Defining the mission of the Church

Defining the mission of the Church

I read a book at the beginning of COVID by Michael Frost, and Alan Hirsch called The Shaping of Things to Come, which ultimately sent me into a silent quest to pray and think about how Restoration can become more missional in our community while staying rooted to the traditions and beliefs of the Church. A term used in their book, but originated by Paul Hiebert, “Anthropological Reflections on Missional Issues,” challenged me to think of our heart and DNA as a church as it pertains to reaching out to the larger community.

To my encouragement, but not to my surprise, let me start by saying, I really believe Restoration to be a missional church to the core of who we are as a body of believers. After all, “joining God in the restoration of all things; life, church and city” has been our rallying cry for almost ten years. But just because we have a brilliant way of describing our heart as a church, I don’t believe we can take that for granted. What I would like to do is put terms to what we’ve been doing naturally. 

Frost and Hirsch’s book went to great length to unpack two terms: “Bounded Set Theory” and “Centered Set Theory” but this article is not a book review, nor is it going to go into great lengths of unpacking these two theories. My intent is to clearly and quickly describe these two terms and then share with you where I believe Restoration fits. 

Say you were a farmer with just a few acres, you could build a fence to keep your livestock in and other animals out. This would be bounded set theory. On the other hand if you were a rancher, you might have thousands of acres, something so big that you wouldn’t be able to build fences around your whole property. So instead of building fences, you dig wells. Theoretically your livestock wouldn’t go too far away from the wells because their life literally depends on them thriving off of a water source. This obviously would define the centered set theory.  

Now apply this illustration to the missional church. Frost and Hircsh unpack it this way, “The attractional church is a bounded set. That is, it is a set of people clearly marked off from those who do not belong to it. Churches thus mark themselves in a variety of ways. An obvious one is through a church membership roll. This mechanism determines who’s in and who’s out. The missional-incarnational church, though, is a  centered set. Rather than drawing a border to determine who belongs and who doesn’t, a centered set is defined by its core values, and people are not seen as in or out, but as closer or further away from the center. In that sense, everyone is in and no one is out. Though some people are close to the center and others far from it, everyone is potentially part of the community in its broadest sense” p.68.

Frost and Hirsch go on to say: 

“For us the center should be Jesus himself. The gospel is the central imperative for Christian mission. Since at the core of a centered set is Christ, a church should be concerned with fostering increasing closeness to Jesus in the lives of all those involved. We believe that a centered-set church must have a very clear set of beliefs, rooted in Christ and his teaching. This belief system must be nonnegotiable and strongly held to by the community closest to its center. A centered-set church is not concerned with artificial boundaries that bounded-set churches have traditionally added. In bounded-set churches all sorts of criteria are determined for the acceptance or rejection of prospective members (smoking, drinking alcohol, living together outside marriage, differing views on Christ’s return). In a centered-set church it is recognized that we are all sinners, all struggling to be the best people we can be. But we also believe that the closer one gets to the center (Christ), the more Christlike one’s behavior should become. Therefore core members of the church will exhibit the features of Christ’s radical lifestyle (love, generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, mercy, peace, and more) and those who have just begun the journey toward Christ (and whose lives ay not exhibit such traits) are still seen as “belonging”. No one is considered unworthy of belonging because they happen to be addicted to tobacco, or because they’re not married to their live-in partner. Belonging is a key value. The growth toward the center of the set is the same as the process of discipleship” p.70.

One of the unique things about Restoration is that “center set theory” has been a part of our DNA since the very beginning. Although this is not the perfect way to do or be missional, I do believe it conveys Christ’s heart to God’s people in a real pastoral way. Now, before you throw the baby out with the bathwater. I also think within the beauty of our traditions and liturgy there is a bit of “bound set theory” within our church and I don’t think that is a bad thing. The church’s traditions and liturgy anchor it so that it is not influenced nor swayed by the culture in which we live in, but the heart of Christ compels us to love our neighbor as Christ loves us. The diagram below signifies a loose structured “bound set theory” set in the beliefs of a centered set theory. Personally, I believe it is possible to embrace both if one comes from a place of knowing “the kingdom of God is never threatened.” 

If you would like to know more or have any thoughts how we can become more missional please reach out to me at jed@restorationanglican.church