Introducing the Missional Church
What is the Missional Church and How do we Become One? What the Existence of the Missional Church means to the Body of Christ
The missional church movement is becoming well-known but there are still many questions surrounding it. What exactly is a missional church? How would our church become one? Is this just another fad?
It is these questions and more that M. Scott Boren and Alan J. Roxburgh attempt to answer in their new book
Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One (ISBN: 978-0-8010-7212-3, $17.99, November 2009).
The missional church ‘movement’ began 30 years ago by theologian and bishop Lesslie Newbigin. He grew up in England, spent eleven years in India and returned to find his country changed. He then made it his mission to find ways to bring the Gospel anew to a post-Christian, Western culture.
Unfortunately, Newbigin’s work and the early missional movement were considered too academic for practical use. This book seeks to make the missional movement accessible to the entire church by asking, “How does one communicate the mystery of the ways God is moving in mission when so many have lost the memory of what the church is meant to be?”
Boren and Roxburgh offer a series of concrete steps to guide a church through this process in three parts: Part One seeks to ask different questions than we typically do when thinking of church strategy. How can we discover a ‘missional River’ to carry us into our unchartered missionary context? Part Two explains how rather than a list of characteristics, traits or programs there are three missional ‘streams’, or markers, that shape the life of missional people. They are: recognizing that the West is a mission field and we need to change how the church looks in each local community, recognizing that we are rich and blessed and have made the Gospel about us and it isn’t, and recognizing that the first church was a public forum and the local church needs to be it again. Part Three shares key ways to enter the missional river, recognizing that each local church has a unique story and needs to listen to the Spirit to hear their unique pathway into the missional world.
"The early church stayed in Jerusalem before persecution forced them to move out and spread the Word,” the authors say. “It wasn’t a plan or strategy. It was the Spirit breaking their boundaries. We aren’t promoting persecution, but we want the churches to be aware that the Spirit is always shaping something greater than we can imagine. There is nothing wrong with attracting people to church but that shouldn’t be the goal. God is at work to redeem creation and God invites us to join that mission. Instead of asking ‘How do we attract people to what we are doing,’ we should ask ‘what is God up to in this neighborhood?’ and join those things.”
Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One is available for purchase now and will be released in November 2009.
Short Excerpt from Book
There once was a people. They were neither significant nor exceptional nor privileged. In fact they did what most people of the time did: worked, married, raised children, celebrated, mourned and did the basic stuff of life. You would not think them unique because their dress, homes and professions were much like that of everyone else. What was different about them, however, was this strange conviction that they had been chosen by God to be a special people, a journeying people who were forced to discover, again and again, what God wanted them to be doing in the world.
This community is what the Bible calls “the people of God” and their stories are captured in Abraham’s leaving of Ur, the wilderness wandering of the Israelites, the partial occupation of the promised land, and the Babylonian Exile. We also have insight into their life through the stories of the early churches, partially told by Dr. Luke in the book of Acts. From these stories we see how God’s people were sojourners, like their father Abraham, who sought a home like strangers in a foreign land, looking for a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:9-10). At every stage of the Biblical story there is always a hope for a future reality toward which the people are moving. Being missional today means that we join this heritage and become wanderers who enter a journey without any road maps to discover on that journey what it means to be God’s people today.
In many ways the church that was founded in Jerusalem right after Pentecost failed to recognize the nature of this call to wander. These new Christians very quickly settled into a pattern that they thought exemplified the mission of God. They met at the Temple in Jerusalem much as good Jews had done for many, many years. They met in extended households to serve one another and work for each other in a building sense of belonging and fellowship. At the heart of it all, however, they saw themselves as basically a Jewish movement on steroids that was the completion of God’s people.
If this mindset had remained, this Jesus follower movement would have been little more than a branch of Judaism rather than the Church. What transpired next wasn’t a choice of these Jerusalem believers. Persecution arose in Jerusalem forcing many of the believers to flee their precious home church. At first the leadership in Jerusalem instructed those who fled to go to the synagogues to teach about Jesus. They had a fixed imagination about how the Gospel worked and who could get in, and it did not include the Gentiles.
Then the Spirit took some unknown Christians from Jerusalem north toward Antioch where they encountered Gentiles who had heard about Jesus and wanted to learn more. What happened next could not be controlled by Jerusalem because as these unknown Christians were speaking to them about Jesus, the Holy Spirit fell upon them and a new kind of church was birthed in Antioch, comprised mostly of Gentiles.
Nobody expected this turn of events. This did not fit the plans and paradigms of the early church establishment. The Holy Spirit came and broke the boundaries that had been set up to define what it meant to be Christian. The church was forced out of the box it had created and into a space it had never imagined and would never have entered by itself. In other words, the church was compelled by the Spirit to enter on a journey they would never have expected and would never have taken by themselves. This was a move from getting like-minded people to attend something that the establishment had defined to the church beginning a journey outside of itself in order to engage the surrounding context.
These first-century wanderers were moving from a clearly defined attractional way of doing church into a missional imagination of being the church in the world. The church in Jerusalem was an attractional model of church life as it sought to draw people into the center of a predetermined understanding of what it meant to be God’s people. It was a Jerusalem-centered movement shaped by the assumptions of Judaism. They saw Jesus as the Jewish Messiah who had come to fulfill the promises for the Jewish people. They did not understand how the Spirit was about to take them beyond their attractional center and lead them to wander on a mission they did not fully understand. This shift to wandering is exactly what is happening within congregations across North America as the Spirit leads God’s people away from being an attractional center to a new journey of mission.
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American pastors, says Eugene Peterson, are abandoning their posts at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Instead, they have become “a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches.” Pastors and the communities they serve have become preoccupied with image and standing, with administration, measurable success, sociological impact, and economic viability.
St. Paul continues to provoke people as much today as he did in the first century. Some see him as the greatest teacher of Christianity after Jesus himself, while others regard him as a pestilent and dangerous fellow. Over the years, scholars have debated and written books on the historic Paul and his role in the birth of Christianity. Most recently, English novelist and biographer A.N. Wilson has revived the old argument that it was Paul of Tarsus and not Jesus of Nazareth who founded Christianity.