Missional Institutions?

An idea has been rumbling around, if ill-formed, in my mind for the past couple of months.

There we were, seminary professors, church pastors, and Christian leader types, having some pretty awesome and fun and challenging conversation about the missional calling of the church. And something about the setting, the gathering of folks I was truly honored to be on stage with, made me wonder if we were the group of people whom folks should be listening to about the church in mission.

Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it.

Yesterday’s stop on the blog tour raised questions about how definitive cruciformity is of our Christian calling. The fact of the matter is (moving on from yesterday’s conversations) that my attempts at fidelity to Jesus very rarely, if ever, look like the cross. Many folks have influential positions and large followings–they have power. Well… I guess I might say, we have power, to a certain extent.

And as I reflected on this yesterday, I wrestled with the impossible possibility of cruciformity being institutionalized. Self-giving, self-sacrifice, death–these are not the principles of faithful administration of a large organization.

Let’s see if we can put these things together.

During the Newbigin conversation, N. T. Wright brought up the need for the church to speak truth to power, to which Pamela Wilhelms replied, “We can’t do that because we are power–or at least, dependent on it.” Our churches, our denominations, our seminaries are funded by the very power dollars that everyone complains about getting the free ride during the financial crisis; the 1% underwrite the very possibility of our having such a meeting, of churches sustained to the extent that we can have large buildings, multiple persons on staff, heavy educational requirements, and the like.

So here’s where I was sitting somewhat uncomfortably, and would love some discussion with you: to what extent can those of us who work within, depend upon, and serve through large Christian organizations speak meaningfully about “the mission of God”?

Are we free enough from the needs of self-preservation to tell the church that the mission of God is a holistic, cosmic mission of reconciliation that the church is too small to contain?

Are we free enough from the power of wealth to speak the prophetic word that, at times, needs to be spoken when an economic system becomes a source of injustice? or a hindrance to justice more generally?

Does the fact that are already filled, already rich, already kings (to paraphrase Paul’s mockery of the non-cruciform Corinthians in 1 Cor 4) render our voice mute when it comes to awakening people to the call of the mission of God?

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