The Radical Reformission

John ArmstrongEmergent Church

Over the past few weeks I have led a small group discussion, with seven couples, based upon my friend Mark Driscoll’s book, The Radical Reformission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004). The discussion has been both stimulating and challenging. I find it quite hard to demonstrate to these conservative suburban Christians (much like me of course) the central thesis of Mark’s brilliant little manifesto on mission and culture. I think the overwhelming majority of us do not understand how we swim in our particular culture 24/7 and then assume that we can "hear" the gospel clearly in that context. I have come to conclude that this assumption is fatal to grasping the missional church emphasis of Mark’s little book.

As I was praying about last evening’s group meeting on Thursday morning (we discussed chapter four last night, if you have the book, with the title: "Elvis in Eden—A Reformission Understanding of Culture") I asked the Lord to specifically help me make these thoughts as clear and powerful as possible. I then had lunch with two men who are Korean missionaries to the United States. These contacts came via a student of mine whose father is one of the two men. The other man is a family practice physician, who just happened to hear me on the MBN Network program "Open Line" a few weeks ago. He subsequently attended our "Reversing the Secular Tide" conference, November 4-5. These two men were both formally sent to North America to evangelize college campuses as "tentmaking" missionaries. They came here with formal education and a clear commitment to earn their income in the workplace in America while they devoted direct and passionate effort to evangelizing and planting churches that have a missional DNA. This effort has produced hundreds of churches and outreach ministries across the world. These tentmaking Korean missionaries are now in scores of cities in North America.

My two new Korean friends have asked me to speak, on February 11, to their national meeting of Christian workers under the umbrella of this mission, the Univesity Bible Fellowship. Please don’t miss this point. Most all of those in attendance at this UBF conference will be people who have "normal" jobs and thus they will carve out the time to attend such an event through great personal sacrifice. I was delighted to accept this kind invitation and can’t explain how excited I am to meet more believers who have such a deep commitment to Christ’s commission.

Here is the point in telling you this story. Until all Christians realize that planting and growing the church is the work of every member (thus all of us are, in that sense, informal missionaries) we will never get to first base with a biblical missional emphasis. We must teach a new generation to think "missionally" and to believe that God is calling all of them to use their time and talent to reach their neighborhoods and to develop growing churches. More than 99% of Western Christians believe mission is the work of specially trained ministers and missionaries, i.e., it is work of professionals (alone). American Christians are taught to pray for and support such missionaries financially. These Korean brothers, and their families, believe that they can work and live anywhere God sends them. They are "sent" to an area and then seek find work and a home, like true pilgrims. They use their gifts, education, monetary resources, indeed every member of their family, as a means to the end of extending the kingdom of Christ by evangelizing and planting new churches. Sadly, these two men told me that they have found almost no support or interest from traditional churches and missions. Even more shocking, but quite revealing, is the sad fact that Korean American churches think this particular mission is dangerous. Why you ask? These people are not planting and growing churches the right way, i.e., the way Christendom has built churches in the West for centuries.

I know the Korean church movements of Chicago with some measure of firsthand experience. There are hundreds of Korean congregations in our region. Most are very small but all are led, to varying degrees, like typical Western and North American congregations. Most all of them are also badly divided and do not trust one another across local church divisions. There is, simply put, no evidence of serious ecumenism among these flocks. I wonder where they got this DNA?

Please do not tell me that most Christians in the United States understand the idea of the church existing for, and serving, the kingdom of God in mission. Most of us are so immersed in going to church, giving our money to support pastor(s) and missionaries, and investing in all the endless programs that make up church life on Sunday, that we never seriously consider for a moment what Adolph von Harnack said about the church in the first two centuries after the resurrection. The famous historian wrote, more than a hundred years ago, that there can be no serious doubt that the missional actions of ordinary Christian believers were what eventually turned the Roman Empire upside down.

I will say more later about this subject later but I can say now that I came away from lunch yesterday, and the group meeting last evening, deeply impressed that the form my own ministry must take in 2006 and beyond will be profoundly connected to this vision of the church. I asked myself again today, "If every new member were taken in the local church, and at that point commissioned formally to be a missionary, what would be the outcome of such a strategy?" New models and forms of the church would surely have to emerge. New wine would clearly demand new wineskins. I am not advocating that only house churches can become missional churches. That would be a mistake since it would make the means (a form of church life) the end rather than the goal (everyone involved in missional church growth). I do wonder how you feel about this and would value serious input from others who believe, with me, that the North American church is failing to truly engage the missional mandate of our Lord Jesus Christ in our post-Christendom era. I find it much, much easier to argue about arcane theological debates than it is to take this issue seriously. What do you think?