’s spirit and joined together as God’s people in a particular place” (233).  The authors point out that this definition of “church” is particularly challenging in North America.  The North American assumption is that this organization or structure will manifest itself as a local congregation.  Oftentimes, these local congregations are determined by geographic.  But now, however, people move, change jobs, or live in multiple places.  The authors challenge the North American context to re-imagine what communities and parishes look like.  If the church is more than a building or a place, what might a “local particular community” of believers look like today?  How might it function to give glory to God in its context?

The analysis of local churches, the authors argue, begins with testing the structural integrity of local churches.  Only after we know the history or a particular church can we discern how the local church might be more than a geographic holding place for the community.  We must be open to the scriptures confronting and transforming out mindset, attitudes, and assumptions about our structure (247).

While the authors raise several valid claims about “particular communities,” the particulars of any proposed structure are absent.  I would have appreciated a more concrete vision of how these three principles work together to form the Church in the North American landscape.  The chapter left me feeling this way: It’s raining (Christianity is in trouble).  I am currently covered by an umbrella (the structure I have always known).  However, the authors have taken away from umbrella (structure) and not replaced it with anything (despite the rain!).

This is the eighth review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

In chapter five the authors investigate how the Church might discard the Christendom mind-set (i.e. the church is not privileged in society today) and become truly apostolic.  How might the Church live “in,” but not “of” the world?  How can the church be sent out on behalf of the reign of God, participating in God’s victory over evil?

The authors first note that the Church must be bicultural.  The Church needs to be “conversant in the language and customs of the surrounding culture and living toward the language and ethics of the gospel” (114).  A nonconformist stance towards the world must be buffeted by conformity with Christ.  The Church is a community shaped by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, living according to the pattern of the resurrected life in the age to come.

In an attempt to capture the political image of the Church, the authors offer the metaphor of the “church as holy nation (117).”  Scripturally, they point to 1 Peter 2.9, Matthew’s interpretation of the kingdom, and Jesus as King of kings.  The Church exists as a “political” ekklesia, an assembly gathered for decision-making.  Even more, Church worship becomes a political act.  Praise, prayer, and Scripture reading/preaching all give light to an alternative community with alternative allegiances.  Worship roots the community in the vocabulary of Jesus (Lord’s Prayer, teachings, etc.), the economics of the early church (Acts 2), and a right understanding of power (Sermon on the Mount).  “The church can make a powerful witness when it chooses to live differently from the dominate society even at just a few key points” (127).  The task of the church is to discern those key points and act!

What does an alternative community look like?  The authors claim that the “total life” of church matters.  The life of the church is not lived in separate church activities done by committees.  Rather, the whole of church life is wrapped up in witness to reign of God.  Also, the knowing (faith) and doing (works) of the gospel is vital.  An alternative community shares in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in word and deed.  Such communities are “willing to trust Jesus’ way, all the way – rather than resorting to some other way (hate, violence, deception, etc) (132).

Alternative communities of Christ also practice preaching, teaching, and healing.  Preaching means announcing the reign of God “beyond the four walls of the church building, out of the safe group of people who know and love each other, into the public square” (137).  Teaching, on the other hand, helps those who respond to the good news gospel grow in discipleship as citizens of the reign of God.  Healing comes through offering love and compassion to others, seeking restoration of mind, body, and soul.

Chapter five was spiritual reading for me.  It caused me to reflect and consider my own understanding of the Church.  What is my theology of preaching and teaching?  What am I trying to “get done” through the Spirit in my sermons and teaching moments?  What “gospel” am I conveying in my words and actions?  Does my life and community resemble an alternative to the world?

I might add this to the authors’ discussion of alternative community: When we (church leaders, theologians, etc.) present the “alternative” nature of the church we must be careful to define “alternative.”  For many, an “alternative community” depicts something different from the normal, strange, or otherworldly.  While these are true of the church in a certain sense, the Christian understanding of “alternative” is not exclusively “non-normal.”  That is to say, for the Christian, this “alternative community” is what we were created for.  God created us for worship and praise.  As children of God we were created such that this “alternative community” is “normal.”  I love what Thomas Merton wrote, “A tree gives glory to God be simply being a tree” (New Seeds of Contemplation).  Like the tree, we give glory to God by simply being whom God created us to be, children of God. For the Christian, the alternative is the normal.

This is the fifth review in a ten-part series looking at Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America edited by Darrell Guder.

