Monday, May 09, 2011

156. Modality and Sodality

Ralph Winter first introduced the terms "Modality and Sodality" into the missiological world way back in the early 1970's. The basic gist of modality and sodality are the need for two different kinds of organizational structures within the church to accomplish the mission. A modality is an organizational structure that is designed for long term stability. It establishes routines and typically stays in one place for an extended period of time. The local church is typically organized as a modality.

A sodality is a group structure that is designed for mobility and trans-local activity. Their goal is not permanent residency, but seasonal, itinerant residency, that is marked with transition and travel.

In a recent conversation with Sam Metcalf, I was given a valuable piece of advice. If you are apostolic, then you will most likely be functioning with a more sodal-ic heart. As such, when you arrive in a particular location and look to establish a new modality, it should be stated from the get-go that you will not have a permanent residence within the community. This will not only help the group understand what is going on when you and a few others decide to "leave" the new group and pioneer another modality, it will also help establish expectations about leadership within the community. It can also serve as a good accountability device for those apostolic type people who, because of their trans-local, entrepreneurial nature, do not need to cement themselves into the organizational structure and leadership of the new community.  In order to function as a sodality, you can not remain as an integral part of the modality.

I can attest to this wisdom as the original "founding group" of people who first started Ikon are now looking to move out from the existing house churches they are in and regroup to start-up another missional community within our city. This move by the original group has created some tension within our larger community that otherwise could have been avoided if the original folks involved in the church plant understood themselves, and communicated to the new community, that thwere are two different kinds of church structures. One is more local and has a more stable design for longevity, the other is more mobile and is designed for itinerant, pioneering forms of work. It does not mean the modality can not be missional, it just means that the local church will look different, organizationally, then say, an apostolic band of people who are looking to start new communities and then move on. The nature of the task requires a different kind of organization for each. The key is: both are legitimate expressions and forms of

We need to recover this bi-focal vision of the ekklesia because there is no way we can accomplish our missional mandate without these two kinds of structures. The local, more modalic structures are too clunky and not flexible enough to do trans-local mission. The sodalic, more itinerant structures can not provide the same level of stability and continuity that the modalities provide. The truth is, we need both, and both of them need each other to be a truly missional movement.

In some ways, our church could not have predicted that things would have unfolded the way they have in the past year. None of the original group could have imagined that we would start over again, on the same team, with a new church plant. In some sense we are like an apostolic band who is being called to another work together. However, it would have been great to have understood the differences between a modality and a sodality from the beginning so we could have built those two concepts into our understanding of how we will organize for mission.

So, the great thing about laying new foundations is that you can start fresh! We will definitely build this understanding of the church into the new foundations we lay this second time around.

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