Missional: Is it Religious Gentrification? A Guest post by Tyler Tully @The_Jesus_Event

English: Jesus Christ - detail from Deesis mos...

English: Jesus Christ – detail from Deesis mosaic, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Working on behalf of various political campaigns in the years before I truly came to know Jesus, I often found myself participating in door to door electioneering for the candidates who employed me. Part of my job as a Campaign Coordinator, was to craft our candidates message and make it memorable. Having worked for candidates of both parties, I quickly discovered the carefully choreographed ritual of engaging the skeptical, undecided voters that pined for persuading.

We wouldn’t just go door to door passing out buttons and bumper-stickers. Instead, we meticulously narrowed our field down to those who would most likely vote in the first place. There was no need to spend time or resources on those who wouldn’t participate in the system. A majority of minorities don’t vote, either because they can’t vote due to incarceration, or because their so disenfranchised they see no point in it. In other words, our field of potential voters looked just like we did.

Once we determined how a selected household typically voted during similar past election cycles, we’d knock on the front door, and wait to see which voter answered. Handing out a carefully crafted, double sided brochure that articulated our candidate’s ‘values’ (read branding) we’d begin with the song and dance.

Looking down at our spreadsheet, I’d already know if they were Republican, Democrat, or Independent. But were they also members of the NRA or Sierra Club? How did they respond to the latest poll concerning healthcare or abortion?

If I knew who I was speaking to, I’d carefully tailor my message so as to “speak” their language. I’d usually offer something like, “You know, our candidate has an A rating from the NRA? He’s going to fight hard to protect your right to own a gun!” or “Did you know XYZ is a proud Democrat? He’s running against a long-term Republican who doesn’t represent your values.”

You get the picture.

Fast forward a few years later to a European, post-Christian nation, where I’m walking door to door with a local pastor “telling people about the Gospel.” It doesn’t take long before things get eerily familiar. Instead of candidate brochures, I’m handing out fliers to an evangelism event. Instead of asking people to vote for my candidate on election day, I’m inviting people to show up one Sunday to hear an American pastor tell them about Jesus.

Only now I’m struck with the irony of taking a colonizing model of missioneering back to the continent who invented it. When actualized, this method always values assimilation over mutuality. Whether then or now, the fact remains that this method of missioneering is intimately tied to economy and religion, because it’s illusion allows us to believe that such a choice is available to anyone.


The Missional Hubbub

It seems like certain pockets of American (e)Evangelicals are finally starting to recognize our nation’s inevitable evolution into Post-Christendom, although these pockets are reacting in different ways. Some leaders are seizing on the moment, juxtaposing the Godless abyss of the unchurched against “their plan” to save the “real Church” from destruction. [You can read all about if you buy their new book] Others seem more genuinely in tune with growing a missional movement less concerned with the churched than it is with the unchurched. [You can hear all about it if you buy a ticket to their new conference]

Still both manifestations are operating under that colonial missiology–baptizing them in the name-brands of their leaders, preaching unto them a Gospel of assimilation. Each talk about methods and models. Most are speaking from a place of privilege.

It’s almost impossible to ignore the fact that mega churches are mostly reaching churched peoples, but church plants are reaching unchurched Americans. While I applaud those missional voices focusing upon the unchurched peoples within our immediate communities, I fear that we look nothing like Jesus as long as the focus is upon assimilation to hierarchies already in place–convincing others to buy into our movements like so many voters buy into their new favorite candidates. Perhaps this is why we still encounter a culture of celebrity in Christendom.

Just like electioneering, we’ve already swept aside the majority-minority in favor of those who speak, talk, look and act like we do. As such, we perpetuate the ongoing systems of oppression, and affirm them by failing to address the anti-Christ structures that pervade our culture and churches. So if our mission resembles our manifestations, then Missio Dei means assimilation into dominant power structures.

But, if missional can truly exist as a kind of “sacred art” as a rooted and incarnational reality, those of us in social locations of privilege need to be honest and aware lest the local missional turns into religious gentrification.


Missional as a Prophetic Movement

Paradoxically, the term euvangelion[1] of the Son of God[2] is distinctly political in meaning and context. But instead of perpetuating this liberating message, we’ve reinterpreted its application according to our own social location within American Christendom. Is it any wonder that we see American Christians and political electioneers alike, campaigning to their own demographics, narrowing the field of scope along similar lines of class, race, ethnicity, age, and sexuality–all the while ignoring the structures and systems of sin that continue to oppress and sustain our unacknowledged privilege? Yet in the Gospels, we constantly see Jesus widening the circle, challenging the powers at work that divide us, embodying the Means as the Message. In Christ, we see the table fellowship of God with humanity, the solidarity of YHWH with the Creation.

