Throwing out missional Procrustean beds

Milton Jones, one of my favourite comedians, after the world cup last year said “I didn’t like the world cup, Mr. Messy was nothing like in the books!” Of course, to understand the joke you need to know about the Argentinean footballer, Lional Messi.

Following on from yesterday’s post I want to reflect upon the whole idea of “messy mission” a bit more. Mark Barnard published his Messy Mission: Reflections on a Missional Spirituality (2011). His main thesis seems to be that we are all on a journey and we do not need to be sorted out as disciples of Jesus before serving him. He has an excellent section on the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30 noting how Jesus’ gardening methods seem rather unconventional. “Let’s leave the weeds and sort them out at the harvest” defies received wisdom on weed control!

I want to really apply the idea of “messy mission” more to strategy than spirituality. My main thesis is that within God’s mission the planning cannot happen from the top down but should happen bottom up. This concept holds within it various presuppositions. Firstly, that we cannot fully know what God’s mission is in detail. We know that “bringing all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:10; cf. Colossians 1:20) is what God’s ultimate aim is. However, this is not enough for project planning! If we take the Great Commission approach then, as we saw yesterday, we can (however inaccurately) make a stab at planning for the completion of the task.

A second presupposition is that the working out of God’s mission is overwhelmingly contextual. So bringing all thing under Christ is done “on the ground”. Top down planning cannot take all contexts into account and ends up with a “one size fits all” approach. This sort of Procrustean Bed cannot work. Bottom up planning can make a more accurate and ultimately more faithful attempt at discerning God’s mission in its own context.

A final presupposition is, harking back to last week’s blog, that the working out of the missio Dei is the work of the local church. There is no doubt that churches should work together, even across continents to fulfil its mission, however, planning cannot be imposed from the top but emerge from the context. This is a message not only for multinational mission agencies but also denominational agencies.