I am simply amazed by the recognitions that many in the missional movement continue to make. I have applauded them for their honesty and willingness to make such diagnoses. First, there was the recognition that attractional worship models no longer work. Next, was their observations that mega-churches are a bust; then small groups are a flop; then programmatic churches are failing to make disciples; then, more recently, being “missional” itself has become a burden that potentially blinds the mission.
I have chronicled each critique and have been impressed by their candor. But I remain equally flabbergasted by the unawareness of these admissions by some “missional” minded folks in my own church body (LCMS). (Please remember, I am absolutely for missions, for reaching the lost, and for growing the Kingdom of God! But I am also for being honest about the way my Lutheran theology shapes how Lutherans do that.)
Nonetheless, I’m now in an even greater state of amazement over one of the most recent critiques of the North American church by missional guru Skye Jethani. In short, he notes the church is in desperate need of recognizing, get this, the value of vocation!
I have long urged the need for the church to recover and celebrate the depth of our Lutheran understanding of vocation. It’s a doctrine that became integral to my own congregation’s mission and strategic plan (see the diagram for a snapshot of our congregation’s mission strategy). My forthcoming book emphasizes its importance. And I have written about vocation numerous times on this blog.
What Jethani says is utterly affirming and deeply insightful about what has been missing in “missional” theology (particularly for young adults), but is aptly present in our historic Lutheran theology:
[T]he missional approach relies on a young adult’s spare time, extra resources, and expendable energy. It doesn’t capture a core identity issue the way family-based ministries do. When a church helps a 40-year-old mother with her struggling marriage and anxiety-driven parenting, it is applying Christian faith to the center of her life and identity. Missional ministries that try to engage a single 30-year-old don’t accomplish this because they ignore what’s at the center of his life to nibble at the margins. And what is at the center for most young adults? Vocation.
What does it mean to be in business to glorify God and bless others? How does Christ want me to engage the health care sector? Does being an artist matter to God? How do I serve in the public school system as a follower of Christ? Apart from not being dishonest, does it matter how I run my business? I’ve been offered two jobs, how do I discern which one to take? Does it matter? Can I be a soldier and be a Christian? Does my work have any meaning apart from the money I earn and give to the church?
My guess is most church leaders would have to think a lot longer to answer any of these questions. We have not been trained or conditioned to consider a person’s vocation as a central part of their lives or spiritual formation. It is not a venue most churches value or equip their members for. But work is where most adults (young and old) spend most of their time and what occupies most of their identity. Without the ability to connect faith to either family or work, there is little remaining to engage young adults other than entertaining gatherings or a celebrity in the pulpit. http://www.outofur.com/archives/2012/01/back_to_a_theol.html
Please. I am pleading. I am urging. I am begging all my Lutheran brothers and sisters—rejoice in our theology! Let’s study it. Let’s talk about it. Let’s share it. Let’s allow it to guide our understanding of what it means to be The Holy Christian Church.
As always, I invite your collegial and constructive comments as we seek to dialogue about what it means to be a 21st century Lutheran who “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).