Re-Missioning: Tradition Innovation

BY: Shannon Youell

There is a Maori proverb that beautifully encapsulates their traditional world view: 

“We walk backwards into the future, our eyes fixed on the past” 

It gives us the picture that we approach the future everyday not knowing what it will look like as we can’t see into it, but that “(looking) to the past informs the way we move into future” 

The Maori people understand the past and present as “a single, comprehensible ‘space’ because it is what they have seen and known.  We walk backward into the future with our thoughts directed toward the coming generations but with our eyes on the past.”  It’s akin to going on a road trip – you may not sure where it will take you but you know from where you came – you look both forward and also in the rear-view mirror.

As I read church history and stories of God’s faithful people moving missionally throughout time and space, I am often surprised how innovative and creative people are in their love for God and His mission.  How they adapted to the culture, context and time that they found themselves in for the benefit of those who did not yet know the God of all creation and the saving work he accomplished through his Son, Jesus Christ.  Often they stepped outside what was considered ‘traditional’ to innovate and map out a new pathway of being disciples so others could see their way to following.   

There is a difference between tradition and traditional.  Tradition is really about our why.  Why  we believe what we do.  We look upon the ancient scriptures of the people of God and the new scriptures that tell of Jesus and his ushering in of God’s kingdom; we rely both on the early translators and interpreters and our contemporary translators and interpreters; we live into and share values and ethics that have been passed along for centuries.  Traditional, however, is usually the way we do things.  You’ll hear families around Christmas traditions complain when something changes with a loud “But that’s traditional!”  In church life we often say “well that’s the way we’ve always done it!” 

I’m with the Maori – we must continue to look to our past – it has formed us and gives us a foundation – we still believe God is the creator of all things, that he created humans as his co-labourers to steward the earth, that he called a people his own to be both salt and light so that other peoples could witness the glory of God lived out through them; we believe that God so loved the world he sent his Son…. 

But we always walk with these things in sight into a future for the coming generation and for the current culture.  This means taking a good look at our traditional ways of being the church, having open hands and empty tables to release things we cherish and embrace things we may not find comfortable at first yet give movement to serving God’s mission of his kingdom of shalom into all the places and spaces of our human experience. 

 “Re-missioning established churches with movemental practices and missional theology is some of the most difficult and needed work in North America.”  Josh Hayden 

As churches, this can be difficult for us to do.  We love so many of the traditional things we do!  But if we are going to be people on God’s mission, then we need to frequently evaluate the things we do and the impact they have, not only on ourselves, but into the world to which we have been sent.   

I encourage you to listen to Josh Hayden’s presentation here (the first 27 minutes with the rest Q&A), on Re-missioning the Established Church, for all things are possible if we are humble, open and lay down our lives for the sake of others as our discipleship demands.   

ReMissioning an Established Church 

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