Understanding the Missional Church

The link above contains a very concise explanation and history of the term “missional” from someone in my tribe, the EFCA.

Reactions? Is this assessment correct? What’s missing, if anything, from the author’s take on missional?

Personally, I’m thankful for the article and especially the following paragraph. “The missional conversation goes much deeper than strategy. In fact, most advocates of the missional church idea are opposed to programmatic or formulaic approaches. Rather, the core concern and motivation is a rediscovery of the biblical teaching of the Church as a missionary people.”

Amen and amen. Shout it from the rooftops. Too many people peg missional as strategy alone. It’s not. It’s an identity. I am missional because God is a missionary God. Through the redeeming work of Christ every believer is, de facto, a missionary like God himself and Christ his sent one. And what is this mission of ours? It’s the Holy Spirit directed spontaneous expansion of the Church among the nations, to the glory of God and the joy of His people.

I just wish more churches would contemplate the Bible’s theology of “sentness” instead of casually going about business as usual. Much is at stake. The fields are ripe for harvest. What we believe matters greatly and deeply affects how we express this cherished entity called the Church.

I believe the default posture of the believer (therefore the church too) is one of being centered on Christ and sent by him. If we lack sentness about our lives we just might lack the fullness of Jesus in our lives. Jesus on tap yields sentness. May Christ reign supreme so that his church lives sent!

Understanding the Missional Church

The Organic Reformation

I recently finished reading The Organic Reformation by Tom Johnston and Mike Chong Perkinson. I have to say, while the book isn’t the greatest book ever written, it is unquestionably a timely book worth reading. It’s thoughtful, well-reasoned and has some theological depth to it.

As with many pastoral resources published these days the underlying premise is that something is wrong with the Church in the West (see also The Forgotten Ways, Organic Church, Simple Church, ad infinitum). For example, some of my favorite quotes…

The Body of Christ in the West has [a genetic flaw] – it is unhealthy through flawed spiritual DNA – and it can’t reproduce.

Many are Christianized, know the Bible, the principles of holy living, but have not met Christ or do not meet with the Christ daily – instead meeting with the principles and practice, and not the Person.

The compartmentalization and mechanization of the modern Western Church is resisting the natural life-flow of the Kingdom. Churches are now processing factories and production plants, attempting to mass produce Christians through their programming.

We have nullified the call to discipleship by substituting a call to belief and attendance.

The culture is slipping into the hands of the Enemy. The Church has been self-marginalized and continues to decline in the West – the only place on the planet where it is not growing.

And my absolute favorite,

Many ‘leaders’ in churches are simply mid-level program managers, and not missionally focused at all.

If you don’t buy this diagnosis then the book is probably not worth reading. However, if you’re in agreement that something is not quite right, that the Bride of Christ is a bit beleaguered, then this book is worth a read. And here’s why. Many of the books that attempt to fix the Church’s woes prescribe pragmatic fixes. Johnston and Perkinson buck this trend by prescribing a principle. And in my mind, a principled solution always trumps a pragmatic solution.

The heart of the book is the call to reorient all of life around the Irreducible Core of loving God, loving people, and making disciples. The beauty of a principled response to church health is that,

The Irreducible Core (IC) functions as a powerful and simple framework that allows every pastor and leader to frame their ministry around the heart of Jesus. The beauty of the IC is that it can flex into a myriad of traditions and forms and still be the IC. 

Johnston and Perkinson see the IC as a “New Testament Shema” or “Shema 2.0” and the summation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The Irreducible Core lived out means that as a way of life believers are encountering and knowing God and His love for them, they are learning how to love Him through every aspect of their life, they are living in such a way that the love of God flows out of them as love for others, and as rabbis themselves every believer is teaching others to do the same. In their words,

We think you can do more than this and be a Christian. However, we do not think you can do less than this and be a disciple of Jesus.

When you think about it, that’s a pretty radical statement!

If every believer were to reorient life around this Irreducible Core there would be verifiable outcomes in the life of the disciple—think metrics here. They would believe what Jesus believed (transformed mind), live as Jesus lived (transformed character), love as Jesus loved (transformed relationships), minister as Jesus ministered (transformed service), and lead as Jesus led (transformed influence). Those are soft metrics indeed but metrics that get us much closer to real church health than the hard metrics most churches rely on. In short, an IC way of life would lead to a movement of disciple-making disciples. And that, in my mind, is a healthy church.

Now on to one small critique. For me, having on occasion led workshops and spoken publicly about the need for many of the changes Johnston and Perkinson prescribe, the most poignant part of the book was a too short section on obstacles and objections—things that keep this kind of organic reformation from taking root. Johnston and Perkinson highlight five blockers:

Thought blockers (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) – inculcated ways of thinking that have become encrustations on the ship of the Kingdom. 

