15 November 2005

Whole grain, whole enchilada, whole church

Well, if you were looking for a dose of pretentious BS with your morning cup o' joe (or whatever tasty beverage you might be enjoying just now), you came to the right place. In the following post, I make sweeping statements (not uncommon in this blog), I invent words (less common), and I present to you a half-baked ecclesiology in such a way as to imply that this is the system God intended for the church and was kind enough to reveal to me. So I apologize up front and hope that by these words I can defuse it a bit. But this is one of those things that just seemed to download into my brain from somewhere while I was driving in to work this morning, thinking about the "Missional vs. Intentional" thing I was on about a few posts back. And this blog is where I work those things out. So please, be kind--I know I'm being something of a windbag--but please do comment and please do criticize and help me think these concepts through.

The thing that I like least about it is the name I came up with for the overall concept. "Whole church" implies that I think churches that don't emphasize the things I say are important are somehow incomplete, inadequate, or less than "whole." I don't think that. It's just the best name I could think of so far. Anyway, here's my "theory", such as it is.
  • A whole church is MISSIONAL/TRANSFORMATIONAL. A whole church recognizes that the most fundamental identity of followers of Jesus is that of a people on a mission. That mission is specific to each Christian, each church, and each church system, and must be continuously discerned, but it always consists of the two parts of the mission Jesus gave his emissaries in Luke 10:9: proclaim the inbreaking Kingdom of God, and demonstrate it by transforming the world, one child of God at a time. By living out their particular missions together as contrast communities within and fully part of their larger cultures, Christians become the sign and foretaste of the Kingdom by healing the sick, welcoming the outcast, and speaking truth to power in defense of social justice and peace. Through proclaiming, through deed and word, the Gospel of Jesus and his Kingdom, they invite more disciples to join in this transformational work. I believe it's telling that it's mainly folks from a liberal/mainline/denominational background who are doing the hard thinking and writing on Missional Church: this sense of mission is perhaps something especially needed in those traditions.
  • A whole church is INTENTIONAL/FORMATIONAL. A whole church recognizes that authentic Christian lives are permeated by a habit of spiritual practice and prayer. Whole churches appreciate the rich inheritance of the Christian traditions of the past. They foster communities where the spiritual life does not revolve around the Sunday service, but bridges Sunday to Monday in a rich rhythm including prayer, discernment, fellowship, study/learning, service, and hospitality. Only through a Christian life that's formational can new disciples become mature disciples, and mature disciples stay grounded enough to be the sign and foretaste of the Kingdom and agents of God's work to transform the world. I think it's telling that so many "emerging church" thinkers from a conservative/evangelical/nondenominational background (Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt) are writing books about practice: this habit of intentional practice is perhaps especially needed in those traditions.
  • A whole church is CHANGE-EMBRACING/REFORMATIONAL. A whole church is not afraid to change. As the faces of its members change, or the faces of the folks outside the church doors change (or as new faces are discovered inside or outside that were always there but never noticed before), a church needs to be ready to reform itself to serve those who now need to be served in the ways that they need to be served--and to allow its own members to minister in the ways they are called to minister. To be able to do this, it's essential that the first two items be true. Without a strong yet continuously discerned sense of mission, how can a church know what is essential to its vocation and what is negotiable? Without a strong (or at least developing) habit of intentional practice, how can we have the courage and maturity to embrace change in this way?
  • A whole church is ESCHATOLOGICAL/"PRE"FORMATIONAL. A whole church always keeps in mind that everything it does--forming disciples, transforming the world, reforming itself--is in a very real sense just rehearsal, just preliminary. A whole church expects to change the world, but not through that modern myth called "progress." Instead, we expect God to transform the world (including us) through the surprising inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, through the work of the Spirit in unexpected places, and through us as the sign and foretaste of that Kingdom. We hold in tension Jesus' announcement that the Kingdom is at hand and within us now and his prayer for the future day when God's kingdom will come, fully, on earth as in heaven.

The key to all of that is a steadfast focus on what Jesus spent so much time proclaiming: the Kingdom or Reign of God, God's inbreaking New World, both now and yet to come. We transform the world as we proclaim and demonstrate that Kingdom. We form ourselves as mature members of the Kingdom. We reform our institutions to conform to the inbreaking of the Kingdom in our where and our when. And we "pre"form all our work in the image (so we hope and pray) of the full Kingdom that is to come.

So that's my high-fallutin' theory of "whole church". Church with plenty of fiber, organic and unbleached. ;-) Thoughts?


WebServant said...

Interesting article...actually, I'm not done with it yet. I've just been looking at more about this "emergent church" business...kind of new to me. If you're interested in the church, you might want to check out our blog at


We are believers who interact daily with one another for the purpose of building each other up in the faith. We recently moved into the same neighborhood together so that we can impact each other and our neighbors for Christ. Anyway, happy blogging...

Mike Croghan said...

Hi Webservant,

I think you're asking some excellent questions, and I hope God blesses your experiment. You're making bold choices for the Kingdom! I'll try and check in on you now and again to see how it's going.