Missional Church: What Does it Mean?

Editor’s note: Question: I am being asked more and more what the term “missional church” means. Does it mean what we have generally thought regarding missionaries leaving and going to other parts of the world to evangelize and church plant? Often those questions have been asked in relation to discussion on the negative and narrowing impact of much of the modern church growth philosophy, especially as it relates to the church and the kingdom. There are some helpful books being written on the topic of the mission church. I am still awaiting one on the missional kingdom, although this book has an excellent chapter on that general topic.

Also, at our September 2006 Christian Education and Publications committee meeting, we studied a book entitled Breaking the Missional Code, by Ed Stetzer and David Putman. While we did not agree with some of the conclusions, we agreed that the book raised important questions that the church should be able to discuss as it relates to the missional church.

Though there is so much that could be said on this issue or topic, the book reviewed here will at least introduce the concept to those not familiar with it.

Dictionary of Mission Theology: Evangelical Foundations, John Corrie, ed., with Samuel Escobar and Wilbert Shenk, IVP, 2007,461 pages,$25.60 (#8930)

The West is now not the only major player involved in global missions. With many third world Christians coming to theological maturity and entering the worldwide field of missiology, the more familiar names connected with missions like Wheaton College and New Haven are being expanded to include Nairobi, Manila, and Sao Paulo. Missions has become global. Everybody is doing missions, as should be the case; but this is forcing a rethinking of our traditional concept of missions.

Click here to read entire publication in PDF (Acrobat Reader required)

Much of the newer emphasis in North America regarding the “missional church” is also challenging us to reconsider our Western paradigm of missions, which has tended to see missions as something primarily focused on evangelism and independent church planting, disconnected from holistic theology and especially the church. The church, for example, has been viewed from a pragmatic position as a place where we only get missionaries and support for their mission effort. This has been described as the typical western pattern of doing missions.

At the same time the North American church is being challenged to rethink its concept of missions, this kind of rethinking is going on globally by those involved in missions from around the world. The hope is that a newer and better grounded missiology will emerge. However, as I read many of the books being written from and for both arenas, I conclude that it is simply an attempt to return to a more biblically based paradigm. We have so romanticized missions in recent years and made it an individualistic focus that we have failed to ask good and hard questions about God’s intention, both for the church and the kingdom.

That is no longer the case as this book and a number of others are reminding us. For example, some of the questions involve the connection of missions to the local church. Is missions something a church does or is it something a church is? Does missions simply involve evangelism and church planting or is there more from God’s perspective? Another question relates to the church and kingdom. So much of our missiology has reflected not only a misunderstanding of missions and the church but it also has not brought front and center the place of the kingdom and how the kingdom concept impacts our missiology.

In this volume, John Corrie writes that in the past we have failed in three major areas, thus setting the agenda for rethinking.

1. We have failed to consistently integrate missions and theology. This has caused two results-a divide between missions and theology and a separation of the missional concept from theology.

2. We have not always understood the importance of an interrelation with missions, theology, and context; hence much effort by missionaries has been to communicate a Western version of missions.

3. In Evangelicalism, we have not incorporated a holistic view of missions, theology, context, and evangelism. Therefore, we have narrowed a view of missions to simply deal with one’s personal relationship with God rather than reconciliation with God, with others, and with creation.

Corrie suggests the old Western view of missions tends to teach and emphasize converts and church plants but has little emphasis on making disciples. Maybe that is why some are saying that globally the church is a mile wide and an inch deep. This book addresses those kinds of issues.

I was so pleased with Corrie’s section on the kingdom of God. We agree that the kingdom concept is the missing link in understanding God’s mission from His perspective. He says that most of the mission movements “often see little or no role for the kingdom of God in society, politics, or creation. For many, their sole aim is to plant churches.”

The section on the church by Tormond Engelsviken of Norway also challenges us to rethink a number of things about the church, especially as it relates to its missional role in the world. He underscores, with others writing in this area, that the church is not simply a sending agency for missionaries; the church in its very nature is missional.

The topics in this dictionary are alphabetically arranged and also include topics on enculturation, accommodation, syncretism, and the sovereignty of God. This will be an important book as these kinds of discussions continue. Corrie says that it is written for church leaders, missionaries, students of missions, those involved in the teaching and practice of worldwide missions, and the non-specialists. I encourage all these categories of audiences to read this book, especially church leaders, in order to further explore the many definitions of a missional church. The church is only partially, at best, demonstrating a missional perspective.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

Comments are closed.