The Missio Dei: Congregational Redevelopment in the Episcopal Church in the 21st Century in America

Mission-of-God.pngThe following was my signature assignment for my Leading Established Churches course at Johnson University in the spring of 2011. I find that now is the time to finally publish this project based on Missional ecclesiology from the Missional Church Movement and the Missional Change Model for those who are active in the Episcopal Church and the vision that our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has cast for us in our 21st American context. I hope this project will serve to help those who want to revitalized and transform their parish and diocese.

My professor for this course put a Facebook status up today that reminded me of this project I did for him. Dr. Carlus Gupton said:

When churches or organizations love to celebrate their past but are afraid (or unwilling) to project strategically into the future, they should not be surprised that those who identify with them are mainly those old enough to have experienced what was.”

I think P.B. Curry gets this and is the visionary we need to carry on into the future!

Without a vision the people parish. May we catch hold of the vision our P.B. is casting and go out to the people. We’re living in post-Christian America, and we must enact a missional mindset that goes to the people instead of the people coming to us; those days are over. Let’s get to work in carrying out our part in the Missio Dei in our 21st century American context!


The Missio Dei: Congregational Redevelopment in the Episcopal Church in the 21st Century in America

Model for Congregatinal Redevelopment: A conflation of the models laid out in Roxburgh and Romanuk’s The Missional Change Model (2006: 84) and Roxburgh and Boren’s Missional Change Model (2009: 136), which are the same models, but each books gives different insights and substantive information on The Missional Change Model. Integrated throughout the book will be insights Hirsch’s APEPT Leadership model (2006: 175) and Rainer’s Vision Cycle and Three Cardinal Principles (2003: 62).

Goal for the Established Church: The eschatological participation in the Missio Dei in a social context saturated in postmodernism (often hard postmodernity) without sacrificing the congregation’s history in the Episcopal Church, historic participation in the Anglican Communion, and it’s adherence to orthodox Anglican teaching on Scripture, Tradition, and Reason especially in regards to positions held by the catholic Church (universal) on issues of morality and ethics.  This model, by extension, presupposes the following tenets about this congregation:

  1. This congregation is located in a downtown, urban setting that is at the heart of a cultural transition that has been going on for the last fifty years vs. a rural setting where the prevailing norms of this cultural shift have not been that far-reaching.
  2. “Postmodernity, the popular expression of the postmodernism of academia, has cultivated the following postures relative to this congregation and society at large: social-construct theories of reality (contra objective rationalism), communal narratives and language games (contra metanarratives and a common human nature), personal autonomy as the ideological foundation (postmodernism as hypermodernism), tolerance as the chief virtue (the conquest of utilitarian ethics and the Will to Power), and a renaissance of a spirituality which functions independently from religious and political structures (Liederbach 2009: 57-73)” (as quoted by Derek Hefner).
  3. The congregation has embraced models of ecclesiastical growth that are not in line with NT Christianity and have not worked, so the church is in a rut and wants to grow.

General Timeline: Five to Six Years

A Model for Leading an Established Church to Missional Faithfulness

I. Three Cardinal Principles (Rainer’s Principles)

A. This stage is a presupposition that the Rector, other priests, and the vestry (a committee elected by members of a congregation to serve with the churchwardens in managing the temporal affairs of the church) understand that they should seek to refocus the church and not attack the organization and structure. The problem is not the canons of the parish, the Sunday school classes, or which Rite of Eucharist they use, but a internally-focused paradigm that needs to be turned to a paradigm that is outwardly focused (Rainer 2003: 62). These principles should be of value:

