Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ministry 21C and T.O.E.: Framing the Missions Discussion


Is that the defining word of my ministry life and career? I feel like I have spent my entire life in transition. I have navigated the journey from my Smith/Corona typewriter to my first "laptop" computer - a Kaypro II (ok - it weighed about 30lbs, but you could actually place it on your lap) to my first desktop PC to my latest Dell laptop.

I just bought the newest htc model phone from AT&T - it is a far cry from my first mobile phone that looked like a walkie-talkie straight out of a WWII combat scene. And - I still have a collection of my favorite albums - those LP's that sounded so good on our RCA Hi-Fidelity sound record player. I know about transition! Not to mention my sermons that used to be heard by a live congregation that knew me - and are now digitized, live-streamed, broadcast and down-loaded by folks I'll never meet.

On top of all of that, I am right in the midst of another significant transition; I am leading my church through a transition in missions. As challenging as it has been, the reward of witnessing the healthy relationship between our ecclesiology and our missiology has been worth all the effort. My church is more invested in the Mission of God on both a local and global scale than ever.

However, while churches like mine are on fire - the flame of centralized, denominationally-based delivery systems is diminishing. I think it is pre-mature or even incorrect to surmise that we now live in a "post-denominational" ministry environment. More correctly, we are living in an era where the local church is beginning to take its rightful position in the missions arena and denominations are being forced to embrace this reality. Denominations will not cease to exist - they must, however, make significant changes if they are going to survive in this new day.

21C - such is life in the 21st century church world! The 21st century probably began with the dawn of personal computing. It certainly was birthed by the time the internet became available and usable. Now - technology has connected the world in unprecedented measures. There is little doubt that the 21st century is home to vast and sweeping changes in missions. Local churches are developing meaningful and significant relationships that are independent of denominational considerations. Our churches are no longer dependent upon a centralized organization that often has dictated the time, place and conditions of community and cooperation. That era has ended. It is a new day.

T.O.E. - the reality of this new day has been variously embraced. For some, it has been an alarm that has caused them to look longingly in the rear-view mirror for simpler times and "cleaner" methods of cooperative efforts. Understandably, some folks are calling for greater "loyalty" to institutional structures while others warn about the dangers inherent in the entrepreneurial missions connections that are developing faster than anyone could have ever predicted.

However, many church and missions leaders are fully engaged in leading churches and mission efforts forward during this time of transition. Praise God for these innovative and courageous men and women who are challenging us to pursue the glory of God to the ends of the earth.

While I remain committed to my historic Baptist roots, I am giving leadership to the entrepreneurial side of the missions journey. I am working to lead new networks of missional community, conversation and action. It is exciting.

In the midst of all of the excitement and the fast pace of formulating something new, I think we need to address something that may slow us down. It is T.O.E. - Theory of Everything. While Albert Einstein took great pride in discovering and publishing his Theory of Relativity, he never overcame his frustration with his inability to discover a Theory of Everything. Physicists are still struggling to find a framework to fully explain the fundamental forces and particles of the universe. Many of them have focused their attention to the mathematical formula known as E-8 - an incredibly complex pattern comprised of 8 dimensions with 248 points. Yet, the search continues as some of the smartest people on the planet debate the merits of any proposal that can explain everything.

What does T.O.E. have to do with missions? It is germane to this discussion because it may help to explain the reluctance some folks express when they are presented with the array of networks and collaborative efforts currently available to churches. Let me explain what I mean.

When we began GCPN, I expected to encounter questioning and evaluation from both mission leaders and church leaders. That happened. But - it was mostly positive and helpful. In fact, our network is stronger and healthier today because of the continued input of partners across the world. I am grateful for the lessons learned already.

Now, we are in the midst of connecting multiple networks and mission partners. Our conversation and collaborative efforts are expanding. Some people continue to ask questions like, "Well, what you all are doing is good, but what about this?!" Or, "What about that?" Often - the this or that is connected to a very specific situation which probably needs to be addressed at some point. However, often it is something that will be addressed in the doing of the work!

My point? On the one hand, we can't afford to be reckless and throw caution to the wind in our new mission models and networks. However, neither can we be paralyzed just because we don't have a Missions Theory of Everything! The journey of entrepreneurial endeavors is a journey of discovery. We are discovering new things each day. Praise God!

It is the 21st century. It is a new day in missions. We may not be able understand and explain everything - but we know enough to utilize the resources available to us and forge ahead. We are on a magnificent journey as we join God in all He is doing across the world.


Dennis Wiles
Pastor, First Baptist Arlington


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