Philosophical, communal, faithful….and needed

Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism in a Postmodern Age is a clear, methodical, and enlightening look at evangelism in the 21st century.  While lacking in theological or scriptural substance at times, Kallenberg’s philosophical background clearly creates a compelling image of how the Christian faith may prosper amid changing times.  Kallenberg’s use of analogies, metaphors, and anecdotes presents a systematic approach that most church leaders will enjoy.

Particularly fruitful is Kallenberg’s consistent emphasis on evangelism as a communal practice.  Evangelism is no longer solely the responsibility of individuals.  Rather, evangelism today is the practice of the whole church embodying the life of Christ.  Kallenberg does allow for traditional face-to-face conversations to be part of a church’s evangelistic outreach, but he locates the crux of evangelism in a churches ability to live out its story in line of the gospel story.  Rightly so, Kallenberg argues that this model of evangelism greatly depends upon the church maintaining and fostering a faithful, righteous, and honest character.  He invites churches to ask, “How are we embodying mercy and grace?  How are we living out the call to repentance, forgiveness, and thanksgiving?”

Kallenberg’s emphasis on the role of language is also welcomed.  The Christian faith holds a special language that we are called to invite others to learn.  We evangelize by embodying the church’s language, allowing it to form of lives.  Kallenberg’s love for the Christian language has Stanley Hauerwas’s fingerprints all over it.  I recall listening to a lecture Hauerwas gave at school in which he told us students, “You are here to learn a new language.  Theological education is about learning a new language.”  While not all Christians are called to formal theological education in a seminary, Hauerwas’s point fits all Christians.  All Christians are called to learn the language of God, the Church, and faith.  Evangelistic outreach involves embodying this language, sharing and teaching it to others.

Live to Tell, however, is not without it’s faults.  While Kallenberg wonderfully articulates the postmodern circumstances for conversion, he says very little about what comes next for a convert.  We might say that he adequately gets us to the point of justification, but then sidesteps sanctification.  He does say that close proximity to Christian worship gives someone a vantage point for imaginatively inhabiting the Christian outlook (101).  But he makes few connections between evangelism and involvement in Christian practices (prayer, scripture reading, fasting, etc.).  You may recall that Scott Jones avoid this pitfall by arguing that evangelism aims for more than simply bringing people to the point of accepting God’s claim on their lives.  For Jones, we evangelize people into Christian discipleship.  We evangelize, or invite, people into a full commitment of their heart, mind, soul, and strength in love of Christ.  For Jones, evangelism never ceases, stretching beyond the moment of justification and helping to lead persons in sanctification.

In all, Kallenberg’s work makes a wonderful contribution to today’s discussion of evangelism and mission.  His philosophical and theoretical musings contribute a new voice to the on-going theological, scriptural, and pragmatic discussion currently taking place.

This is the final review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

Living the Jesus story

In chapter five Kallenberg ponders what makes a Christian community.  He insists that it isn’t simply the fact that all the members hold roughly the same beliefs.  But rather that they live out those beliefs with each other in ways that are faithful to the life story of Jesus (91).  Kallenberg calls this living out of beliefs the community’s “form of life.”  To illustrate the role of a community’s form of life in evangelism Kallenberg describes the separate stories of Allen and a local church.

Allen was a proud, self-proclaimed atheist who questioned the reliability of any Christian truth claim.  However, during an inquisitive lunch with a pastor, Allen was invited to participate in the church’s local volunteer mission shelter serving the poor in the city.  Later, Allen told the pastor of his change of heart – of how something was happening to him – and he received Holy Communion.  Kallenberg highlights Allen’s story as one in which a non-Christian is persuaded to embrace Christ by direct involvement in a community that is imitating Christ’s care for the poor and dispossessed.

Why is hands-on participation in the Christian form of life instrumental in coming to faith?  Kallenberg believes that non-believers stand outside the form of life that both marks Christian believers and schools them in the language of the Church (98).  Only through engagement in the Church’s form of life can converts grow in fluency and faith.

Kallenberg also tells the story of a local church that invited its members and community to participate in a series of dramatic re-enactments of biblical stories.  The series of dramas recreated the plotline of salvation (creation, Sermon on the Mount, parable, outcasts, Last Supper, stations of the cross, resurrection).  Kallenberg writes, “Christians are people of the Book, but the Book God delights for us to open for others is neither a philosophical treatise nor a formal logical argument; it is a collection of stories” (118-19).  Evangelism is inviting others to take their place in the greatest story ever told.  Peoples’ love for stories and desire to get caught up in a plotline greater than them taps in to the aesthetic power of narrative for doing evangelism.

