‘Janus – the Roman ‘god’ of beginnings . . transitions . . . and endings’
Sadly, Covid-driven Lockdowns have now become familiar to most of us, and those who live on Australia’s eastern seabord are currently experiencing the ‘joy’ of them yet again. What has also become familiar is the corresponding shutdowns of normal ‘church’ services and activities.
However there is, at least there should be, an upside, which is that these enforced times of low to minimal activity provide an opportunity to reflect on the state of the Church’s mission to local communities. This time for reflection I call a ‘Janus Tide’ – A Season of Opportunity’. The shape of such a reflection can be likened to the image of the Roman ‘god’ Janus (after which our first month of the year is named).
Janus is the ‘god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, doorways, passages’, and the two faces of his image simultaneously look back to the past and forward to the future. Similarly, in the analysis of many of the posts on this site, we have looked both backwards and forwards. Backwards, to the sad history of missional failure of the post-Christendom western Church over recent decades that has created the Crisis of the current Missional Malaise. If in any doubt as to the reality of that Crisis reference just needs to be made to all the Institutional ‘Church’ health and growth metrics and trends over the last 30 years or longer. These leave no doubt as to whether the word Crisis is appropriate, little acknowledged though it is.
However, and much more positively, at various times we have also looked even further back and made reference to the missional movements of the Apostle Paul, of the 5th and 6th century northern European Celts, and 19th century missionaries such as David Livingstone and Hudson Taylor for insights to be gained from their effective missions to, what we should note, were Pagan societies.
Most importantly however, for the missional Crisis of our time, we have sought to look forward from, what I think future observers will acknowledge to be, the little recognised ‘Hinge Point’ in History that is our current moment, to the possibilities of a ‘Vision Splendid’ (with apologies to Banjo Patterson). That Vision is the sprinkling of live Gospel Virus-shedding Christian communities, throughout the spiritual darkness of the post-Christian neo-pagan cultural jungle in which we in the West now live. It is a ‘looking forward’ to the prospect of a much more missionally fruitful future.
For such a Vision to be implemented, there is a need to understand the relevance of the Janus characteristics of –
‘Transitions (from the passing age to the age to come), Doorways (into cultural other worlds)
and the Passages that will take us there’
to our time and missional task. Now is a season of Transition, a time, in the words of Alan Roxburgh, of a ‘massive unraveling of our culture’ that has already left the cumbersome, inflexible and change-averse institutional Church distantly flailing in its wake. It is also a time when we need to seek to develop new missional vehicles that will find and enter Doorways into, and travel through the Passages to the unreached ‘Live, Work and Play’ dwelling places of the Lost.
It is important to state at this point that there is certainly no claim here to have found the proverbial ‘magic missional bullet’. Rather, our aim has been to raise some very uncomfortable yet vitally necessary questions that have been begging to be, but steadfastly not been, asked for half a century. The problem with asking ‘Inconvenient Questions’ is of course that it leads us to some very ‘Inconvenient Conclusions’ namely-
- Given the plethora of irrefutable evidence, it is now a delusion to believe that the ‘Form’ of ‘Church’ we have is actually capable of achieving, or even being changed to achieve, a reversal in the decline of western Christianity.
- Rather what is actually needed is a ‘New Concept of ‘Church’. That is one that retrieves and uses the opportunities provided by the ‘Divine Freedom (For more click here) of the New Testament voice which allows for multiple expressions of the Biblical DNA for Christian community.
- It is time for a shift to “A new level of thinking”; a new mindset that grapples with the reality that we live in a society effectively now pagan, biblically illiterate and retreating rapidly from any sense of Christian affiliation (see the last 50 years of National Census data), indeed becoming hostile to it.
- It is time not to just ‘think outside the box’ but to actually ‘get out of the box’ within which we are currently trapped; to envisage ‘Something Completely Different’; a radically new concept; an Organism that is Mission-Fluid and not bound by any remnants of the Christendom model. This for the sake of what is effectively something akin to a 19th century ‘Mission Africa’ i.e. ‘Pagan Mission’, for our time.
A Complete Break
Such a ‘Vision’ requires the ‘Imagining’ of networks of Missional Communities that are embedded in, and become part of, the mosaic of ‘Church-alien ‘Live, Work and Play’ micro-cultures into which the now neo-pagan population has now fragmented. It can be argued that this is both the most essential and distinctive characteristic that separates the ‘Network’ Church of the future from the ‘Sunday-Centric, In-Drag, Christendom form’ (SIC) church paradigms that form today’s institutional Church, including associated Classic Church Planting strategies.. Anything less than this steadfastly resisted ‘Complete Break’ will fail to address the Crisis of the Missional Malaise.
It is the reluctant but firm conviction of this writer, increasingly reinforced by the squandering of the opportunities presented by Covid 19 forced shutdowns of churches to bring about change, that unless and until the need for missional entities that are a ‘Complete Break’ from the ‘SIC’ paradigm is accepted, decline is doomed to continue. I am acutely aware that for many this is a shocking thing to say, but to continue pouring 90% of available ‘Church’ resources into the increasingly missionally impotent ‘SIC’ church model in the hope of ‘better days’ is a denial of Reality- a Reality that does not go away because we don’t like it.
The conclusions reached at the end of the analytical journey we have pursued over ten or more years of close observation, unpalatable and even shocking though they will be to many, is that it is long past time to crystallize our thinking in regard to the Missional Crisis; to grasp the creative moment; to in fact prayerfully put on ‘over-the-horizon’ spectacles and ‘Imagine’ a missional entity that is ‘yet to be’, indeed to have, a ‘Vision Splendid’.
There is an urgency arguably not seen in the Western Church for over a 1000 years, and so it is long past time to put our ‘Janus spectacles’ on; firstly, to look back and with brutal honesty learn from the dismal and repeated mistakes of the missional endeavours of the last 30 years; secondly, to look back further to the great and fruitful pagan missional movements of more distant times; then thirdly, to extract the principles that made those endeavours effective and look forward and apply them to the 21st century missional task.
It’s long past time for the ‘boy in the crowd’ to call out the ‘Naked Missional Emperor’.
Yes the ‘Church’ is still there, but like the vestigial smile on the
‘Cheshire Cat’, it presides over something that has faded from view, the
‘Village’ that is no more . . . . . . ..
Yes, the ‘Church’ still stands, or at least the emptying building does,
presiding over the space of the faded Christendom ‘Village’. The ‘Village’ now
shattered into a Kaleidoscope of a thousand shards, each of which has
migrated to a new and increasingly distant cultural address, in world view and cultural flavour; to a second, Kaleidoscope village,
an ever-morphing mosaic of ‘Live, Work andPlay’ micro-cultures where the Light of the Christ flickers but dimly, if at all;
a new ‘Village’ for which a new ‘Church’ must be designed to penetrate, with a new concept of mission’.
‘To Something Completely Different – Indeed to a Vision Splendid’