There are hundreds of book out there on missional church and missional theology, but I recommend that Unitarian Universalists start here, with these three. The first is a theology of risk, the second is philosophy for action, and third is, more than anything, a geography – a map in the lonely terrain of doing things differently. After these, explore the catalog of books by Alan Hirsch, Brian McLaren, Reggie McNeal, Michael Slaughter, and others.
Unitarian Universalism was born of two theological movements that once pushed the boundaries of liberal Christian theology. I’d argue now that it has become a mainstream, even conservative movement by many church standards. It is not Biblically fundamentalist, but as a religious movement it has opted for the comfort and security of the status quo and the beauraucracy of hierarchy rather than continue to live on the edge of American theological and religious life. There is no liberal theology of risk, courage and adventure. That’s why I would start with Frost and Hirsch.
1. The Faith of Leap: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure and Courage by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch
Frost and Hirsch are recognized voices in the Evangelical Christian missional world. Don’t stop reading here. Tuning out after reading that is part of our UU problem, equating anything or everything Christian and/or Evangelical with bad, wrong and useless. Folks with a non-Christian spirituality will have to translate some of this, but that’s fine. This is an important work. In order for the church to be missional, the author’s argue, we need to develop or rather recapture (as this was the way of the earliest Christian communities) a theology of risk. We need to be willing to live in liminal places, having faith that the combined wisdom, gifts and problem solving skills of the community pursuing its mission will be enough to handle whatever adventures the community encounters. Notice the lack of the use of words such as “problems” or “issues.” A community on mission together is an adventurous community, it sees failure as part of its life together and its way forward.
Unitarian Universalists have become part of the larger church culture that is extraordinarily risk averse. I would venture to say that 99% of all church best practices, including all the study of family systems theory, adaptive leadership, stewardship and the like is all done to manage risk and minimize the stress, loss and change associated with risk taking.
We have no theology of risk. It’s also one of the reasons we have so much trouble becoming more racially diverse. Communities of color by necessity and history have a theology and an identity that knows and must incorporate risk. We have constructed only theologies of safety and risk management.
“Let’s stop kidding ourselves – there are too many instances of [Unitarian Universalists] worshipping sublimely every Sunday, but never making an impact beyond the congregation, never experiencing the powerful beauty of communitas, and never going deeper in discipleship. We think this is precisely because the catalyzing experience of missional adventure and risk are removed from the equation.”
There are at least a couple of dozen folks gathering via the Internet, on Tweet Chats and through the Red Pill Bretheren that are being called Risk Faithers. These Unitarian Universalists are lay and clergy and embrace theological movements coming out of the evangelical Christian world such as emergent church, new monanstic movement, missional church and what they have in common above all else is their willingness to put aside institutional maintenance in the service of mission, vision, and passion for the ministry that gives them life and brings life to the communities in which they live.
2. The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters by Peter Block
Giving up on the church life of institutional maintenance in an effort to pursue calling, vision and purpose beyond the church building’s walls is an approach to ministry (and to life) that will meet with more than its share of disapproval, discouragement, and downright blocks in the road. The question “How?” and all of its related questions, according to Block, are questions that seek to avoid meaning, mission and purpose and to avoid taking action.
“There is depth in the question “How do I do this?” that is worth exploring. The question is a defense against action. It is a leap past the question of purpose, past the question of intentions, and past the drama of responsibility. The question, “How?” – more than any other question – looks for the answer outside of us. It is an indirect expression of our doubts.”
“Too often when a discussion is dominated by questions of “How?” we risk overvaluing what is practical and doable and postpone the questions of larger purpose and collective well being. With the question “How?” we risk aspiring to goals that are defined for us by the culture and by our institutions, at the expense of pursuing purposes and intentions that arise from within ourselves.”
You can’t substitute mission statements for mission or fall into the trap that thinking having values or principles is the same thing as having a mission or a theology.
“I have never heard a human value that I didn’t like. As with the models of organizational effectiveness, when people argue about ‘values’ it is a guise for seeking control, for imposing their beliefs upon others.”
Virtually all the work and ministry I have done in Unitarian Universalist congregations has been “How?” work and “How?” ministry. Block’s work is a must for those wanting, even needing to get past the talk on why and how to be missional and get into doing it. It’s not a church book, but it’s really all about a lot of what gets in the way of being missional. Including blog posts like this one.
3. Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze
Wheatley and Frieze give us an important work (see their website too) because UU Risk Faithers are “Walk Outs.” Walk Outs learn quickly, take greater risks, and support one another in pioneering work. New Systems are born from their efforts. They find each other and connect. Frequently they give hospice care to the old system while giving birth to the new system.
Those UU’s drawn to missional church and living soon learn that the Unitarian Universalist Association has nothing – no money, no support, and no knowledge base for things such as church planting, missional communities or new monastic communities. Even finding mentors in these areas are scarce. A new network is coming together, largely composed of people who have made a bold or tentative decision to step out on their own, unsure if there are others out there, daring to speak the truth that the church at both the congregational and denominational level is more interested in institutional maintenance than in transforming the lives of anyone, inside or outside of the church.
If you’re a UU and you feel a deep calling to serve the world around you because of your faith, then you are effectively, by making that decision, walking out on the traditional expression of Unitarian Universalism and walking on into a liminal future.
There good news is, just as Wheatley and Frieze find other translocal communities who have set up alternative governmental, agricultural and educational systems, there are those of us out here setting up alternative liberal faith communities. A translocal liberal faith network is in its infancy, but it is an exciting venture.
Join us for the conversation on January 5 at 8 pm Central Time at #uuriskfaithers.