16 May 2013

Missional Ordinariness

I met with some pastors a few weeks ago to see if I could help their congregations begin the titanic turn towards missional. I’m not sure if I was a little too tired or what, but I found myself irritated and a tad ornery within the first hour. I apologized for my attitude but then proceeded to identify why I was getting a minor headache from our meeting. These well meaning leaders seemed to be fishing for the “big catalytic innovation” that would “unleash a movement”; meanwhile the ordinariness of a communal/missional shaped lifestyle was seemingly unimpressive to them. These pastors humored my crankiness and I eventually warmed up to their eager questions. 

I’ve never been more convinced that it’s the ordinary stuff that we fumble because our eyes are darting elsewhere. The most ground-breaking missional excavating is in the unattractive details of our rhythmic ongoing lives. Addressing these details will bring about a collision with the primordial-ordinary ways we need to recover dwelling in our communities.  I won't get into what those specific ordinary rhythms are (I have in past posts). I'd like to point out, sorry it might come across a little preachy, some observations that I sense are lingering underneath the surface. These issues threaten to make the dynamic of "ordinariness" uninteresting.

One of my frustrations is the knee-jerk thinking “how are we going to spin this to create excitement in our congregation”. We are bit too tickled and consumed with making our mark. We could benefit from losing some interest in ourselves. Under the mantra of "casting a vision" we begin to push buttons to manipulate corporate energy. When we lean into “being missional” it should not be attached to larger presentations. This bent deludes the authenticity demanded of us in Post-Christendom. It also perpetuates the obsession with landscaping while neglecting the major shifts occurring on a plate-tectonic level. We need patience to wrestle first with what’s going on in the backroom before mocking up the display window. Image management creates "cool" churches with poser sensibilities. These sensibilities smell of self-importance to those not yet convinced of Jesus. Swaths of churchy-stuff has been paraded in public which inadvertently has eroded relational credibility on the street. Our grand language should lag way, way behind our action. American life can feel like an insane asylum pulsating with noise, technology, information, and competition. The church does not need to add to that sub-static buzz. 

We all have the tendency to let our talk outpace our practice. It takes discipline to move beyond the viral chatter we participate in. Sometimes the missional conversation is reminiscent of my time in youth ministry when I'd eavesdropped on a pack of Jr High boys talking like they were Casanova’s. The Missional conversation is in jeopardy of merely hovering at pontificating status. We need integrity in our speech. Integrity is forged in testing. The best diagnostics and valuable conversations are squeezed out of real-time practices that have survived the harsh elements. In my own trembling faith plunge, Missional Ordinariness has taken me to task, tempered my adolescent exuberance and caused me to “bring it down on a notch” when speaking about how dynamic missional living can be. Over the years a more weathered passion has formed in my gut from the trial of submitting my ideas to a flesh-and-bone community. A good half of my ideas were half-baked and blinded by idealism. For example, I’ve been part of the multicultural conversation for years, advocating for racial reconciliation, but it is one thing to be passionate about an issue like a “diverse church” and another reality to build solidarity in trust-soaked, diverse friendships. The same ethic goes for “Justice”, instead of trying to drum up a Justice initiative that makes large sweeping projections, instead, loyally and quietly, immerse in a couple relationships with impoverished people around you. This ethic again goes for "community", stop wishing the people you've connected with online were your "community" and dive deeply into a spiritual family for hell-or-high-water.  It's honorable to want to “save the city” but it's humbled by learning to “love your neighbor”

The word “impact” has connotations of a meteor slamming into a region, leaving a massive hole behind. Instead redefine success around sustainability. Don’t turn missional into a program, a weekend city event with a magnetic slogan or a sermon series to get things moving. Resist the urge. This is Pseudo-activity and is only cosmetic.  I relate with an imagination that longs to be part of something significant but I’ve observed how our dreams cause us to brush off the most essential ordinary habits needed. It takes a certain measure of rebellion to fight off the undertow to fabricate energy.  When we claw for self-importance outside localized community our fragile egos are exposed. Pursue self-awareness: Are we emotionally detached from our neighborhood? At this precipice in history, earthy traction will come from seedling communities that inhabit with a rooted, open-handed, sacrificial, unassuming presence in the wake of Jesus, the Servant King. Missional is not a four lane paved highway rather it's an overgrown dirt path forward. There is no missional fast track and there shouldn’t be one. It’s not a martyr syndrome I'm advocating, just a marginal one.  

It's not pragmatic to shoot for ordinary. We've been lulled into thinking extraordinary is where the real world-changing happens. I contend that the West is fried over on ambition; tantalized into comatose. What beckons us now is a supernatural, subversive ordinary; one where the mustard seed offers us a template for the everyday. Call out those little thieves that come to steal away your enjoyment of missional ordinariness. Embrace the ordinary way of being in the world.


  1. Excellent post.

  2. Thanks for the excellent post.

  3. "The most ground-breaking missional excavating is in the unattractive details of our rhythmic ongoing lives. Addressing these details will bring about a collision with the primordial-ordinary ways we need to recover dwelling in our communities."

    Love it! Well said, friend!!

  4. Dan, thanks for this great post! We were made for faithfulness to God's thing. At the heart of missional theology is the recognition that God is about his mission, and we as congregations are enabled to discern and "click into" what that means for us. Some of the "undertow to fabricate energy" is more closely related to the newest McDonalds ad campaign than it is to the work of the spirit. It puts the emphasis on what we can generate and is, frankly, a bit pelagian.

  5. Wow,Rob. I never made that connection to pelagianism but I'm totally seeing it.

  6. I was driving through a Mennonite community this week, thinking about how incredible their workmanship and quality was in the items that they sell. "All they need," I thought to myself, "is some good advertising!" Then I looked at their signs. Roughly scrawled onto a piece of metal roofing was "Metal roofing". In simple black letters on a miniature roof truss was "Roof trusses." The 'brand' was nothing more than the product itself.

    I only pray we come to the day when the only advertising we need to do for Christ is the witness of who we are as His community. Rather than self-promoting ourselves or even our beliefs, acting out of who we are and letting God's grace and His words do the rest.

  7. Keith,
    That is so well said "the only advertising we need is the witness of who we are as His community".


  8. WOW! Well put. I hope you don't mind Keith but I may borrow the line Dan quoted about the only advertising we need! Sounds like Jesus prayer in John 17!
    Dan your article is such and encouragement. I am a missionary working in Albania. My wife and I have been speaking this basic message to our congregation for some time now. We keep getting offers from outside to "help us" do outreaches like concerts or big events. We continue to speak what you have said in your blog.

    At times we feel like people think we are crazy, But we know that building community is what God wants us to be about. Thanks for an article that encourages this!

  9. Anonymous :),
    That's encouraging to hear that this translates all the way to Albania! We face the same temptations to falsely fertilize growth for greater evangelistic impact. Keep up the steady work of building an Oikos that lives missionally compelled by the love of God.