Mission in Western Culture

Allelon is sponsoring a multi-year project in partnership with M.J. Murdock Trust, ProVision Foundation, Maclellan Foundation, and several other private foundations. The Mission in Western Culture Project (MiWCP) is designed as a global initiative to address the question of a missional engagement in Western culture from the perspective of the local church (defined as congregations, house and simple churches and parachurch groups in a specific context) in order to understand the critical issues facing leadership development, discipleship, formation and witness in modern Western culture.

We see three elements that are
particularly critical to our thinking:

  1. 1

    Our changed context. We are now living in a changed social context, what might be described as both postmodern and post Christian. Western Society as mission field. A missional theology recognizes that Western societies are now, themselves, mission fields. This fact calls for more than new evangelism tactics. Modern evangelism developed in a time when people assumed the Christian story was a normal, regulative part of the culture within which they lived. Most folk knew the basic Gospel story in one form or another. Evangelism fulfilled the role of presenting an apologetic, which pressed for commitment. It worked in a world where the culture-at-large understood the basic Christian story. This is no longer the case.

  2. 2

    Mission is about the Missio Dei (the mission of God). If the West, including North America, is once again a mission field where the central narratives of the Gospel are being either lost or profoundly compromised by other values and stories, then the focus of this mission is the God who has encountered us in Jesus Christ? the One whom we confess in the Trinitarian confession of Father, Son and Spirit. This may seem such an obvious statement that requires no explicit comment, but that’s not the case. In Western societies, churches have shifted their focus from God to how God serves and meets our needs. Jesus Christ has been packaged as a choice in the spiritual food court used to meet the private needs of individuals. The result is a debased, compromised, sterilized Christianity, which misrepresents the Gospel. The gospel is not just a matter of personal salvation; rather, it is a call to participate in the communal and global purposes of God. The biblical narratives revolve around God’s mission in, through, and for the sake of the world. The focus of attention is toward God not the other way around. The missio dei is about a God-centered rather than a meeting-personal-need centered understanding of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

  3. 3

    Missional theology sees the Church (the people of God) as a contrast society. We recognized that our culture continues to move through massive levels of discontinuous change, which is rapidly de-centering the church from its former place at the center. This raises fundamental questions about the relationship between Christian life and the pluralist culture in which we live. In terms of the latter, the message of Jesus is the breaking-in of God’s Kingdom reign into the world. Therefore, the church is the called-out community of God in midst of the specificity of a culture. The church is an ecclesia, which means an assembly that has been called out in a public way as a sign, witness, and foretaste of where God is inviting all creation in Jesus Christ. The church, in its life together and witness in the world, proclaims the destiny and future of all creation. The God we meet in Jesus calls the church to be a community of people who no longer live for themselves and their own needs but as a contrast society whose life together manifests God’s future for the whole of creation.

To this point, questions of a missional engagement with Western culture have been asked from within academic and theoretical frameworks. While this approach has yielded a rich and growing literature around questions of missiology, ecclesiology and culture it has not yet appropriately engaged with local churches and leaders in ways that significantly effect their understanding and practices of leadership, discipleship, and witness/evangelism. A missional ecclesiology, at its core, must be rooted in a local context. It must provide the skills, capacities and on-the-ground training needed to enable churches and leaders to develop mission-shaped communities and ministries to engage neighborhoods, networks and specific groups with the Gospel.

The project will involve working with local churches, missiologists and church leaders in the United Kingdom, Europe, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. We are planning to engage conversations about forming a similar team in Canada.

The project is shaped around several key elements, processes and phases:

  1. Local Churches and their narratives: Partnering with local churches to understand the narratives shaping people in these churches and their contexts.
  2. Local Narratives and Scripture: Bring these articulated narratives into dialogue with Scripture so that in each local church people are looking at the relationships between the ways Scripture reads these narratives.
  3. Articulate Themes: On the basis of 1 and 2 identify themes and issues specific to geographical areas and those that are present across all systems.
  4. Participant Reflection: Partner with local practitioners, theologians, missiologists and others to reflect upon these themes and issues in order to address ways in which local churches might missional engage their contexts from the perspective of ordinary men and women in local churches.
  5. Experiments: Design a series of experiments that engage the overarching themes in each specific to each context. An action-reflection model called Missional Action Teams will be used.
  6. Reflect, Learn, Experiment: Reflect upon these experiments and design further experiments.
  7. Implications for Mission-Shaped Leadership: Assess the learning in terms of implications for the formation of mission-shaped leadership in the local context.
  8. Resources: Develop training resources for local churches and their leaders.
  9. Missional Implications: Reflect upon the theological and missiological implications of this project for a missional engagement with contemporary, western culture.

Additional background information
on the MiWCP is available for download.