|September 2006: summary report
The Allelon Mission to Western Culture Project seeks to innovate a movement among local churches, para-church organizations, schools and foundations to address the challenge of missional leadership in Western cultures. It is doing this through five connected initiatives:
- Summer Institute of Missional Leadership resources leaders in the practical skills, frameworks and capacities of missional leadership. Our first Institute in Boise, ID this June had some 70 pastors and denominational leaders in attendance.
- Intern Program/Missional Order trains emergent leaders in their locales in missional leadership.
- Allelon Missional Schools Project works with seminaries across North America to re-imagine leadership formation from the perspective of a missional theology rooting in local churches and their contexts. Twenty-four schools have signed on to this multi-year project.
- Consultations with emergent leaders across North America. This includes a three day consultation at Fuller Seminary in 2005 with 50 emergent leaders from US, UK, Australia and New Zealand discerning issues of leadership formation and a second consultation in 2006 with Brian McLaren and seminary educators examining questions of ministry in a postmodern context.
- Allelon Mission to Western Culture Project is a coalition of leaders from many parts of the world carrying forward Newbigin?s question of a missional engagement with modern culture. It is this project we want to profile in this letter.
Background to the Project and the Payette Lake Consultation
Lesslie Newbigin, arguably the most influential missiologist of the 20th century, in his 1986 book, Foolishness to the Greeks asked this question: What would be involved in a missionary encounter between the gospel and this whole way of perceiving, thinking, and living that we call ?modern Western culture? This question and Newbigin?s challenge to Western Christians resulted in the creation of groups and conversations around the world seeking to address this critical issue of mission to modern Western culture(s).
At the beginning of a new millennium the modern West faces even greater transformation than it did twenty years ago when Newbigin wrote these words.
During that time a generation of leaders and missiologists grew up within the framework of Newbigin?s agenda. We are aware that a younger generation is emerging into leadership while the missional question remains a primary challenge for us all. We believe it is appropriate, at this time, to form an international, multi-generational network of missional practitioners and thinkers working in partnership with local churches to re-engage the challenge of mission to modern Western culture(s). Allelon?s goal is to create the relationships that will facilitate and resource such a network.
Over the past year Allelon staff have researched the work of groups in North America, UK and New Zealand which engaged with Newbigin?s question of mission to modern Western culture. In June we invited a small, international group of twenty-six missiologists, theologians and local church practitioners from North America, UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to join us for three and half days at Payette Lake, Idaho. Our purpose in meeting was to:
- Reflect upon the Newbigin legacy in terms of future work.
- Determine the questions and frameworks that would shape the formation of a multi-generational project investigating the emerging nature of mission to modern Western culture.
- Sketch the outline for a multi-year project into discerning the key missional engagements with local churches as primary partners and loci of our work.
- Discern the partners who might join with us in this undertaking.
- Investigate how Allelon might develop a research, learning and resource center for this project of understanding the nature of mission to modern Western culture.
The Payette Lake Consultation
The Payette Lake Consultation began with a process of introductions as we discovered the relationships and connections that had brought us together from around the world. It was a delight to recognize that half of those present were from outside North America but all of us found common ground in our engagement and commitment to the missional question. Each day was shaped around a Dwelling in the Word that informed all of our conversations, cultivating an environment of discernment and openness to God in our midst.
As we reflected on the shape of the missional conversation over the past twenty years Wilbert Shenk (US) and Martin Robinson (UK) shared their personal learning and reflections on Lesslie Newbigin, and the questions, conversations and movements that evolved from his legacy. These presentations assisted us to engage in questions about the church and mission.
Pat Keifert (US) led us through a dialogue around the modern dogma and the ways in which its fact/value split has so profoundly affected the churches of the West at every level. Pat helped us to recognize the ways in which the local church had been largely left out of the conversations about mission and culture. We all recognized that, for a variety of reasons in both the history of the Western church and its life in modernity, the local church (in all its manifestations) was absent from the conversations about mission, Scripture and culture. We agreed that one of the core issues we would need to address was that of the central importance of the local church in future projects around mission to modern Western culture. This beginning allowed a deep probing of basic issues around the missional agenda. Steve Taylor (NZ) described this as the work of drilling into the core narratives of local contexts. Jannie Swart (SA) summarized how that had been attempted in some contexts.
Our second day began with Dwelling in the Word. We re-engaged the conversation about the local church as the primal location for theological reflection and mis- sional discernment. It became clear that addressing Newbigin?s question of mission to Western culture required an engagement with local churches as partners and an understanding of what is actually happening in civil space. Later that second day we began to map our conversations as a means of spiritual discernment.
Working in teams and sharing our conversations, there emerged a sense that we were being called to engage in a mutually critical solidarity with local churches to discern the narratives shaping people?s lives at this point in time. We were starting to name the location and hermeneutic that might guide us forward.
Following this mapping process we returned to a discussion of a proposed way forward in terms of how local churches would partner with us in addressing the question of mission to Western culture. The proposal took the following shape:
- Identify clusters of 12-15 local churches and para- church organizations in locations across the USA, UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa who will partner with us in this project.
- Design a listening process to discern the narratives shaping the people of these local churches in their contexts in late modernity.
- Work across these local contexts to articulate common themes and issues both within a geographical area and across all systems.
- Invite the practitioners/leaders in these contexts to engage with theologians, missiologists and others to reflect upon their learning.
- Engage local leaders in the co-design of experiments to understand how these issues play themselves out in their ministry contexts.
- Reflect upon these experiments and then design further experiments in local contexts around the nature of mission-shaped leadership.
- Develop training resources for local and para-church leaders to assist in engaging the diverse contexts of western culture with the Kingdom of God.
We tested this proposal by asking each other to signal our response and readiness to engage this international multi-year project. Practically everyone indicated a personal readiness to engage in one form or another. We sensed together a deep continuity with the missional conversations that have shaped the past twenty or so years. At the same time we felt a fresh call to a new chapter in this journey as we clearly saw the importance of the local church as our primary partner.
The next steps in this journey involve us creating a comprehensive design for the research project. Over the Fall and into the new year Allelon will coordinate this in cooperation with leaders from the UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Our goal is to use the coming months to both create the design and expand our partnerships with others around the world. Allelon staff will be meeting with those at the Payette Lake Consultation to discuss details of the design and the formation of coalitions in participating countries to join with us in this important work. We will hold a second consultation in June 07 where we will confirm our design work and identify our partners.