will missional be co-opted?
Missional is one of this year’s buzzwords, and I’m already worried that it will be marketed and assimilated until it loses all meaning. I’m not so much worried about its overuse (though that’s an issue) as I am a specific misappropriation. Bear with me while I explain.
Joseph Pine lays out four things that have driven western economies over the ages. First it was commodities, then it was manufactured goods. Eventually simply making cheap goods wasn’t enough, so those goods were customized for the consumer, making services the driving force in the west. Even those are now being packaged and sold so that offering a service is no longer enough to catch and keep consumers. This has led to the customization of services, making experiences the swank thing to promote. The consumer sensibility attached to this is authenticity.
Pine uses the ubiquitous yet über cool cup of coffee as an example. The commodity costs very little, the roasted and shipped good is worth a bit more, when someone brews it and serves it to you the service drives the price up markedly, but when there’s the authenticity of a single estate, hand roasted, ambience imbued experience waiting for you, then a cup of coffee can go for several dollars. (Of course some of us are paying for office space and wifi, which would be more of a commodity, but you get the point).
This presents two problems that need careful attention. The first is that authentic experience is void of any innate value. Some experiences are good and some are bad, so seeking experience in itself is foolish. Authenticity, the pansy’s word for integrity, simply means real, and as C. S. Lewis wrote in Letters to Malcolm, We should never ask of anything “Is it real?,” for everything is real. The proper question is “A real what?,” a real snake or a real delirium tremens?
Which brings us to the second problem: authentic experience is completely self-serving when it is an end and not a means. Certainly we long for an authentic experience of God, but when God is merely a mode of achieving the ultimate experience, He also ceases to be our god. If missional church becomes a way for us to acquire an experience for ourselves, then it’s no more missional than anything that has come before it, and this is what we must carefully guard against in 2009, because this is what the market will try to do to it.
What’s this mean for missional church and the church in general? It means that all our talk of late about authenticity and experience might be the result of true spiritual hunger, or it might simply be good consumers doing what we’ve been trained to do. I remember authenticity becoming a buzz word in church circles right after Starbucks exploded on the scene. It means all those abandoning ship at worship “services” to shop around for the authentic experiences that the consumer market has taught us to demand might be more consumeristic than those they leave behind, not less. I’m as much a fan of exploring, discovering, and co-creating new ways and modes of doing and being the church as anyone, but I think we must be careful that we’re not actually embracing the very consumerism we claim to be leaving behind in a quest for the real.
Emerging church is already fading from popular vocabulary, and missional church is becoming the new it-word. Emerging church is largely an ecclesiastical reform movement with focus on services, alt-worship, etc., while missional church puts a high value on the authentic experiences of communitas by radical followers of Jesus. Coincidence? I don’t know. I do know that Missional church is not and cannot be co-opted into the next consumer experience used to market crap to church people for their own gratification, or the movement’s dead before it starts. As someone who loves it, I’d hate to see that happen.
Let’s fight to keep the focus not on the experience, but on what we so long for and enjoy experiencing: being and making disciples of Jesus in the world.