  • Do Not Attack Friends of the Family (Rainer 2003: 62)
  1. Short-term tenure in a church is often the result of breaking this first principle.
  2. Way out of the rut is not to attack the rut itself, but to bring a new, outward focus so the congregation can see beyond itself.
  • It is Often Better to Add Than Subtract or Divide (Rainer 2003: 63)
  1. Encourage new groups to form where existing structures, committees, and organizations are stuck.
  2. Do not disband old groups, but create new ones to make up for the slack or to meet the need.
  3. This often encourages and excites the congregation.
  • The Best Way To Handle an Obstacle Is to Go Around It (Rainer 2003: 63-64)
  1. CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES WISELY! If you choose wisely you will have the support of the parish, but you cannot fight all battles.
  2. When obstacles, whatever it may be, comes up you can let it stop you and nothing will change, confront it (if necessary to do so it will be painful more than likely), or go around it by implementing changes that do not affect the obstacle. The third option is the best way to go.

The Missional Change Model

II. Awareness- Cultivating the Missional Consciousness

A. Conversations About the Missional Church (Roxburgh and Boren 2009: 68-75)- Entering into this Missional River we need practical ways to invite people into conversations about what it means to enter.

  1. Reconsidering Our Context—The West is Now a Mission Field- We face a radically new challenge in the West that requires more than minor adjustments or course corrections. A new imagination is needed for the church. Local churches need to become mission agencies in their neighborhoods and communities. Instead of asking how the Church can be more attractional and asking itself questions we must ask the neighborhood or context. Find out how the Gospel relates to a local situation.
  • What is the gospel when people expect Jesus to meet their private spiritual needs but nothing else?
  • How can we reach people in our neighborhoods who just aren’t going to come to church?
  • How do I find out what God is already up to in the neighborhood?
  • What kind of church might the Spirit want to shape in this neighborhood.
  1. Rethinking the Gospel—The Missio Dei- Conversations about the Church need to be rooted in the Missio Dei.
  • The Gospel Story is about God, not us; it is about what God is doing for the sake of the world, not about meeting the needs of self-actualizing, middle-class, Western people.
  • Missio dei calls us to see that God is up to something radically different than we imagined and that there is another vibrant, powerful, awesome river streaming toward us.
  • The biblical narrative revolves around God’s mission in, through, and for the sake of the world. The focus is toward God.
  • The missio dei is the understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that is centered on God rather than on meeting personal needs.
  • What is God doing in this world?

-Calls for discernment to recognize what God is doing in our neighborhoods schools, businesses, and so forth.

-What does God want to do in our world?

  • It is God’s story, and we are participants in His story and mission.
  1. Reimagining Church—Sign, Witness, and Foretaste of God’s Dream for the World- the local Church is to be an embodiment of what God is calling all creation to be through the Spirit.
  • As a sign, witness, and foretaste, local churches should live as a contrast society right in the middle of their neighborhoods. It does so by inviting its people to transform their lives by developing habits such as those related in the stories told above: practicing hospitality, learning to be present in the community, and inviting those in their neighborhoods to taste and see what it means to be shaped by Jesus.
  • Other habits involve recovering traditions of the Church that were neglected especially the Disciplines.
  1. A Three Way Conversation- Being God’s people in our time calls upon us to first ask about the interrelationship between the gospel and the context in which we live and then ask what it means to be the Church.
  • Begin with questions about the gospel and the context and then move to the church so that the shape and life of the latter comes out of the interactions of the first two.
  • Being missional is not about doing church in a better way, nor is it about the church itself.

B. Raise Awareness (Roxburgh and Romanuk 2006: 84-91)- We begin where people are at this moment.

  • Awareness develops by being able to speak about where the people of God find themselves in terms of their real lived experience at this moment.
  • In fostering an environment of awareness, people have time to live into their feelings and tensions long enough to be given (or to evoke) words and meaning that articulate and give form to what is happening.
  • Ability to cultivate an environment of awareness depends on the degree to which people trust the leader’s motives and maturity.
  • Awareness requires capacity and skills from leaders ranging from communication and teaching to listening and dialogue.
  • Leader must be skilled in sharing information, pointing to things happening in people’s lives or in the larger community, and connecting them with the experiences of people in the local church as they listen to Scripture together.
  • Questions to consider:

-How do we listen to one another to hear what we are actually trying to express or say about our current experiences and understanding of what is happening in our lives?

