Friday, November 18, 2011


Kevin DeYoung post:  Missional Renaissance in Full Flower?

I don’t want to belabor the points Greg and I try to make in What Is the Mission of the Church? But, well, I guess I want to belabor just one point. I want to expand on an example we reference in the book—an example of where we think missional thinking has gotten off track.

In his book Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal argues that the church needs to “change the scorecard” of what constitutes successful mission. I don’t doubt that McNeal wants to see people come to Jesus and be built up in Christ. But the conclusion of the book paints a picture of missional renaissance in “full flower” that seems to be missing what is, in my opinion, the actual mission of the church.

I’ll give you several paragraphs from the concluding chapter so you can get the full context:
I was treated to a window view into the missional renaissance just yesterday over Jones sodas at a booth in Panera Bread. Brad Smith was the one who pulled back the drape. He is the founder of the Souper Bowl of Caring ( We had never met before, so he was detailing for me the remarkable story and impact of this charitable venture. Now in its twenty-first year, this movement last year raised $10 million for hunger relief and engaged 250,000 young people in volunteer service in their communities around the nation.
The Souper Bowl of Caring started out as a project in the youth ministry of Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, where Brad served as youth pastor at the time. The idea was to capitalize on the biggest sporting event of the year, football’s Super Bowl, to provide a service opportunity for teenagers. Kids collected donations to fight local hunger and poverty. Over the next few years, other churches in the area who heard about it quickly adopted it; then churches jumped on board from other regions of the country and other denominations. The Souper Bowl of Caring became a movement, involving over 14,000 groups of volunteers in 2008. Brad eventually left his church job to devote full-time efforts to shepherding its development. Players now include schools as well as churches, adults as well as teenagers, foundations and family charities, NFL team owners, and other social sector organizations. Brad’s dream is that Super Bowl weekend will become the biggest weekend of charitable efforts and giving in the country each year.
This is the missional renaissance full flower. All elements are present (emphasis added). You have a movement that involves cross-domain collaboration for tackling a huge social issue. Not only do the efforts of the participants benefit others, but the participants themselves also grow by fulfilling their own fundamental needs as human beings to serve others. The Souper Bowl of Caring is led by a true kingdom-oriented leader who raises his own support and the money it takes to pay staff and cover programs and administrative costs. The goal is not to build an organization (the whole operation is run by a staff of six). The Souper Bowl office doesn’t even collect the money it helps people raise. Decisions about where the money goes is left to the people who raise it and who are knowledgeable about local needs.
Community needs are being met. People are being developed. The leadership approach fosters the movement by empowering people and releasing passion and resources. And it all started with an idea from a spiritual leader who had an ache in his heart to alleviate suffering and a determination to help teenagers discover the benefits of serving. All three shifts of the missional movement are right there. If this story didn’t exist, I’d have to make it up! Thankfully, it does exist, and the world is better for it. (177-78)
I imagine this charitable effort does a lot of good and helps a lot of people. But there is nothing in this description about Christ, the church, or the gospel. Again, please hear me, I’m not saying the effort is therefore bad or a waste of time. But McNeal is doing more than describing a good charitable effort. He argues that this is the example of what mission is all about. He ends the book this way:
Some of you reading this are ripe candidates for leading the missional church movement. You have a passion and a dream. That is a powerful combination when you serve as the King’s representative and see his kingdom everywhere (emphasis added). Your impact may be across the street or around the world. You will create new worlds of human possibility and kingdom reality. Others from all sectors of the community will come alongside you to participate in what you see God doing. God will be pleased. People will be better off. Those are the two rewards you seek. It will be impossible to imagine the world as it was before you showed up.
Welcome to the missional renaissance! You have been sent by God. The world is glad you came. (181)
Honestly, if this is the missional renaissance, we could use a little more of the Dark Ages. Not less adorning the gospel, but more gospel. Not less kindness, but more Christ. This missional triumph includes no description of making disciples, baptizing people into churches, or teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands. At the very least can’t we agree that the Souper Bowl of Caring may not include “all elements” necessary for the Church to be about the mission of the Church?

Now maybe you don’t think Reggie McNeal is influential (though he is from the SBC and has been very influential in my denomination [RCA]). Maybe he doesn’t represent the best of missional thinking (though his book was endorsed by major players like Alan Hirsch). I am not for a moment claiming that everyone in the missional conversation is where McNeal is at. Certainly scholarly works would be more nuanced (if not outright disagreeing with McNeal’s “scorecard”). All I’m trying to demonstrate is that the problems we address in the book do exist, and in our experience, often on the popular level where people are putting these ideas into practice. There are voices out there who believe we can create new kingdom realities, who suggest the mission of the church is to make people better off, who believe we are going to transform the world and the world will be glad we did.

Let’s love people in our churches and in our neighborhoods in a hundred different ways. Let’s partner with thousands of people to help alleviate suffering in the world. But let’s not forget about the one thing that the church and only the church can and must do: proclaim Christ and him crucified. I don’t expect everyone to agree with our book. But I hope everyone will recognize that the theological language concerning the mission of the church is not always careful, the kingdom descriptions can be King-less, the motivation is sometimes utopian, and the main thing is sometimes the one thing missing.

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