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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

missional community #2

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Just time for a quick post to point you to Ben Edson's provocative post 'missional and inclusive?' which is in part a response to my earlier post 'here' about the tension implicit in the notion of 'missional community'. Ben asks whether an ethical community can ever be truly missional, arguing that it will be defined through either nationalistic or patriotic tendencies, each in their own way negating any sense of genuine inclusivity.

While I'm not sure that I agree with his premise that ethical community demands definition in one of these two ways, Ben does ask some important questions about community 'gate-keeping', especially those of how we understand what identifies and unites the community, and when does this becomes exclusive of others?

Christian communities that I have been a part of in the past have usually had clear ideas of who is 'in' (= 'saved' or 'Christian') and who is 'out' (= 'unsaved' or 'non-Christian'). 'Outreach' events are then put on as a way of engaging the 'outsiders' and bringing them 'in' through the act of conversion. Such communities are never truly inclusive (and, to be fair, don't claim to be) as they operate from the nationalistic or patriotic foundations that Ben mentions.

However, my experience of emerging church groups is that, to some extent at least, they do exhibit inclusive community by replacing the primary concepts of doctrinal assent and conversion with that of journeying in faith. This 'journeying' metaphor enables anyone (who wants to journey) to join the community. However, having said this, the experience of many who have tried to join emerging churches is that it's still not easy to penetrate such communities, and can at times be intimidating and isolating. This is perhaps an indication of the presence of unintentional marks of exclusivity coming from close friendships (dare I say cliques?) and shared stories that such communities engender. In other words, the theological and ecclesiological shift may have been done, so resisting the nationalism or patriotism of Ben's post, but human relationships are still, with the best will in the world, exclusive.

Can we ever get around this or is the first step towards genuine inclusivity simply acknowledging this and being aware of it?

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 11:13 AM


An associated "in house" dream network thought. 'Dream in the city' began with an 18-30s target. That definition is a bounded set (you're either 18-30 or you're not)which is in itself a form of gate keeping. As Dream has developped, we've become much more of a centred set.
It strikes me that that process may be one that has been the case for quite a number of emerging church commuinities.

commented by Anonymous richard w, 2:03 PM  

This is a really important issue and deserves some serious debate (IMO).

First, the "journeying" metaphor. This is becoming increasingly prevalent as an alternative to the concept of church (and faith) as 'safe house'. I've come across it as a way of describing the purposeful trajectory of church leavers and emerging church congregations, and as an image reinvigorating traditional churches from within. Admittedly it has a very long pedigree! But it is still a metaphor, and the minute it becomes the acceptable face of faith, then by default all other metaphors risk becoming unacceptable.

So - danger! Take care! What other metaphors are out there? Let's invest in a few more for the postmodern age - networks, spontaneous configurations of meaning, play, de- and re-constructions. In fact, why not claim postmodernism as the age of consciously chosen metaphors (which is perhaps the same as saying, as someone did, it is the age of re-enchantment)? Even, why not first admit that there may be something positive in, to coin a phrase, the Purposeless Driven Life? There is in fact no need to describe life at all, purposeful or not. It just is. In a real sense, all else is window-dressing.

Second (which I think is related), your quote:

"In other words, the theological and ecclesiological shift may have been done, so resisting the nationalism or patriotism of Ben's post, but human relationships are still, with the best will in the world, exclusive."

I wonder if the problem is that any form of intention admits to an alternative lack of intention. It's not so much that human relationships are exclusive, but that they are envisaged in terms of purpose: we choose to be together, and choose is a 'doing' word.

Actually, there's very little choice in our first human relationships - we are conceived by the choice of others. To use another metaphor for church, parts of the body may choose to work with one another or not, but the fact that they are all one body is a given. If Church is allowed at one and the same time to be purposeful and purposeless, intentional and unintentional, or the product of the intention of others, might a way be found to travel (there's tht journeying metaphor again) beyond the exclusivity of which you speak?

commented by Blogger Steve Lancaster, 7:58 PM  

I don't half waffle at times, do I?

commented by Blogger Steve Lancaster, 10:13 AM  

it's all good thought-provoking stuff though Steve - "keep on waffling" is what I say!!

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 12:55 PM  


i was doing a little research and came across your blog. I am pastor in the states working with missional communities. I know this term is widely used with various meanings, however, if you are doing research I would love to share with you what we are doing and pick your brain sometime.

Our primary focus is on at the university level and we unleash students to establish mc's on their campus.

We have a blog that has random information if you would like to check it out.


No worries if not, just wanted to throw another option out there.


commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 5:00 PM  

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