-How can we explain simply, in a non-jargon way, the myriad changes occurring in the world about us that seem confusing right now?

-What kind of people do we need to be, with and for one another, to allow expression of feelings of anxiety, confusion and struggle?

-What is it about the changes we are all experience that makes them so hard for us to understand or deal with right now?

-What is the difference between change and transition? Why is it so important to know this difference today?

-Where does the biblical imagination give us language to talk about what we are experiencing? What might that language be, and why is it important for us to enter it?

  • Awareness must be fostered all the time. Until people have gained awareness, people cannot commit to change. Commitment is the first step in innovating a missional congregation.

III. Understanding—Using Dialogue to Integrate Thinking and Feeling

A. The Missional River- This River is shaped by three powerful currents: mystery, memory, and mission. Entering this is not about plans or models, but about working with the currents that shape our imagination of what God is doing in this world. The Missional Imagination (Roxburgh and Boren 2009: 40-45):

  1. The Church is a gift of God’s new creation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God’s actions can be summarized under the headings found within the Missional River.
  2. Mystery- the deepest mystery is the existence of the Church. In this strange, mixed, social community is where God has chosen to make present the mystery of creation. Here is where the empowering work of Christ and the Spirit are present and expressed.
  • Why this people out of all the people in the world? God choose through election.
  • The Church is not an act in history or a chance result of events. To imply that it is means it could cease to exist.
  • The Church is not a human creation nor formed by the plans, actions of men and women. The Church emerges despite the people involved. The Spirit is the cultivator.
  • The Church is the locus of God’s presence in Jesus Christ for the world’s sake.
  1. Memory- The Church exists as a Church so long as it lives in the story about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Church exists on the basis of a specific story and memory rooted in the narratives about Jesus.
  • The Church’s life is rooted in the new covenant as God’s new creation, but the covenant is only available through the ongoing memory of one particular story.
  • The memory forms a distinct people who are a parallel cultural among all the cultures and cannot be a religious pillar for any nation.
  1. Mission- Mission is the outgrowth of mystery and memory. It is not is not an action or program but the essence that pervades all the church is. Gods calls the church to be the demonstration of what all creation is to be. Mission is not something the church does as an activity; it is what the church is through the mystery of its formation and memory of its calling.
  • The Church is called into existence of the sake of the world.
  • The Church is to be the sign, witness, and foretaste of God’s reign.
  • The Church lives as an alien and stranger in its own society because the Spirit forms it as God’s new society.

B. Understanding Occurs When Awareness Enables- this happens when people ask new questions about what is happening relative to what they have been feeling and thinking (Roxburgh and Romanuk 2006: 91-95).

  1. This is a time when people need to gather additional information, try out ideas, and receive feedback so they can check and orient their growing awareness and develop a new king of knowledge base for ongoing dialogue with others.
  2. Process of gaining understanding require a good deal of attentive listening for dialogue participants to hear the underlying questions and issues that people bring up in their attempt to get vital information.
  3. As questions emerge people need to dialogue with one another, go deeper into the issues, and explore the meaning of what they are learning through face-to-face interaction.
  4. Understanding is not about developing solutions, so AVOID this temptation.
  5. The purpose of understanding is to take awareness deeper and test a new explanatory framework.
  6. This process is not completed in one meeting and can take up to a year. It is an ongoing dialogue in which people find the space to ask questions and explore the emotional and affective implications of awareness. Taking your time with this process is highly stressed!
  7. Once understanding has grown and deepened, it is time for evaluation, the next stage of the change model.

IV. Evaluation—Applying Awareness and Understanding

A. This stage is where people apply their understanding and growing capacities to engage in dialogue about what is happening and growing capacities to engage in dialogue about what is happening in the congregation and in social and cultural contexts (Roxburgh and Romanuk 2006: 95-96).

