As I was on a plane last night heading home to Northern California, I happened to be reading yet another book on the Missional Church. This time I was reading Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal. Over the last year, I have read books by McNeal, Alan Hirsch, Alan Roxburgh, Darrell Guder, and many others. These book could read without knowing the authors and you might come to believe that they were written by the same person at times. On one hand, I have enjoyed reading these books and on the other these books have created much frustration in my heart and mind.
I have enjoyed reading these books because I’m very passionate about the church being missional. With the Church in the United States of America being so influenced by a corporate church model that tends to build its outcomes based on growth at the expense many times of depth and more holistic transformation, the missional conversation is one that is very needed. The frustration I have is that the missional church conversation is mainly a European-American conversation and to this degree is presented as if the European-American Church is the pioneer of missional ministry in the United States of America. I also have an issue with the lack of focus on issues of justice and racial righteousness that is avoided in much of the missional conversation. But, what is really troubling, is that the Black Church and the Urban Church in the United States of America is ignored as the true pioneering and Christ-centered forces behind a historic and present model of the Missional Church. Ignoring these church models makes it seem as if an emerging generation of European-American evangelicals discovered a missional approach to ministry through theologians such as Bishop Leslie Newbigin.
One of the reasons it may be difficult for the European-American Church to recognize both the Black and Urban Church is because it would then have to deal with how it historically played a role in the development of some of the injustices that plague Black and Urban communities today. One example is the issue of the White Flight from urban communities in the 1960′s and 1970′s when Black families began to integrate these predominately White communities at the time. White Flight assists in the creation of middle class and upper middle class suburbs, which in turn lay the foundation for the development of well-resourced suburban European-American mega churches. Evangelicals have to be willing to deal with this history. It was the conservative Christians that fled to escape integration while in many cases more liberal mainline churches stayed in the city and began to develop ministries of compassion, mercy, and justice.
Now, please understand that I’m in no way against large churches. And theologically, I am very evangelical. I do have an issue with large evangelical churches that help to sustain the segregated church in the United States of America by not understanding the roots of their existence. Some large churches in the suburbs are successful off of the flight and abandonment of the inner city years ago.
The Black Church has been missional since its beginning. It had not choice. The Black Church is created and evolves in the midst of a mission field, which soil produced slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and inner-city ghettoes. The Black Church was simultaneously the developer of new missionaries and the object of the White missionary, who was sometimes also the slave owner. The Black Church is forced within this mission field to not only be a worship center, but also a center of leadership development, community development, healthcare, education, and economic empowerment. These initiatives were rooted in Scriptures such as the Book of Exodus, Matthew 25, and Luke 4. The Black Church is still one of the most visible signs of the Missional Church in cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston just to name a few.
It’s time to have a broader and more ethnically diverse conversation about the Missional Church. Are you ready? Then start by reading the following Missional Church writers that can broaden your theology beyond just the European-American Church perspective-
* Soong-Chan Rah
* Brenda Salter-McNeil
* John Teter
* John Perkins
* Martin Luther King Jr.
* Howard Thurman
This is just a start.
I have been reading a number of books on the Missional Church recently. At first as I was reading books by Alan Hirsch, Darrell Guder, and Alan Roxburgh, I’d wished I hadn’t waited so long to jump into the missional church discussion. Then, after getting through about three books on the issue, I realized that as a product of both the African-American and Urban Multi-ethnic Church, I was raised up in the truly missional church movement.
The missional church discussion is both about a theological foundation known as missional ecclesiology and the process of the church engaging culture for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. All of the experts on the topic are European-American and European-Canadian. The discussion around the missional church for the most part is a White Church discussion. I appreciate that the authors are willing to admit this. The talk about the missional church is from the perspective of the history of both the European and European-American Church influenced by modernity and modernism. To understand the need for the missional church in the United States for instance, is to understand the church coming out of Europe influenced by Constantine, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. I would not argue against these being important things to know. As a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church, I realize the importance of understanding how the Reformation and the Enlightenment shaped the development of the church in the United States. Specifically, it’s important for me to understand the Swedish immigrant roots which shape the development of the Evangelical Covenant Church. I consider my understanding of this heritage as a gift. What I don’t understand is why European-Americans don’t see the gift of the missional roots and current missional activity of African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic churches in America.
As a product of the African-American church, I can speak to a church that historically has engaged its surrounding culture for transformation. The African-American Church has a history of community engagement, development, and transformation. You can look at the missional impact of the Civil Right Movement as an example. Why missional theologians and practitioners ignore and marginalize the African-American Church is hard to understand. At the same time the African-American Church hasn’t always been helpful, because at times it presents itself as only being for African-Americans. But we must remember that the African-American Church is a forced church in a race-based society. If it weren’t for the defense and protection of the White Church, there would be no African-American/Black Church.
In today’s increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural reality, this must change. There is a need for a Post-Black, Post-White Church theology. This theology must include liberation and reconciliation theology. A true missional movement must be Christ-centered and multi-ethnic. If this isn’t the case, all the missional discussion is just a re-hashing and a recycling of the White Church. If the Church in Canada and the United States is truly going to be a missional one it must be multi-ethnic and there must be a diversity of respected voices speaking into its development.