I greatly appreciate Kallenberg’s call for Christians to evangelize by “living the story” in the midst of the least in our communities.  I believe he rightly points out that Christians and churches today often neglect to economic thrust of Jesus’ message.  Yet, when we spend time with the poor and downtrodden we grow in our imagination of the kingdom of God.  When we find ourselves participating in a community that takes seriously the call to be Christ’s hands and feet we discover ways in which God is already marvelously working.

I believe Kallenberg is right that evangelism may be no more and no less than inviting someone to use his or her hands and feet for Christ.  When I think of the popularity and success of Habitat for Humanity I see a model for active involvement in serving and working with the less fortunate.  What if the church was more like Habitat?  Offering ways for people to actively participate in the on-going servant ministry of Jesus Christ?

This is the fifth review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

Evangelism as a Communal Practice

From the outset Kallenberg has argued that postmodern thinking (communal over individual, importance of language, and uniqueness of belief) dominates cultural dialogue.  As a result, in chapter three he asks: “How might we retool our evangelism in accordance with the three develops in philosophy?”

How do we connect with communally minded postmodern persons?  The answer: By embodying the story of Jesus in our communal life (Church life).  If our communal life together in the Body of Christ is the basis for a Christian social identity, and conversion involves the change of one’s social identity, then evangelism must be done in a manner that brings a convert into the communal and social life of Christ.  The offering and embodying of this identity must, however, be commensurate with the gospel message.  That is, the gospel must be offered in non-coercive ways where rejection is always possible.  Simply put, “the gospel may remain a mystery to the surrounding culture unless the church lives out the gospel in the form of its life together” (50).

Even more, the intelligibility of the gospel depends strongly upon the character of the believing community (Church).  Outsiders may ask, “What does sin, redemption, grace, or resurrection look like in concrete terms?”  We can claim that grace is the heart of the gospel or that resurrection is a present and future hope, but the secular mind cannot understand this without concrete illustrations.  If Christians are to connect individuals with a community, the evangelizing community must resemble Christ on the corporate level.

How do we honor the postmodern emphasis on language?  By engaging others in the conversation using our (Christian) language.  If conversion involves the acquisition of a new language then evangelism must be akin to teaching a foreign language.  Our ability to teach the language starts with our own familiarity of the text.  As we grow more fluent in the biblical language of grace, mercy, etc. we invite other to partake in the form of life of the language’s speakers, to learn a new language.  Through others’ immersion in the Christian language speaking community outsiders learn the insider language of forgiveness, thanksgiving, and worship.

Finally, how do we help others transition their paradigm of beliefs from the secular to the Christian?  By enlisting potential converts in the telling of the story.  We invite them to actively participate in the living out of a Christian set of beliefs.  Why might someone wish to try out a new paradigm of beliefs?  For some, desperation drives them to shop around in the marketplace of belief sets.  For others, mere curiosity might entice someone to “take for a spin” the Christian paradigm.  Still for others, they may form a friendship with an insider of the Christian community and be drawn into similar participation.

In all of the ways Kallenberg demonstrates that Christians can effectively evangelize postmodern persons he consistently maintains that the conversion process takes time.  Conversion often does not come about in a linear, cause-effect manner.  Conversion over time operates on different levels (physical, spiritual, mental, etc.) for different people and requires a commitment from the evangelist to be in touch with the various levels.

In Kallenberg’s communal evangelism, I treasure how he describes evangelism beyond proclamation.  Evangelism is an invitation to participate in the story, and not just hear it.  I anticipate some critics protesting that Kallenberg too harshly diminishes the role of direct proclamation of the gospel.  (To some degree they would be correct.  Thus far in his book, I cannot remember an instance when Kallenberg overly promotes evangelism as proclaiming with words the gospel to non-believers).  However, I often think of people who actively lose themselves in a basketball game or a novel, cheering loudly or imagining their place in the literary scene.  People want to actively be swept up in something beyond than them.  They wish to see or hear a story unfold, and then find their place with in it.  Evangelism, for Kallenberg, invites others to tell the story in action.  The gospel offers the story beyond our personal stories that begs for more people to assume their place in the drama.

This is the third review in a seven-part series looking at Brad Kallenberg’s Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age

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