B. During evaluation the congregation examines current actions, attitudes, and values in light of new understanding. People can now consider whether specific activities, programs, and commitments are congruent with their awareness and understanding of missional innovation and the context in which they find themselves. Questions asked are:

  • Is what we are doing congruent with how we now understand our context and ourselves?
  • What new skills or attitudes might we need to develop, given what we are learning?
  • What other groups might already be working on ideas or actions that help us think through what we need to do?
  • Where does our growing understanding of being a missional church rub up against our current practices of life together?
  • Why do we keep functioning in certain ways that we know are counterproductive to being a missional people?
  • Which elements of our tradition are of great service to us, and which do we need to rethink?
  • What new information do we need to make good decisions about some of our current programs?
  • Are budgeting processes helping or hindering our new understanding?
  • What new skills must we develop to effectively engage this context?
  • Are the expectations we have of our leaders empowering them to form us as a missional people?
  • Which are the areas they must focus on, and which must they set aside in terms of priority?

C. Forming the Dialogue Groups- This is a way to promote evaluation by forming dialogue groups that are different from established small groups in order to develop communication across some entrenched boundaries; we want groups in which people are dialoguing with folks from different circles (Roxburgh and Boren 2009: 168-170).

  • Missional transformation is about boundary crossing and learning to be with other and listen them into free speech.
  • Groups must cross generations, ethnicity, gender, and geography so that we create as diverse a table as possible. Do this by making it clear why these groups are meeting, the nature of their task, and the limited time period they will meet.
  • Should be comprised of five to seven people. Each group will meet about once every three weeks over a three month period.
  • The fourth, or final, meeting gathers the previous conversations and ask the question:
  1. What does all this mean for who we are as a church at this point in time in terms of God’s calling for us to be a mission-shaped people in our neighborhoods and communities?
  • Do not rush to implement anything but reassure those who are anxious that a few experiments will be considered and will proceed from there.

V. Experimentation- Risking Some Change

A. This is the stage where the congregation can test new ways of shaping its missional life. When people practice and experiment with what they have been learning, real cultural change can be embedded in their lives as a congregation. How experimentation happens is as important as the fact that people are ready to engage in change (Roxburgh and Romanuk 2006: 97-102).

B. Adaptive change, not tactical change, requires us to design a new approach to the challenges we face.

C. How leaders handle experimentation is critical to missional transformation becoming embedded in the congregation.

D. The goal is to introduce a process that invites people into changing the culture of the congregation, not just its programs or organization.

E. Experimenting leaves room for failure. By doing so we cultivate a context in which people feel safe to risk initiating simple experiment in missional life in which they can succeed.

