Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement, Will Mancini, Jossey-Bass Publishing 2008 (ISBN 978-0-7879-9683-3), 271 pp., $23.95
As the days of American Christendom wane, a great deal of literature has emerged dealing with the ministry of the missional church. Over the last decade leaders and scholars from across the evangelical and mainline Protestant landscape have converged on a set of practices and concepts that speak to the way churches may organize to impact an ever-shifting, even amorphous postmodern culture. The missional church movement has arisen to address these paradigmatic shifts now on the ecclesial radar screen. It is a movement that brings together a wide variety of voices and interests.
One of those interests is the new Leadership Network Series published by Jossey-Bass. Of the many facets of the missional church, the Leadership Network Series shows much promise to take the missional, and even emergent, church conversation to deeper waters, e.g., with respect to leadership development, cultural critique, church growth, spiritual formation, organizational theory, to name a few (xvii). It is a series that promises to focus leaders, especially entrepreneurial leaders, on practical issues and to address fundamental questions, such as, What does a missional church look like, and how do I lead it? The Leadership Network seeks to foster the kind of innovation that can assist high-capacity leaders in the area of overall church development, with specific attention to outreach and evangelism.
Enter Will Mancini’s work Church Unique on utilizing a wide-range of disciplines to help leaders maximize their impact on the local church’s mission as well as to discern and unlock the church’s unique plan to influence the surrounding culture (xxii). Church Unique is the name Mancini gives to the ways leaders and churches may go about developing strategies to live a vision that creates a stunningly unique, movement-oriented church – that is, a church that can cast a vision that oozes out of the leader’s life and then is inclined and motivated to penetrate the culture outside the church (xxii). It is this unique ‘movement’ that Mancini stresses in terms of the church’s ministry, regardless if the church is a new church plant, a large evangelical suburban church, a small Pentecostal urban church, a Roman Catholic parish, a parachurch group, or liberal mainline congregation (p. 6). What Mancini takes time to point out are the ‘unmistakably unique and incomparably different’ aspects of the local church’s culture (p. 6). As Mancini notes, God is not in the business of mass-producing the church (p. 6). Every church’s DNA is unique (p. 10).
It is to this end that Mancini guides leaders into how they may understand their church’s own particular ‘microculture’ and discover ways to minister at the same time to the church’s surrounding ‘macroculture’ (xxiii). Here, the issue is not to fall into the ‘thinkhole’ of finding a one-size-fits-all, methodological blueprint of the church as it is to discern God’s unique thumbprint in the church (xxv). The distinction is critical as Mancini highlights the pitfalls of church growth strategies that move into uncritically adopting assumptions that are harmful and not truly ‘purposeful’ of local church culture and custom (xxvi). What Mancini does, then, is to provide a critique of firmly held church growth assumptions, on the one hand, and expose the ‘vision vacuum’ in most churches today, on the other (p. xxvi). Mancini’s book functions as a manual to recover, indeed, discover, the ‘Kingdom Concept’ that drives the church to carry out and realize Christ’s Great Commission and Commandment, while helping leaders cast the vision uniquely given by God’s Spirit (Chapter 9).
Church Unique is divided into four parts, all of which assist leaders in the art of visioning: Part One, ‘Recasting Vision,’ helps to understand how the world has changed and how leaders cannot continue asking the same questions of the past on the new mission field of post-Christendom; Part Two, ‘Clarifying Vision,’ asks the questions that can assist leaders and churches identify the ‘Kingdom Concept,’ or ‘sweet-spot,’ that defines how they may go about glorifying God and making disciples; Part Three, ‘Articulating Vision,’ addresses how churches may develop the ‘Vision Frame’ that identifies the processes by which they may clarify the Spirit’s leading; and Part Four, ‘Advancing Vision,’ introduces the ‘Vision Integration Model’ of walking leaders through the steps of promoting and advancing the vision in the life of the church, speaking succinctly to the most important assumption of the whole book: ‘the success of advancing the vision[of the church] is directly proportional to the degree to which the vision is first aligned and integrated’ [with the unique culture of the church] (xxvii). Mancini’s ‘Parting Thoughts’ and Appendixes bring out the specific ways churches may work to bring into alignment and integrate the various parts of their histories, cultures, and ministries.
Several issues float to the surface when reading Church Unique. First, as a pastor new to a large but established, mainline Protestant congregation in the Mid-West, I enjoyed reading through Mancini’s work on casting vision and discerning the DNA of the local church. I thought Mancini struck the right notes when it came to the healthy ways in which pastors as leaders need to go about listening to God’s voice and understanding the lay of the land in the life of the church and community. In this sense, Mancini’s book is not simply another ‘purpose-driven’ gimmick or ‘seven steps to effective church growth.’ Rather, his work prompts deeper questions into why the church does what it does. Here, Church Unique functions more as ‘spiritual director’ than ‘church growth consultant.’
Second, Mancini’s work, along with the entire Leadership Network series, begins to flesh out the contours of the missional church. While Mancin notes that there is no overarching blueprint on what a missional church looks like per se (as each church is unique), he does bring into play how churches can take practical steps to implement what distinctively is them (xxv). On this score, Mancini may sound like another church growth consultant, helping a church identify its core mission. On closer examination, however, there is a concerted effort to identify and discern how particular churches may live into and out of God’s all-encompassing kingdom-love. Mancini’s words on ‘aligning’ and ‘integrating’ others into the vision are certainly words of wisdom here.
And, lastly, as part of the ongoing missional and emerging church conversation, Mancini’s work needs careful scrutiny – not much for what he advocates but for how the broader ‘conversation’ in the areas of missiology and ecclesiology unfold. Here, it is important to see Mancini’s efforts as part of a much larger movement, one that is coming to terms with a rapidly changing, postmodern culture on the one hand and the fragments of a vibrant post-Christendom culture on the other. To be sure, Mancini’s work does not so much contribute to the substance of the deeper ecclesial debate now taking place concerning the church’s distinctive marks, as it does reflect some of the symptoms of the church’s ongoing obsession with the methods by which renewal may come about. As Mancini contends, this is a work that all churches can utilize (p. 6); here is another approach churches can employ to impact the wider culture; hence, the emphasis on process. Matters of theological content take a back seat.
Despite this criticism, Mancini’s work definitely promotes thoughtful and healthy ways leaders in the church can work to advance God’s kingdom in the world. His book provides helpful steps toward discovering what God’s Spirit is doing and how the church can align itself with that action. This is important, for with the rise of congregational studies, and the increased focus on church practices, organizational theory, spiritual formation, and the growth of emergence and missional in the church’s consciousness, there is something unique happening at this moment in history. There is a convergence occurring on many different fronts. Mancini’s work and book only reveals that this is so.