Franchises, Denominations, and the Missional Church

Missional church is completely tied to local context. Craig Van Gelder reports that one of that one of the phases of denominational history (1920-1970) could be called the Corporate Denomination. During this phase, the church adopted corporate structures and expectations. One of the values in corporate culture of the time was uniformity (Van Gelder 38). McDonald’s mastered the idea that a burger would taste and be presented the same in Flagstaff, Arizona and Brundidge, Alabama. Within denominationalism, a similar expectation was set. No matter where you are, the Methodist franchise will be structured in this way, will worship in this way, will do ministry in this way, will have pastors trained in this way. In modernity, this worked fairly well. We knew what to expect, and that was valued.
The disunity of postmodernity has called uniformity into question and has devalued predictability. During his political life, Tip O’Neill often said, “All politics is local.” Today, all things are local. Everything is gauged by local cultures and values. Interestingly, when O’Neill used the phrase, he was referring to a physical location. A particular geographic area has specific political needs. With the information age, physical location has been replaced by cultural, or even technological, location. Therefore, where the parish mentality previously seemed appropriate for geographic locations, the missional church appeals to the church to target specific cultures and microcultures.

Things Are Getting Testy

One of the ways that we know know the brokenness of our political system is what happens when someone stands in support of one candidate or another. For some reason, we seem to understand a public endorsement as a reason to disrespect and devalue the person who shared the opinion. Let me say that this happens on both sides. Who is doing the disrespecting and devaluing is usually determined by who is most desperate. This week, I have seen two examples of this brokenness that has played out in shameful ways.

First, an American hero, Colin Powell, endorsed Barack Obama. Following the endorsement, the discrediting began.

The second instance is even more interesting, though. Alan Hirsch is theologian/missiologist/church planter/speaker. Hirsch has an interesting perspective as one who grew up in South Africa, practiced ministry in Australia for most of his life, and now travels the world (mostly in the USA) speaking and inspiring the church for focused mission and outreach. The other day, Hirsch set off a mild forest fire by saying that he (if he could) would choose Obama over McCain.

One of his stronger points was that America, even with the baggage that we have, is in position to show the best of who it is to the world. His suggestion was that most of the European nations have so much baggage that it is not even possible for them to show the best of who they are. Basically, Hirsch’s “endorsement” of Obama is based in diplomacy and vision casting for the world. In our global situation, that’s not a bad argument.

Of course, no insightful comment goes unpunished in this winner takes all affair of American politics. When I read the blog post, I was pretty sure that Hirsch had no idea what he was getting himself into. Now, he does. He has posted a second comentary that deals specifically with how people have responded to his thoughts. I commend it to you. It’s an interesting read. Perhaps we can learn from these comments from a South African/Australian/American.