F. Experiment with APEPT from The Forgotten Ways (Hirsch 2006: 171-177).

  • Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelistic, Pastoral, Teaching. This is APEPT.  All are therefore to be found somewhere in APEPT.  It is part of the DNA of all God’s people—in the very fabric of what it means to be “church”.
  • Based on Ephesians 4:7, 11-13, “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift… The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
  • The experiment is to find out where each person in the congregation is on this model of leadership. Hirsch remarks that one person could have one of many of these or a combination of the gifts.  Our goal is to cultivate a sense of communal leadership around this model that the congregation is empowered to practice their gifts and be the Church.  Of course sacramental duties are still within the ordination structure of the offices of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon. This model is more about ministry than leadership. All have a ministry and gift.  This model, I believe, utilizes the entire congregation’s gifts and ministries.
  • APEPT is meant to be, and to operate as, a system: a system within the living system that makes up the church. The whole Ephesians 4 text is rich in organic images and perspectives (body, ligaments, head, etc.). Christian ministry is never meant to be onefold or twofold, but fivefold, and each leadership style is strengthened and informed by the particular contributions of the others.
  • Just as the various systems in the human body work together to sustain and enhance life, so too in all living systems the various elements in the system interrelate and serve to augment each other. When each component operates at peak and harmonizes with the other components, the whole system is enhanced and benefits. So it is with APEPT. When all are present and interrelated in an effective way, the body of Christ will operate at peak. To use Paul’s terms in Ephesians 4, it “grows,” “matures,” “builds itself up,” and “reaches unity in the faith.”
  • In living systems theory, moving an organization into adaptive organic mode requires that we:
  1. Develop and enhance relationships
  2. Cross-pollinate ideas from different specialties and departments
  3. Disturb equilibrium by moving to the edge of chaos
  4. Focus information according to organizational mission
  • Developing a fully functioning APEPT system in a local church, mission agency, or denomination will go a long way toward achieving these ends.
  • APEPT, if well led and directed, can operate in a very invigorating way.
  • Bottom-up approach to APEPT creates a healthy learning system. This system allows for those at the bottom to be heard and involved.
  • The Leadership Team: Apostolic Team, Prophetic, Evangelism Team, Pastoral Team, and Teaching Team.
  1. The Apostolic Team: Strategic Issues, Church Planting, Networking the Movement (THESE TWO ARE CONNECTED WITH MINISTRY TEAMS).
  2. The Prophetic Team: Advocacy, Social Justice, Prayer and Intercession.
  3. The Evangelism Team: Evangelistic Services, Street Outreach, Alpha Courses.
  4. The Pastoral Team: Cell Groups, Pastoral Care, Worship
  5. The Teaching Team: Development of Material, Teaching Courses, Sermons.

VI. Commitment—Signing on to New Ways of Being Church (Roxburgh and Romanuk 2006: 102-105)

A. As the experiments gather more people, the confidence of the community grows.

B. This is when a missional culture is embedded in the congregation not as the idea of one person, not because of the personality or power of a specific leader, but because the people themselves have taken on a new way of being church together. People have internalized the framework of missional life.

VII. Recap of the Missional Change Model (Roxburgh and Romanuk 2006: 105)

A. Stage 1: Creating Awareness- Through intensive communication events, both one-on-one and in groups, leaders take people through dialogue and discussion about the need for missional transformation of the church. Takes four to six months.

B. Stage 2: Creating Understanding- The dialogue and discussion serve to bring thinking and feeling modes of understanding together into a coherent pattern of understanding. Takes three to five months.

C. Stage 3: Evaluation- What is currently happening in the congregation is evaluated in light of awareness and understanding. Takes three to five months.

D. Stage 4: Creating Experiments- People begin to identify actions that they believe will move them toward becoming a missional church. The critical word is action. People will experiment through action. Takes three to eight months.

E. Stage 5: Commitment- People commit to getting other involved in the process of moving through awareness to understanding, to evaluation, to experimentation, and finally to commitment.

The MCM offers leaders a way to cultivate an environment in which missional imagination can thrive. Leaders must be able to function in an ambiguous and uncertain environment. They are men and women capable of practicing local missional theology. The significance of missional theology throughout this entire process cannot be overstated. The leader moves back and forth across these stages as people raise their questions, make new discoveries, and shift in their biblical imagination. This is the wonderful work of a leadership that creates the space for people to dialogue, evaluate, and experiment within a field of rich biblical and theological dialogue (Roxburgh and Romanuk 2006: 104).

Primary Resources (Essential to Model):

  • Roxburgh, Alan, and Scott Boren. Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One. Grand Rapids : Baker Books, 2009.
  • Roxburgh, Alan, and Fred Romanuk. The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.

Secondary Resources (Peripheral to Model):

  • Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. Grand Rapids : Brazos    Press, 2006.
  • Liederbach, Mark, and Alvin Reid . The Convergent Church: Missional Worshippers in an          Emerging Culture. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009.
  • Rainer, Thom, and Chuck Lawless. Eating the Elephant: Leading the Established Church to        Growth. Pinnacle Publishers, 2003.


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