Mike Breen wrote a candid article on why he thinks the missional church can (will?) fail (edit: read Mike’s part 2 as well). The answer, poor discipleship. He makes some poignant remarks regarding the importance of discipleship that I resonate with, but seems to miss the foundational elements of missional identity (pssst, it includes discipleship).

Without owning words (although some, even on this blog, have tried) missional churches seek to re-orient the church towards the driving force of missio Dei. The mission has a church, not the other way around, as the saying goes.

The missional paradigm is not an attempt to re-orient towards a particular set of doctrines or theology. For example, the declining Emergent church tends to be associated with a more left-leaning theology whereas missional is a language translatable into any number of traditions.

The organic nature of the movement is striking a resonating chord with churches from all traditions partly due to the absence of one central voice from one particular ‘school of thought’. As such the mega-church could opt to adopt a missional posture along with the high-church liturgical traditions. Albeit such a move would be chaotic and likely push 25% or more of congregants to more safer pastures, but the opportunity is there should leaders choose the adventure.

Here’s the thing, one of the core elements of missional church that speaks loudly to the identity of the movement is in fact discipleship. I don’t know who Mr. Breen is reading or what communities he’s watching, but I have yet to read or see a missional community that wasn’t fundamentally postured in such a way that highly values and invests into relationships.

Discipleship is at the forefront of the missional movement, it’s foundational to its survival and I know of no single leader who thinks otherwise. (I also know of no one leader who can say their church is a resounding success when it comes to discipleship, as in it’s REALLY hard to disciple.)

If discipleship is the lynch pin of any church movement then the conventional/attractional church would’ve died off decades ago. All the evangelical churches I’ve attended defy their name–they aren’t good at evangelism and they’re even worse at discipleship. Yet they’re still around (albeit set to finally disappear in a couple generations.) It seems pretty easy to fake authentic community and it also seems to take a really long time for that inauthenticity to fizzle out.

That’s not to say discipleship is not important, I completely believe it is core to the church. Discipleship is also foundational to missional churches; without this foundation a community ceases to be missional in both essence and function.

If Mr. Breen is encountering churches floundering to find identity beyond say, Kingdom works, then perhaps he’s encountering leaders from conventional attractional church paradigm seeking to plug and play the latest style of ecclesiology for short term gain. That’s not a problem of missional church, that’s an issue of bad leadership.

I also disagree with Breen’s assumption representation of a missional culture comes as a direct product of discipleship. If that was the case we wouldn’t have a missional movement since all disciples would propagate their new missional DNA.

That’s not what we observe partially because conventional churches aren’t making enough disciples (practical reality), but more likely mere discipleship does not change someone’s fundamental perception of mission. If your church is postured so that mission is merely the ‘wheels of the car’, or a subset of the church’s function, then any disciple emerging from that context will believe the same.

Breen also demonstrates a very linear view of discipleship and Kingdom work. Again, it seems he’s treating mission as the ministry of the church charged with good works and evangelism–mission not as function of the church but as an off shoot.

He states emphatically,

If your church community is not yet competent at making disciples who can make disciples, please don’t send your members out on mission until you have a growing sense of confidence in your ability to train, equip and disciple them.

If that were the case (and it seems to be) then exceptionally few churches would be doing little more than spoon-feeding the same Christians year after year. I’m not saying that’s desirable, I’m merely stating what we see in practice. It also robs the mission away from the saints and places is square in the hands of the qualified few. Again, I’m not saying that’s what’s desirable, but I am saying it’s the product of linear (perhaps Pauline) interpretations of mission.

Discipleship isn’t teaching someone the essence of being a Christian, it’s not exclusive to rational understanding of faith. If that was the case one could be discipled simply be listening to a sermon(s). Rather, discipleship is a holistic endeavour that primarily seeks a life worth living. It is the development of character and virtues that cannot grow without the activity of mission. While you’re living out your faith you become that ‘preview of what is to come’. To suggest one cannot be ‘sent’ on mission without being properly discipled divorces two items that are inseparable.

Jesus started his ministry extolling virtues in the Beatitudes that the Twelve (and others) were to live out. Persecution wasn’t for being an evangelist (proselytizer) but for being an advocate for all the things were just outlined (peacemaker, mercy, meekness, etc.) That’s a whole lot of doing while they were learning.

To use Breen’s car metaphor, mission isn’t the wheels. Let Kingdom work become the wheels. Discipleship can be the engine, but mission is the current and future destination. Mission is the lens that we filter our church through: worship through the lens of mission, Kingdom work through the lend of mission, and discipleship through the lens of mission.

So yes, missional church is bound to fail, just how the conventional church is now failing, because of a lack of investment in discipleship. However, the posture of churches with a missional identity is in my opinion far more conducive when it comes to valuing long term relationships necessary for discipleship. It is that posture that I do not see practiced in most conventional models of church so if anybody is in danger of dying it is the church growth/contemporary that’s already experiencing exodus.