My journey out of Church, Inc. began in 2004.
I received a book as a graduation gift from my seminary when I earned my doctorate. That book was The Kingdom Focused Church by Gene Mims. That book broadened my perspective concerning the role of the church in God’s kingdom as a whole. My view of the church expanded. That book tapped something latent in me and resonated in a way I could not yet put my finger on. And that was just the beginning.
A few years passed, and I led our church through the incredible study, Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. I had led another church through it a few years prior, but this time it resonated more deeply with me personally. I consider that work a key transformative influence in my leadership as well as in my personal walk with God.
In 2009, at a national denominational meeting, I received a complimentary copy of Ed Stetzer’s book, Breaking the Missional Code. I began reading it immediately, and consumed as much as I could in every break in the sessions. Wow, my mind was being blown, and my vision was being stretched as never before. Again, something was resonating, and something new and different was coming into focus. Still fuzzy, but growing sharper.
The next influence was a ministry leadership workshop I attended. In this workshop, the term “missional community” was tossed out a couple times. I was already familiar with the word “missional” but it was the first time I heard it connected with “community.” But the one idea that was transformative–there’s that word again–for me was the amount of focus churches give to the big Sunday gathering, and the lack of attention given to how God works through ordinary people in the everyday.
I came home and Googled “missional community.” The first thing I went to was an article complied with seven contributors. I recognized Stetzer and maybe one other, but the other names were unknown to me. I saw the name Jeff Vanderstelt and selected it, because I thought, “What kind of name is ‘Vanderstelt?'” The floodgates were about to open. I loved what he wrote in that short piece. I discovered he had videos. I watched one. Then another. And another. That led me to the Verge conference videos. And the flood caught me up.
The entire summer of 2011 I spent watching all the videos I could find: Stetzer, Alan Hirsch, Vanderstelt, Caesar Kalinowski, Neil Cole, Francis Chan, Steve Timmis, Mike Breen, and Hugh Halter, just to name a few. I wrote notes furiously in my journal. I read books by many of these same individuals, which led to others, like Tim Chester and Tim Keller. I was getting an entire education, a crash course, as it were, in the Missional Conversation. My wife and I attended Verge 2013 and Verge 2014. I learned things they never taught in seminary. My whole approach to ministry and mission was transformed.
It seemed there was a golden age for the missional conversation between 2010-2014 or so. All these different tribes were coalescing under one banner. There was Soma, GCM, Forge, Missio, and 3DM as primary movers and shakers on the missional frontier. God was saying the same thing to different individuals and groups scattered around the US and the UK, and they all found each other. What was so thrilling to me was that God was saying it to me as well. So, to find so many of like conviction was deeply confirming for me.
Since then, it seems these tribes have drifted into separate paths. Not in disagreement with one another or an abandonment of missional principles, but just a multiplying-and-filling-the-earth kind of way. I lamented that the Verge Conference is no more, and that there seems to be no central gathering for all these like-minded pioneers. Whether that is by design or just a natural development really doesn’t matter, I suppose. I believe it’s better for the kingdom that we don’t all just keep hanging out together. Isn’t that what got the first descendants of Adam and Eve in trouble? They all wanted to stay together. We see it again in Acts. The early church wanted to all hang together and bask in the warmth of fellowship, so God sent some persecution to bust them up and send them out.
I don’t want the missional movement to become just another fad or an entrenched methodology that holds the church hostage for several generations. I’ve learned that it’s never been about a method or movement–it’s about a Person. Jesus. Allowing your heart to be consumed by Jesus then leads to who he’s sending you to, what you are to do next, and how it should be done. And so, my journey continues. And I see down the road there is still much to learn.