Mike Breen wrote an article at The Verge Network titled Why the Missional Movement Will Fail. His answer boiled down to one word: discipleship. I couldn’t agree with him more. However, as I read his follow up article–Why the Missional Movement Will Fail (Part 2)–I was plagued with some nagging questions.
Breen defines discipleship like this:
Defining a disciple is fairly easy, in my view. The greek word mathetes is the word that scripture uses for “disciple” and it means learner. In other words, disciples are people who LEARN to be like Jesus and learn to do what Jesus could do. One great writer on discipleship put it this way: Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.
“A disciple is someone who, with increased intentionality and passing time, has a life and ministry that looks more and more like the life and ministry of Jesus. They increasingly have his heart and character and are able to do the types of things we see Jesus doing. We don’t have to look far in the New Testament to see this happening. Just look at the life of the disciples/ apostles and the communities they led over time, they looked more and more like Jesus!
I grew up in the Evangelical world, so I totally get what Mike is saying. However, I have become increasingly aware of something that is missing in almost all of the missional literature from this tribe. ((to be fair and more accurate, I should say that it definitely does not appear in this article. I have not, of course, read all of the literature produced by Breen and his companions.))
My question is this: Where is the Holy Spirit in all of this?
The Evangelical/Missional movement flows from a Christocentric (and sometimes perhaps Christomonist) perspective. Yes, I agree and believe that Jesus is the incarnation of God, the Word became flesh, whose life gave us the example of faithfulness to the Father, whose teachings established the law of love as the kernel of God’s Kingdom, whose death demonstrated God’s absolute love for creation, whose resurrection demonstrated power over sin and death, and whose promise of a preferred future gives us hope. And yet, Jesus physically left us, and breathed the Spirit into us.
It seems to me that discipleship may be perhaps better framed this way: We, as followers of Jesus, baptized in the dynamic relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are called to open ourselves up to discern the movement of the Spirit who is at work in the world.
The first disciples/apostles modeled this for us. While Breen claims that the first disciples were models of how people are to become more and more like Jesus, I would say that a more accurate description is that they modeled a lifestyle of keeping in step with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Breen goes on to say the the fruit of discipleship is found in increasing levels of Character and Competency. These qualities, as they are conformed more and more to the image of Christ, will naturally overflow in a missional lifestyle.
Again, I agree with Breen at one level. However, these twin qualities of Character and Competency are self-focused and emphasize the individual disciple as agency in the work of the Kingdom. What if being a disciple is less about self-sufficient agency and more about discerning the agency of God at work in the world, and allowing ourselves to be responsive to God’s invitation to engage with the other in the spirit of love, peace, and grace?
I realize that, at one level, this may seem like semantics and splitting-of-hairs. However, I think it is a worthwhile exercise to acknowledge an absence of both Holy Spirit agency and Trinitarian participatory engagement in some missional church conversations.
I agree with Breen. The Missional movement will fail if it doesn’t focus on discipleship. However, discipleship might be better understood as spiritual formation in the context of communal praxis.
This meditation has helped me realize why my research is important. The Trinity does matter. I love Jesus, don’t get me wrong. I believe the church is centered on Jesus as we are gathered around his risen body. Yet, perhaps, the reason the Missional Movement will fail is because we have ignored the Spirit. We must remember that the Spirit is the agency of the missional imagination that empowers and propels us into God’s preferred and promised future where we can stand as public and prophetic companions with the world.