Home > Brian's Blogs, Missional Church > What is the/a Missional Church? (3)

What is the/a Missional Church? (3)

Last post I described how the missional church movement is fundamentally different from other evangelical movements (such as purpose-driven and emerging) because it is challenging the very essence of the church, not merely its strategies.  But how does the missional church understand the essence of the church?

The best way to begin is with an extended quotation from Craig Van Gelder’s The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit.  In it he describes the origin of the missional church movement and begins to explain its understanding of the church:

“The missional church conversation is being popularized largely by the fast-becoming seminal work published in 1998, entitled: Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.  This volume is the product of six missiologists who spent two years in intensive discussions attempting to develop a shared argument about the very nature of the church.  They sought to explore who the discipline of missiology (understanding God’s mission in the world) is interrelated with ecclesiology (the study, ology, of the church, ecclesia).  The result was the construction of a missional ecclesiology, or in short hand, the concept of the “missional church.”

“This conception of the church is now catching hold among church leaders and congregations across a wide range of denominations.  The missional church discussion is capturing a basic impulse within many churches in the United States that there is something about the church that makes it inherently missionary.  But it is clear that confusion still exists over what the term missional really means.  Some appear to want to use it to reclaim, yet one more time, the priority of missions in regard to the church’s various activities.  Unfortunately, this misunderstanding continues the effort to define a congregation primarily around what it does.  The concept of a church being missional moves in a fundamentally different direction.  It seeks to focus the conversation about what the church is – that it is a community created by the Spirit and that it has a unique nature, or essence, which gives it a unique identity.  In light of the church’s nature, the missional conversation then explores what the church does.  Purpose and strategy are not unimportant in the missional conversation, but they are understood to be derivative dimensions of understanding the nature, or essence, of the church.  Likewise, changing cultural contexts are not unimportant, but they are understood to be conditions that the church interacts with in light of its nature or essence” (16-17).

The key here is that the missional church understands mission as what the church is, not something the church does.

To see how truly unique this is, consider some of the more common conversations we have regarding church.  Perhaps the most common phrases used in the conversation are: “where do you go to church?” or “I go to church at…”  These two statements define the essence of church in terms of place: the church is a place where certain things happen.  Traditional Reformed theology has a more detailed understanding of church as the place where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered (and, sometimes, where discipline takes place).  This understanding defines the essence of the church in terms of what it does: the church is a place where certain things happen.

I have blogged previously about the dangerous consequences of this mentality, but let me repeat two:

  1. It caters to individualism and consumerism.  If church is nothing more than a place where, then lets go to the best place where!
  2. It caters to a professional clergy system.  This effectively negates the priesthood of all believers because the paid staff are those who do the stuff at the place of church!

The missional church movement is unique because it isn’t primarily concerned about what the church does, but what the church is.  We are getting closer to defining the church, but we aren’t there yet.  Come back again soon…

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  1. October 1, 2008 at 4:37 pm

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