“The nurture structures down through history have been loathe to provide such channels , and slow to bless those that have emerged. In fact, they have often clawed at the heels of those members who have reached out for deeper forms of commitment.” – Charles Mellis in Committed Communities

Missiologists use the technical term “modalities” to refer to the church in its local, parish, or diocesan form. It’s the cross-generational and the essential structure that conserves the fruit of the Christian movement.

But as Mellis so tartly observes, it’s not the structure that takes new ground nor is it on the cutting edge of the new, particularly when faced with cultural, social, linguistic, or economic barriers. Rather the modality preserves what is and provides a place where all can belong. When healthy, it presses for deeper commitment and vibrant spirituality. It is particularly effective in its own immediate cultural milieu and has a transformation kingdom impact. But when people get really committed, watch out!

Modalities were never intended by God to do what the missionary structures do. To expect local churches to have the same sense of discipline and focus that the apostolic forms of the Church—the “sodalities”—evidence, is an unfair expectation and is usually the result of a truncated ecclesiology. There is no theological, biblical, historical, or missiological evidence that such an expectation of the church in its local form is warranted. It is the expectation of the whole Church, but the whole Church is much more than the modalic structure.

When sodalities are healthy, they do two major things for modalities. First, sodalities renew modalities. Secondly, sodalities multiply modalities. While I cannot unequivocally prove it, I think most of the evidence throughout the history of the Christian movement points to the fact that more modalities have emerged as the result of sodality activity than as a result of the activity of other modalities.

Ultimately, we desperately need more and healthier modalities. Hundreds of millions of those who follow Jesus find their spiritual home in these local expressions of the Church. But we also need hoards of new sodalities.

As a sodality leader, I have a bias. I admit it. That is because in the final analysis, the effects on the world of Mother Teresa and a few thousand of her fellow sisters is exponentially greater than hundreds of thousands of nominal pew sitters. The tragedy is that the pew sitters, as Mellis observes, all to often are the biggest obstacle to what God wants to do through those committed few who have submitted themselves to an apostolic calling and consequently have aligned themselves vocationally with an apostolic structure. May their tribe increase!

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