Home > Brian's Blogs, Missional Church > What is the/a Missional Church? (11): Change

What is the/a Missional Church? (11): Change

The final chapter of Craig Van Gelder’s The Ministry of the Missional Church is titled “Spirit-Led Growth and Development,” but what it is really about is change.  In it he provides a great theology of change.

Van Gelder’s big idea is this: “the church should expect to change as the Spirit works to bring about transformed lives out of a new nature” (155).  In other words, if we are being led by the Spirit and if we want to be truly missional, then change is inevitable.  But, Van Gelder believes, this is exactly what God wants.

Van Gelder uses the book of Acts as an example of this.  But more than serving as merely an example, the book of Acts provides a normative pattern for the life of the church.  The church today should expect to experience many of the same transitions that the church experienced in Acts.  Consider the following:

  • Acts 6 shows growth and development from conflict (Hellenistic widows were being denied food).
  • Acts 8 shows growth and development from adverse circumstances (specifically, persecution).
  • Acts 11 shows growth and development from ministry on the margins (ministry to Gentiles).
  • Acts 13-19 shows growth and development from intentional strategy (Paul’s missionary journeys).
  • Acts 16 shows growth and development from divine intervention (Paul was blocked by the Spirit from going into Asia, so he went to Macedonia with great success).
  • Acts 10 and 15 shows growth and development from new insights into the gospel and culture (Peter’s vision about Gentiles and the Jerusalem Council focusing on Gentile converts).

What Van Gelder finds compelling about this is that in only one case (Acts 13-19) was the growth and development of the church a result of an intentional human strategy.  In every other case it was the church following the lead of the Holy Spirit – sometimes in very difficult circumstances.

This does not mean that the church today should not actively develop strategies for growth and development.  It should.  This is wise leadership. In fact, the bulk of Van Gelder’s chapter talks about how to change an existing organization. (I have chosen not to discuss that because he is very dependent upon Heifetz and Linsky’s discussion of technical and adaptive change which I’ve written about here and here).

So strategy is important, but not nearly as important as being submissive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  It is when we submit to the Spirit that we will be a truly missional people and see tremendous growth and development in ourselves and in the world.

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