Missional Misgivings and Malformed Metaphors
As I continue my study of all things missional, Out of Ur published an article today called, Dan Kimball’s Missional Misgivings: Small, indigenous churches are getting lots of attention, but where’s the fruit?
Dan Kimball is a long time friend and I value his thinking, but I am concerned in this discussion about fruit that it is impossible to really compare apples to apples. Here’s an idea:
Mega-church of 2000 sees 20 new converts in a year (that means possibly 20 people have led someone to Christ) – that’s 1% fruit
100 house churches of 20 people see 20 new converts in a year (that means possibly only 20 of the 100 house churches see one convert) – that’s still 1% fruit
1 house church of 20 people over 20 years sees one convert – hard to calculate percentage here, but you get the idea.
Just as it is difficult to measure the missional effectiveness of one person’s life – we don’t have a goal of leading X number of people to the Lord in our lifetime and may only learn of the fruit after we die – these smaller missional bodies may have a similar effect, never seeing the fruit of their labor in their lifetime.
I appreciate Dan’s questioning but if we are going to try to get a good picture of the efficacy of the missional movement in relation to the mega-church, we would require a larger sampling than a few small churches.
How can we theologically and within the churches understanding of church in history, handle the metaphors people like Alan Hirsch are proposing without becoming captive to sociological idealism?
Do the Bible, the church in history, and theology help us use these emerging metaphors more rightly?
After all, we can look back and see what happens when the church adopts the formation metaphors of culture that produce something other than Jesus, but at the time we were enamored with them.
Here’s a discussion Jason had concerning metaphors a couple years ago that was worth reading.
In reading “The Forgotten Ways” by Alan Hirsch last month, and following up with “Reimagining Church” by Frank Viola this month, I am seeing the metaphor of DNA used by both authors. I think we are on safer territory with most of the organic metaphors for the church than we were with the big government or big business metaphors that have shaped the church in the West historically, since much of the metaphorical emphases for the church in the New Testament are living images – body, bride, family, living stones, vineyard.
I am also a proponent of the use of chaos theory in understanding how God works but have concerns that many people talk about chaos theory but know very little about it (like me!). My husband was really into fractals and chaos theory as an undergrad math major, so I have learned a little about the mathematical foundations for chaos theory and believe it is a relevant framework not just for interpreting sociological systems, but much of what we see in any kind of living system.
While we must depend on the Biblical text to guide and inform our use of metaphor, we must also be careful not to be taken captive to historical metaphors that may have been handed down through church history or theological studies that have been shaped by world system metaphors, such as government and business. We see the metaphor of the body used in the New Testament for church, and I believe this metaphor will be relevant for all time and should not be ignored or replaced by other systems metaphors.