I do quite a lot of driving, both in Australia and overseas. Often the journey is to places where I have never been before, and so I am unfamiliar with the route, the types of roads I will be travelling on or what traffic conditions, accidents or roadwork delays I might face. So on these journeys my essential companion is the SatNav (Satellite Navigation System), of which I have two kinds.
The one I have had the longest has been of great help, and has guided me well over many thousands of kilometres. However, it has one drawback in that it is only updated when I plug it into my computer and download the latest version, and the longer it is since my last download the more out of date it is. This means that it can’t tell me about newly changed traffic conditions, traffic jams ahead or roadworks that may disrupt my journey. Further it gives one route only and doesn’t suggest alternative routes which may have become better options since I started my journey due to changed conditions.
In contrast to this is my current SatNav. This gives Real-Time guidance by monitoring actual traffic and road conditions, as they change. Thus, if a traffic jam appears, or an accident occurs on my route ahead after I have started out it will warn me and if bad enough will suggest another route early enough so that I can avoid the jam and save time.
It seems to me that there is an analogy here between my need for a Real Time SatNav device for journeys across the physical landscape and the Missional journey the 21st century Australian (western) church now faces. For our missional journey must now take us on a journey through a cultural landscape as yet unmapped, one in fact where the ‘conditions ahead’ if you like are constantly changing
The fact is that the traditional church is much like my old SatNav. With some glorious but rare exceptions it only plots, indeed knows one route for the missional journey, the one that has been used for a long time and continues to fail, because it does not adapt to the shimmering cultural Kaleidoscope that makes up 21st Century Australian society. This requires that the missional road map needs to be rewritten at frequent intervals as the cultural landscape constantly changes, much like my Real Time Sat/Nav adjusts the route according to changed conditions ahead.
“Our missional journey must now take us on a journey through a cultural landscape as
yet unmapped, one in fact where the ‘conditions ahead’ if you like are constantly changing
We indeed live in difficult times for the mission of the gospel in our own culture, in fact truly unique times, the characteristic of uniqueness signified by one word- ‘Change’. Never in the history of the western church has there been the turmoil of cultural change that is now the case. Far from the stable single ethnicity, common language, single religion Christian communities of European Christendom in which our church model was developed and for which it was designed, contemporary culture is an ever turning kaleidoscope of multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religion cultural tribes. This means that every few years the cultural landscape changes so, just as my Real Time SatNav plots a new route when conditions ahead change, our missional roadmap will need to be frequently be rewritten.
For the most part, the vehicles for mission that will be fruitful for the gospel must be highly flexible and adaptable so that they can frequently reinvent themselves as the cultural landscape changes. The traditional local church model with its now long past use by date missional strategies, based on a ‘Sunday-Centric, In-Drag, Christendom-Form’ (SIC) platform is not capable of, or becoming capable of, of such repeated reinvention.
Missional strategies for the future need to be able to respond in Real Time to the rapidly changing cultural landscape which is not only a current reality but will continue into the future.
Leadership of the Missional Church therefore needs to be equipped with a spiritual Real Time guidance system. That is it needs to be attuned to this cultural turmoil and the changing socio-spiritual landscape ahead. It must be highly flexible and open to a ‘Messy’ evolution of missional strategies as the landscape changes and new routes forward are required. It will submit its imagination to the Real Time spiritual Sat/Nav guidance of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the New Testament, and dare to ‘imagine what is not’ for fruitful mission. Such flexibility and adaptability are unattainable using the traditional church as a platform.
As our missional journey proceeds, it will always be along a road that is yet unmapped. Just when we think we have mapped it, the cultural kaleidoscope will turn again, and a new as yet unmapped highway will appear before us. This the challenge for the 21st century church, a task for which the current SIC church model is exquisitely and painfully ill equipped.