Helpful Tidbits for Organic Church Life                                                  May 18, 2009
One Goal: Competing Vernaculars
My Reflections
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is Sunday, May 31.
Dear ,
Like his theology or not, Brian McLaren refuses to argue (i.e., tear down) with other Christians. Every time I see McLaren interviewed, inevitably the interviewer brings up McLaren's critics. Over and over McLaren responds gently, first recognizing that people have a right to their own opinion and second, asserting that Christian infighting is one of the reasons the church in the West is ailing.
In the ongoing missional church conversation, I believe it's increasingly important that we define our terms. Why? Because ambiguous terms lead to misunderstandings. In the excerpt below, for example, the "organic" church advocate is belittled. At the same time, having read Roxburgh extensively, I know Roxburgh is the real deal. Here's my underlying question, How do we solve this issue?

QUESTION/TOPIC IN FOCUS: How is language negatively affecting the missional church conversation?

One Goal: Competing Vernaculars
Excerpted from The Missional Leader by Alan J. Roxburgh & Fred Romanuk
RoxburghMany would say that congregations are becoming little more than an idiosyncratic relic shaped by quaint memories of a fading past. We were invited to attend a one-day conference on the future and the church. One of the leaders said in the morning session that we needed to "liquidate" institutions and buildings; he then went on to contrast the "institutional" church with what he called the "organic." It was clear, despite protestations to the contrary, that there was a strong sense that existing congregations didn't have much relevance to God's future. This speaker from elsewhere had clearly not indwelt the Biblical narrative very much. We are not prepared to write congregations off. We realize that some have declined and dwindled to the extent that the greatest gift they can give to the Kingdom is to close and offer their assets to others to journey forward. However, many congregations are not in this situation. We say this not because they are filled with all the right people with all the right stuff. On the contrary, dispirited people populate many congregations. They have no idea what to do in the face of loss, decline, and a radically changed world. Nevertheless, if God's Spirit is among the people of God, wherever they are (including in congregations), then these are the places where it is possible to incarnate a missional life. As with the struggles of Israel, this kind of missional transformation is costly and requires hard work (2006:19).
My Reflections 
How is language negatively affecting the missional church conversation? Here's my answer. Language negatively affects the missional church conversation inasmuch as the language used betrays the intent of the speaker and/or the listener's ability to adequately process a speaker's intent. In other words, can the hearer understand what the speaker is saying?
Did I overcomplicate something that's relatively simple? Nope. For example, in the excerpt above Roxburgh and Romanuk can't fathom why the organic church advocate would, in effect, do away with congregational life when the Spirit is clearly moving among congregations. Frankly, I concur with Roxburgh and Romanuk's point, but here's what's important to understand: there isn't one organic church thought leader that has advocated the dismantling of a conventional church for the sake of eradicating the institutional. Instead, I find organic church thought leaders advocating a particular way of life (i.e., a disciple's life) that naturally leads to certain outcomes, say the forgoing of particular consumer-driven institutional structures. The issue, then, isn't so much the structure itself, but how the structure came about in the first place: as form is often indicative of function.
For a multiplicity of reasons like the above, I believe it's becoming increasingly important that we disciples of Jesus focus on the language of discipleship (i.e., language explicitly expressed in the biblical narrative), not verbiage that centers on trendy ecclesiological outcomes. If we can do this, perhaps we'll be able to move beyond vernaculars that have a tendency to cause misunderstandings and toward those vernaculars that promote a common understanding.
Hope this was of some benefit to you.

Traver Dougherty
The Banqueting Table