There is a lot of conversation lately around missional ecclesiology. From The Shaping of Things to Come and the Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch to Dr. Michael Goheen's Missional Ecclesiology sessions at our church conference based on Lesslie Newbigin, who many trace the emerging movement to (had a conversation with Andrew Jones about that). One of Hirsch's general points is:
Churches currently can only reach about 12% of the population. Unless the way people do church changes toward mission it will not reach the culture. If we do not change the church will be in a state of radical decline.
So where does that leave us? One challenge is we can react and determine to re-think how church is done and move to a more organic house church movement. I don't know if that is the right reaction. It seems to me that being the church, we benefit from 3 expressions as the people of God. This is the case based on our triperspectival or multiperspectival understanding of all reality. But here is a quick intro:
All reality must be seen through 3 primary perspectives: Normative, Situational & Existential. These three are an epistemological lens which are required to see true reality. The gospel for example is expressed triperspectivally as News/Truth (Normative), a change of identity/grace (Existential) and as an alternative Kingdom way of living (situational). To 'preach the gospel' means to express all three of these, which goes far beyond limiting the gospel to 'individual personal salvation' a western/consumeristic mentality. (For a collection of our articles on this see Michael Foster's post.)
So how does this triperspective view impact ecclesiology? Here is one way we are looking to live this out: (view Triperspectival/Missional Ecclesiology Diagram)
1. Normative/Corporate: The people of God need to gather to hear the Word preached. Elders who through prayer and study of the Word are charged with preaching/teaching the people (yes they can also learn elsewhere, but this is a part of eldering). These are people gathering to 'devote themselves to the apostles' teaching'. This is a corporate gathering.
2. Existential/Intimate: The people of God are actively involved in each other's lives through the practice of discipling, equipping, accountability and fellowship. A small group of people may gather around shared challenges (new parents, learning more about aspects of Christianity, etc.) This is where Hirsch is dead on, that we need to simplify the way we do church but raise the bar on how we disciple. We should be less concerned with how many people show up on a Sunday (attractional) and be much more concerned with how many people are actively being discipled as followers of Christ so they may be incarnational. These acts are often done in small groups, one-on-one and are often 2-3 people.
3. Situational/Group: The people of God are the only people group created to be other-centered (listen to Goheen's session). Often this is where evangelism equipping, & pastoringand teaching theology on mission is done. We are called to be on mission. As an expression and foretaste of the Kingdom, we are to meet locally and engage in communities and tribes of people. Here a small group (8 or so) gather and gospel one another, pray for specific locations and tell & live out the gospel in a community through word & deed ministries. People live out their faith together in such a way that they are in close connection to un-believers.
One of the dangers of new ideas are often we can react to another extreme. Do we really need to abandon larger 'Sunday Service' gatherings in order to be an emerging movement of God through a house church type expression? I believe we can make a strong Biblical case that as believers corporate, intimate and small gatherings are all part of what it means to be the Church. It is through these that we can grow in the knowledge of God, live out the gospel together and be a sent people seeking to make disciples of all nations. We need to come to a place of triperspectival ecclesiology.