Critiquing the Missional Movement

BlackMissionalCritique Verge

Kyle Canty, an African-American who grew up in north Philadelphia, writes:

“During the past couple of years I’ve recognized the homogeneity of these circles [of the missional movement] — most of the speakers are white. Interesting enough, many of the topics that are being written about and presented at these events are topics that I’ve heard about throughout my life. (e.g., justice, mercy, meeting felt needs, etc.)

Well before these were popular topics within evangelicalism, these were important issues among black pastors, preachers and theologians. The black church finds its uniqueness in the soil where it is cultivated — usually within marginalized and oppressed communities.”

I think he has a great point. The originators, leaders, and followers of the missional movement tend to think they have come up with a new strategy, or at least are reclaiming an old and forgotten vision. And I am just as guilty. 

From my experience with and study of churches that are led and attended (predominately) by African-Americans, I have been learning a lot about how church, family, life, and health are intermingled. They approach ministry with a whole-life perspective. And, as Jemar Tisby reminds us in We Are Family, the black church has traditionally been strong in two things the missional movement is preaching: 1) cross-cultural thinking, and 2) a theology of suffering.

So where does this lead us? Canty encourages us to depend on those who have been doing this ministry all along.

“Let me make this clear—preachers, pastors, Bible believing black folk have been busting their tail ministering to people in the worst conditions for a very long time. Suburban White academics are ‘probably’ not the best folk to reference when you need to figure out how to minister to oppressed people groups.

If the missional movement is concerned with reaching the kind of folk that Jesus reached, then perhaps they may want to diversify their think tank to include inner city, bi-vocational Black pastors who serve within extreme conditions.”

We could go wrong in two ways: 1) Seek to reinvent the wheel of missional theology, or 2) farm out missional ministry to those churches who are already strong in it. But we can do better.

Let us move forward in a better direction: in mutual dependence, respect, and partnership for the sake of the gospel.

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