I am going to be facilitating a seminar on the Missional Church. This is not an area of expertise for me (one of a plethora of topics that is not an area of expertise for me). But I do know some of the edges of what it is not. I know that the Missional Church is not the same as a Missions-focused Church… despite some who think that it is. I know that the Missional Church is not anti-Missions… despite some missions folk that seem to think it is (and some missional churches that do act like it is at times). I also know that there are so many different understandings of the term “Missional Church” that it is hard to say that it is actually a movement. And people who don’t like the term “Missional Church” are able to find the strawman definition of choice to knock down.
In preparation, I am reading a book written from in the middle of the movement (2007 being well after 1998, but well before 2021). I am a bit more up-to-date on some like Reggie McNeal and Ed Stetzer in terms of writers on this topic in recent years… so I am reading THE MINISTRY OF THE MISSIONAL CHURCH: A COMMUNITY LED BY THE SPIRIT by Craig Van Gelder.
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 how 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 (U.S.) 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, the 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.
Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit, p. 16-17.
In other words, we need to start with understanding what the church is, before determining what the church does. This means that one needs to start from a theological stance. The stance of Van Gelder is Missio Dei Theology. Personally, I think that is an excellent place to start… but I will have to continue reading the book to see where all fo this goes.