April 18, 2009 / David Fitch

A Mystagogy for the Missional Church

“Mystagogy” – historically understood – is that part of the catechesis that follows Easter. Here baptismands (people who have been baptized on Easter) learn how to live the life of the resurrection. We learn how to enter into the mysteries of the faith. For Catholics, this has most often meant the seven sacraments. These are the mysteries which we must learn to participate in. They are mysteries because God is working “supernaturally” in ways we often cannot see or understand and we must learn to participate. We must learn a certain awareness and receptivity in faith in order to participate in what God is doing.I think there is a mystagogy for the missional church. I think there are a set of mysteries we learn to live and practice into daily that shape and form the way we live the life we have post-Easter. These go beyond the traditional sacraments. Yet even within the  RCIA (Roman Catholic rite of initiation of adults) there is a place to fan the imaginations of the newly baptized for the mysteries of God working in community, working in the world to make witness possible, and working through the tiniest of kind acts to bring people to himself. A Missional mystagogy rightly teaches the baptized how to live into the mysterious working of the Triune God in, among and around us in the Missio Dei.

I believe every Missional church needs a mystagogy. It is essential to discipleship. What might these mysteries be for a missional church? For our church, here is what I think are the top seven. Just so every one knows, I haven’t cleared these with the other pastors or the shepherds in our church. So for now, ‘this is just me.’

1.) The Mystery of God working Around Our Life Rhythms – Why don’t we have outreach programs here that bring people into our orbit? Because we really believe God is working where we live and work and play to bring people to himself. All we need to do is be available and ready to minister out of what God is doing. We need to be taught how to see and participate in this mystery of God’s working.
2.) The Mystery of Meeting in Homes – What’s the big deal about home groups? Yet I truly believe when “two or three” (or more) people gather regularly, to share a meal together, support one another, pay attention to a geographical proximity, give a “cup of water,” look for the hurting and pray fro the neighborhoods, God meets us there in a mystery (Matt 25:37ff.). The closer we are in proximity, the more we are able to save money by sharing with each other, the more attuned we are to hurting places, the more miracles God does to heal people and bring them to Himself. WE need to be nurtured into the miracle of doing regular community in the neigborhood.
3.) The Mystery of Worship as Liturgy – Many people do not understand what liturgy has to do missional church. That’s ok. It’s enough to say that God encounters us in the Word and the Eucharist so that we are shaped into His Story, the Mission. It is simple, organic, yet a mysterious encounter. It is a time to submit. And people who cannot submit to God cannot be part of his mission. Liturgical worship centered in Christ trains us (and our children) not to come to get something but to participate in something, from whence we get more than we could ever have expected. For people to get this, they need to be led a little.
4.) The Mystery of Practicing Spiritual Disicplines – We have small groups but they are not centered in inductive Bible study (we do Bible Study on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m.). Instead we come to submit to the Spirit by following a Benedictine discipline out of Scripture including “confessing sin one to another (James 5:16), speaking truth to one another in love (Eph 4:15, 25) and working out our salvation in fear and trembling (discerning it Phil 2:12). God works mysteriously when two or three gather in His name for the practice of mutual discernment is (Matt 18:19-20). This mystery is hard to teach and organize. Yet mission is not possible without the life of God in us – without true discipleship.
5.) The Mystery of the Eucharist & Baptism– People ask continually why we have a lengthy initiatory process into baptism and eucharist? Because we believe each sacrament/ordinance (this is an unfortunate divide) is a spiritual formation of great mystery (Col 3:3; 1 Cor 11:29-30) It is not that cognitive understanding is the condition for such participation. It is rather that fuller participation (in post Christendom) is aided by intentionality. Baptism is discipleship not a “consumerist dunk“(wink, wink :))
6.) The Mystery of Local Politics – I am often asked, why does this church insist justice is something we do first, not a national policy (BTW this is mostly me speaking, and not for my church). God works locally in the smallest ways when we stand up for Christ’s justice in the world around us. I contend the way God works in local politics as the arena of witness is a mystery. It is only from here then that we can hope to speak into social justice issues on a national scale in compelling ways that do not become subsumed by the wider discourses of power. Check out how God used the the smallest local politics (exemplified in non-violence) of Christ’s church surrounding Martin Luther King’s civil rights movements to change things. They only ever got bogged down when government/national/corporate interests assume power. Exploring local politics as a mystery of God, I believe would prove fruitful.

7.) The Mystery of Seeding New Communities – Why don’t we build a mega church here? Or at least a bigger building? What do you mean when you say church-planting is a way of life? The way God works to start churches on little resources, within neighborhoods that have little, is a mystery. A micro-pentecost must happen for these places to survive and flourish. The bigger a church gets, the more it is driven by business management and meeting needs of existing Christians. It is no mystery why thousands come. On the other hand, there is no technique, no marketing plan, there is no business plan for planting churches among the lesser classes, with more problems and where there are fewer Christians to attract. Yet it is happening. And this is a mystery. WE need to be taught the book of Acts like this. (P.S. there are ways of thinking about and doing missional community as a sustainable way of life just about anywhere and this may require some training for re-imagining church and living by faith)

8.) The Mystery of Encountering Christ among the Poor – Although an underlying assumption for 1. ,2. ,6. and 7., we need to make it explicit. There is a mystery at work in the way God works in our encounter with the poor. Jesus is there (Matt 25:37ff.). The poor are blessed because they are in a position to more readily recognize their need for God (Matt 5:3). The poor and the needy are the fertile ground for the gospel. There is no need to romanticize poverty, yet God works supernaturally, if mysteriously,in this encounter to shape us into a deeper receptivity to God. Thanks Len for this reminder.

OK, so this is the mystagogy I think fits our church (not yet accepted). We’re working on numbers 1 and 2, and 4 for this post Easter season. What is your church’s mystagogy? Do you have other elements to add to the list for a truly Missional mystagogy?