If we take Jesus seriously, we have to flip the systems of Christendom like so many money tables in the Temple, because when it comes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Medium is the Message. And this is exactly why the earliest Church made manifest the advancing Kingdom of God. Embodying God’s alternative to the powers, they went about proclaiming the Message that God has come to us in a marginalized, poor, propertyless day-laborer.

The last ten years has shown much buzz around the term missional, although many of us are still scratching our heads about what that really means. But from what I’ve seen, it still looks like a bunch of suburban middle-class white men at the top of their ministry food chains, inviting us into more celebrity worship.

But some think the term deserves better.

If missional is a movement operating as the “church sent into the world”[3] then I think that what we do and how we do it needs to look more like Jesus. We need Incarnational, embodied, faith communities of vulnerability in, of, and on the margins of society. We need to scrap the existing methods and models of Christendom in favor of a liberating authenticity of faith.

Unless we get very real about living next to and learning from our black, latino, asian, Jewish, Arabic, special needs, elderly, poor, and LGBTQ brothers and sisters, we don’t deserve to invoke the name of Jesus in our movements. What is more, since the minority is quickly becoming the new majority, we can’t truly say we are missionally rooted in our local neighborhoods and cultures. We like to say that we’re proclaiming the Kingdom of a marginalized, rejected, and revolutionary Prince of Peace, yet we’re still operating as if feminist, black, gay and lesbian Christians have nothing to offer from their histories of oppression. We say we worship the Incarnate YHWH who brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt, yet we operate as if we have nothing to repent of or learn from in way of our black brothers and sisters who came out of slavery in a Christendom America, less than two-hundred years ago!

While we’re trying to understand, worship, and participate in building the Kingdom of a marginalized 1st century Galilean, we are still operating from a place of access, privilege, and homogeneity–and we need to admit that the missional movement conversation has been dominated by the Dominators if we are to see any meaningful Kingdom building. In other words, the missional movement needs to repent.

As voices speak to the future of ecclesiology, missiology, orthodoxy, etc. within the missional movement, allow me to offer, that unless we have the chutzpah to present post-Christendom America with an alternative to the same old system, we won’t be advancing the Kingdom of Jesus, we’ll be peddling the same old power structures presented in a new packaging. Where are the female missional voices? Why can’t the missional movement name real leaders who are persons of color? Why is the missional, as well as neo-anabaptist movements, mostly white post-Evangelical males?

For those who have ears to hear, let us dare to be the change we need and want to see. Regardless of the evolving state of the American imperial Church, the evangelion of the Kingdom of Jesus remains the same as it ever has. Let us truly embody the Incarnational reality of Jesus as we forcefully advance a Kingdom that lays low the same hierarchical, oppressive, and violent systems we say should be deconstructed.


Tyler Tully is an emerging voice within the Neo-Anabaptist movement. A speaker and author  based out of San Antonio, Texas, Tully is a graduate of Our Lady of the Lake University with a BA in Religious Studies and Theology. He is currently pursuing an M.Div. from the Chicago Theological Seminary. You can also follow him at his blog, The Jesus Event and on Twitter.

[1]          Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire, (2002), p.23-24

[2]          N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (2003), p.231

[3]          Zach Hoag, Rooted: Missional as Creative Christianity, 10/4/2013

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0 thoughts on “Missional: Is it Religious Gentrification? A Guest post by Tyler Tully @The_Jesus_Event

  1. Robert Martin

    I agree… but only because I care about the term “missional” in that I don’t want it to become just a fad, just another “program” that churches do to be the on the band wagon of the “next big thing”. The seminary that Drew and I went to was in danger of that… but I think they’ve turned the corner (or are in the process of doing so) to embodying something more than just another white evangelical strategy.

    I think we need to be cautious that we don’t use what some groups are doing in the name of “missional” to color all who use the term with the same brush… I don’t think you are necessarily doing so here… you’ve given an excellent critique of how the movement has been co-opted and corrupted… just, you know… “baby and bathwater”… capice?

    1. Tyler M. Tully

      No movement is ever out of the woods… so, while some localities may not have seen as much co opting by institutions capitalizing on “missional” it is a highly subjective movement and word.

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  6. Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    I love this post. My only push back would this: How does a movement repent? I’m not sure it works. I think individuals, and perhaps specific communities or organizations, can do so- and even do so identificationally for a larger expression- but I am skeptical about naming the “movement” as the needed source of repentance. I think it is both too obscure and indiscriminate, but also too easily letting some off the hook. Just a thought.

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