I’ve moved my family all the way around the world to try to develop a model of church that frees every one of it’s members into mission.
I’m still processing a book I’ve just read called Imagining the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. It is challenging.
Smith starts by pulling apart any notion I might have had that my teaching was going to produce the outcome I am hoping for. He writes:
We don’t think our way through to action; much of our action is not the outcome of rational deliberation and conscious choice.Much of our action is not “pushed” by ideas or conclusions; rather, it grows out of our character and is in a sense “pulled” out of us by our attraction to a telos.
That word telos is one that he uses regularly and its one that I am seeing more and more clearly is actually the central question of what it means to move a church into mission.
Telos is the word where we get “telescope” from and it means “the long view”, the “purpose” or the “end” to which we are working. Smith’s central assertion is one that I am increasingly coming to see the truth of… There are lots of systems out there that define purpose for us, and the central question for me to move a church into mission isn’t the mission, or the “means” but the “end”.
People (including me) need a very tangible picture of what the Kingdom of God is, and that picture needs to be more attractive than the other pictures that the world invites them to work towards (primarily money, sex or power).
No matter how much we dress it up, the world’s agenda is re-enforced everywhere we look, and the real reason the church isn’t moving into mission is that most of us are working towards financial security, relationships or influence rather than the Kingdom of God.
I think this is what Jesus was trying to communicate in the parable of the sower. For many years I read that parable as a picture about whether people became Christians or not, then I read Jesus’s own words, about what the seed actually was in Matthew 13:19 “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom…”
The seed is the story of the Kingdom of God, and the main three reasons people don’t respond to it are:
- They are so self absorbed they don’t even notice
- They respond with emotion, but don’t let the story of the Kingdom of God get to the core of their lives.
- They make a start but the telos’ of the world bring a competing vision of reality, and that competing vision chokes the Kingdom story.
As I look at the Christian church, and at my own life, I can see just how powerful the telos’ of the world are. Jesus invites us to a whole new way of living, but the world already has a way of living shaped by it’s story of the “good life.
So the central question in moving the church into mission is not about “how”, its about having a picture of the Kingdom of God so clear, and so attractive, that every aspect of our lives is affected. Smith writes:
Christian formation is a conversion of the imagination effected by the Spirit, who recruits our most fundamental desires by a kind of narrative enchantment—by inviting us narrative animals into a story that seeps into our bones and becomes the orienting background of our being-in-the-world.
The longer I work at this Pastor thing, the more convinced I am that Smith is right. Our thoughts and our actions are not the main game, its the vision behind all of that… the story we believe we are living in… that is the most important thing…
I think I’ll write some more in coming weeks as I process this book. Be warned, it’s not a light read, but the questions he is raising are exactly the right questions if we are truly to see a church that is shaped by Jesus and not the world.