Open Source Mission

Over the past decade, there has been a movement in understanding leadership within the church. We used to consider the strong, dynamic, and visionary leader to be best. That is, the leader would bring in a goal or dream and lead the church in that direction. Of course, this style of leadership and organizational management is fraught with problems. Why would only one person be able to discern the way forward? What happens if that person moves on? What, then, do we do about the Holy Spirit’s movement within the lives of others? Is the leader the only one who truly counts?

The good news is that this understanding is being transformed. The movement is toward a more grass roots understanding of mission. Alan Roxburgh, and others, say that every congregation has the ability to shape the mission of the church. He says that the leader is the cultivator and organizer of the vision that rises from the people. (For a detailed look, check out Missional Leader.)

In other words, the church is moving toward “open source mission.” In the world of technology, open source products have been given boundaries and some shape. However, the creators have kept the program open so that anyone with knowledge can adjust, correct, or add specific focus. Couldn’t this be exactly how the mission of the church is developed. If we trust that every believer is filled with the Holy Spirit and trust the Spirit’s movement, then we can allow the mission of the church to be “written on” by anyone who is in community with the church.

The emergent movement has done some work on open source theology. Part of the focus includes ecclesiology. Perhaps this is where the emergent and missional movements can share creativity and pool thoughts. open source theology and open source mission. They go hand in hand.

Let me go back to something that is hinted at above. I do beleive that it is important for there to be historical boundaries and biblical frameworks in place for any of this open source work. Yet, we can trust the Holy Spirit to guide the process, even as the early church did in the time of the Jerusalem Council and the open source mission of Paul.

So, let’s begin writing onto the mission of God.

UPDATE: The folks at GospelTranslations.org have already been at work on open source mission from the translation point of view. Their ministry is in making the gospel available throughout the world. Right now. Check them out.

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Mission & Theology

The relationship between theology and mission is long and eventful, to be sure. The conversation about the relationship lay dormant for centuries, as theology became the locus of the religious academy. The conversation experienced a revival in the early 20th century (Pachuau 539).

Mission was given a kick-start when, in 1908, Martin Kahler suggested that mission is the “mother of theology” (Bosch 489). The explosion of the mission of God in early church, held Kahler, was so expansive that the early church was forced to do theology on the fly. As a result, theology was, in the early year, very practical and very tied to the mission of God.

Over the centuries, the church gained prominence and power. Mission does not have the same urgency when all of your neighbors claim faith in Christ. During this time, theology held a solid position as the instructive focus of the church. Mission became a sub plot of the church. In some cases, mission continued to be practiced actively. However, for the most part, mission became just one of many things that the church did.

As the Enlightenment began to influence the western world, the sole proprietorship of truth was transferred from history or church or family to self. Each person was given the authority to judge ultimate truth with confidence. Therefore, any dogma or propagation simply became a nuisance or an oppressive system. The dominance of this Enlightenment thought led to pluralism, and the church in the western world has been in decline ever since. Over the past century, the church has been increasingly marginalized and seems ill equipped to deal with the effects of pluralism (From Sending to Being Sent 2).

The good news is that the people of God have been in this situation before. In many ways, believers in 21st century North America may feel like Israelites during the exile or, perhaps, first century Christians. As noted above, the exile and the birth of Christianity were times when the mission of God became a focus for the people of God. The people of God needed to know that God’s purposes would be accomplished. They also needed instructions on living among pagans in a way that extends the blessings of God.

As the realization of an increasingly pagan culture began to strike, some theologians began to reevaluate the mission of the church. A worldwide war had shattered the optimism that humanity was becoming more ethical. The hope of the world must exist apart from the atrocities of humanity. In this setting, Karl Barth addressed the Brandenburg Missionary Conference (1932), saying that mission was God’s activity, returning authority to God. Twenty years later, at the Willingen Conference, the first articulation of the missio Dei was presented (Bosch 389-390).

The missio Dei began the process of shifting the emphasis of mission. In the missio Dei, mission is not a program that the church does to be proud of. Instead, the mission belongs to God and is all that the church is about. We will deal with the missio Dei more specifically in the next post.