Imagine arriving at Ellis Island a little over a hundred years ago. You’ve left your homeland and all that entails familiarity for a new land of supposed promise and enchantment. You sail past the Statue of Liberty and land at the Ellis Island immigrant inspection station. Suddenly you’re confronted with the awareness of a new language, a new set of customs, and a place for which old “maps of reality” hold no significance.
Fast forward to the present. The cultural map of modernity that has profoundly shaped the west is no longer navigating us toward transformational change in society. In a world of multiple religious views or no views at all our assumptions that were once taken for granted are no longer valid. In fact, a deep distrust for institutions, programs, and anything that smacks of control pervades our culture.
Some pastors I know struggle in leading their churches toward missional impact in their communities. At one conference a group of Christian leaders wrote their own version of Psalm 137:
In the midst of this crazy world I look around and wonder what has happened.
How do I talk to a kid with a ring in his nose?
Does “The Old Rugged Cross” mean anything to him?
He asks me to sing a song about “my Jesus.”
From what I can tell he is from another planet, or am I the stranger here?
I think it’s time to sell the Wurlitzer.
So how do I tell Martians about Jesus, when the only language I speak is 1955?
How do I write a headline for them that doesn’t screw up the Good News?
I kind of wish it were the way it was, but it’s not.
So I need to figure out how to sing the old lyrics with a whole new tune.
Reading Missional Map-Making by Alan Roxburgh for my Leading Change class at Asbury has been both stimulating and provocative. Stimulating in the sense that I need updated “maps” for a Message that has always been relevant. Provocative in that simply creating new forms or systems will not necessarily produce the change for which I hope.
Roxburgh relates the words of Arthur Kornberg, professor emeritus at Stanford University who received the Nobel prize for his work in the study of enzymes. Kornberg describes the rather unusual methods of scientists working to discover both concrete and practical solutions to human disease. He suggests that discovering solutions happens first “by investing one’s energies and skills in engaging the most fundamental questions of the system; second, by being shaped by the long tradition within which one has lived; third, by investing oneself in raising up a new generation who are able to do this foundational reflection within the tradition; and fourth, by recognizing that one is not in control of predicting what these practical, revolutionary solutions are going to look like. These are the nutrients of the soil in which a revolutionary future emerges” (39).
So what’s feeding the soil of our environments? Are we asking the right questions? This should be a given before expecting good answers. Secondly, do we understand our Christian history well enough to move forward on a solid foundation? Thirdly, are we in touch with reality and empowering the next generation to blaze new trails where we’ve never gone before? Lastly, are we willing to let go of the control tendencies of modernity and rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us where complexity and change have become the new norm?
I had to think of a quote from Anais Nin while reading this book: “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Through our set of lenses things might appear to make sense, regardless if they are working or not. Unfortunately, the common sense no longer makes sense. And that requires that we become missional map-makers in an ever-changing cultural landscape.
Roxburgh, Alan. “Missional Map-Making.” San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.