My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past, present, and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus. Last week I looked into the revelations from the ghost of church past (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three). And this week we’ll hear from the ghost of church present (here’s Part One and Part Two).
A Missional Response
So the ghost of Christmas present showed us that the US is a mission field in need of fresh encounters with the gospel and that many of our churches are not responding to this reality all that well. There are some, however, who are.
Here’s one such example: Adullam in Denver, Colorado.
Adullam’s lead pastor is Hugh Halter, the author of Tangible Kingdom. In his book Hugh tells the story of how God helped reignite the missional fire in him and how he and his ministry partner Matt Smay, along with their families, reluctantly planted a church in Denver. In this post I want to explore how Hugh and Matt have led Adullam to be a community with a missional impulse. (The source for all the material below is either my memory of reading Tangible Kingdom or the “About Adullam” page on their site.)
- Missional Vision — Here’s Adullam’s vision statement: “Adullam is a congregational network of incarnational communities that are apprenticing kingdom people” (form the “About Adullam” page). So, their centering values all lean toward being missional and away from being attractional.
- Discipleship is the Engine — Did you note the word “apprenticing” in Adullam’s vision statement? This is their code word for “discipleship.” The purpose in shying away from the word “discipleship” is, in my estimation, because it is too churchy and has come to mean something (classroom-style, cognitive learning) that it doesn’t mean in the New Testament (learning from a respected person by living life together). Thus, Adullam is saying that apprenticeship is the engine that drives them into their mission field. Without it, there’s no evangelism, no growth, no conversions, no leadership development, etc.
- Focus on Being the Church — You probably also noted that Adullam’s vision statement doesn’t use the word “church.” This had to be intentional! Instead we find the words “congregation” and “incarnational communities” and “people.” Their focus is clearly not to become a place for people to come and receive spiritual goods and services (which is how I define our attractional understanding of “church”) and is instead on being the church.
- Praxis, Praxis, Praxis! — Adullam also says that their explicit goal is to make the kingdom of God tangible. By this, as you can read in Tangible Kingdom, Hugh means living out the good news in the lives of people. This means serving, having fun, and, yes, talking about God too. But it means all those things, not just the last one! Thus, the people at Adullam are trained to and expected to express their love for God and their neighbors in real-life, real-world ways.
- Symptoms of an Apprentice — Furthermore, Adullam spells out very clearly what the life of an apprentice of the kingdom looks like: 1) They’ll be involved in inclusive community; 2) They’ll experience communion with God (together, in smaller communities, and as individuals); and 3) They’ll be on mission for God in Denver.
- Incarnation – You may have also noticed how much Adullam uses the word “incarnation.” Their informed belief is that “the best environment for the kingdom to appear tangible is in the context of an incarnational community” (form the “About Adullam” page). By “incarnation” they mean being Jesus in their own communities — in essence, enfleshing the gospel of the kingdom of God where the live, work, and play. This is a missional way of thinking that stands in direct opposition to the attractional mindset that says “If we build it, then they will come.”
- Discouraging Consumerism — Being a consumer Christian (meaning a follower of Jesus who just wants to be fed with as little effort as possible, whether on purpose or subconsciously) would be really hard at Adullam. They don’t always meet together. The purpose of their times of gathering is to be a blessing to the kids and for their various missional communities to connect. In fact, Adullam is so serious about discouraging consumerism that they provide links to other churches in the Denver area where folks might find a better fit. That is revolutionary!
Adullam is just one example among many that are out there. Now, in fact, there are even missional networks that help congregation figure out how to get on mission together. A few of these networks are Missio Alliance, Verge, Forge America, and Acts 29. Now is a great time to start being more missional! What are we waiting for?!?
Do you know of some more missional responses the reality of the American mission field? Let me know in the comments!