Theological blockers (John 5:39-40) – theological, doctrinal or worldview issues which prevent an organic movement from being formed.

Cultural blockers – church and denominational cultures, perhaps originally birthed in revival or renewal, or even the Protestant Reformation, which now stand in the way of the future thing God wants us to do.

Polity blockers – governmental systems that are built around ‘command and control’ versus ‘empower and release’ 

Systemic blockers – within each group, church, network or denomination there may be systemic things present that can restrict the life of Christ moving. 

I think their assessment is right on; I’ve seen these blockers operative in the audiences I’ve addressed. I just wish they had taken more effort to expand and explain these things as well as share how they’ve dealt with these issues when they have faced them.

Again, there is much to commend in this book and not much I disagreed with. If you are tired of pragmatic solutions to doing church, this book is for you. If you are a “submitted subversive” and in the position of leading church, denomination, or organizational change, this book is for you. If you long to see the Kingdom Way of Life lived out in your family, this book would be a good place to start.

Bottom Line: The Organic Reformation is a book worth reading a second time, which makes it better than most church books out there.

The Way of Spontaneous Expansion

Recently, I’ve been reading selected writings by Roland Allen from his book The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. For those of you unfamiliar with Allen, he was an early twentieth century Anglican missionary and missiologist who had a profound influence on Lesslie Newbigin. In many ways, much of the current discussion about the missional church finds its roots in Allen’s writings.

At any rate, Allen is obsessed with (in a good way) trying to understand how and why the early church expanded spontaneously, why the church was spontaneously expanding in the East in his day, and why this spontaneous expansion wasn’t happening in the West. Here’s how Allen defines spontaneous expansion.

I mean the expansion which follows the unexhorted and unorganized activity of individual members of the Church explaining to others the Gospel which they have found for themselves; I mean the expansion which follows the irresistible attraction of the Christian Church for men who see its ordered life, and are drawn to it by desire to discover the secret of a life which they instinctively desire to share; I mean also the expansion of the Church by the addition of new Churches.

Essentially, what Allen describes here is a CPM (Church Planting Movement) and a wonderfully concise description of ‘sentness.’ Allen’s analysis as to why this happened is as insightful as his definition.

The rapid and wide expansion of the Church in the early centuries was due in the first place mainly to the spontaneous activity of individuals. A natural instinct to share with others a new-found joy, strengthened and enlightened by the divine Grace of Christ, the Saviour, inevitably tends to impel men to propagate the Gospel. 

As a pastor, one of the lessons Allen has taught me is that the pastoral task is not to control various ministries. Rather, I need to give up control and instead lead people to be compelled by the Spirit. Because we as pastors have excelled at structuring and programming the Spirit right out of our ministries we simply haven’t given the Holy Spirit the freedom to do what He does best—expand his Church. 

Allen goes on to write:

No one, then, was surprised at the spontaneous efforts of individual Christians to convert others to their Faith. They probably thought it quite natural. Thus as men moved about there were constantly springing up new groups of Christians in different places. The Church expanded simply by organizing these little groups as they were converted, handing on to them the organization which she had received from her first founders. It was itself a unity composed of a multitude of little churches any one of which could propagate itself, and consequently the reception of any new group of Christians was a very simple matter. By a simple act the new group was brought into the unity of the Church, and equipped, as its predecessors had been equipped, not only with all the spiritual power and authority necessary for its own life as an organized unit, but also with all the authority needed to repeat the same process whenever one of its members might convert men in any new village or town. Thus the results of the spontaneous labour of any individual Christian were naturally and easily consolidated and established within the unity of the Church.

Sounds like a decentralized network of house churches or a cell church, doesn’t it? For those of us in the position of helping churches and denominations process what it means to be missional it’s helpful to appeal to Allen. We all want spontaneous expansion. A voice from the distant past sometimes carries more weight with skeptics than the current missional writers who are frequently viewed as following the latest fad in evangelicalism.

So let’s read Allen, let’s ask God to give us ears to hear what Spirit says to the Church, and let’s live out of our ‘sentness’ so that we too might see the spontaneous expansion of God’s church.

Musings on the Missional Manifesto, Part 5: The Church

Excellent post by Ed Stetzer. Thought I’d pass it along. This paragraph in particular caught my attention.

The church finds its significance as a body who is sent on a kingdom mission. Missionary congregations are communities that reflect the reality of the gospel of the kingdom in their life together and their life for their world. And, they are a body empowered by the Spirit and Word of the gospel, who have been given the keys of the kingdom and a promise from the King. The posture of these missionary congregations is “sentness.”

Musings on the Missional Manifesto, Part 5: The Church