>I recently had a conversation with a friend who works with a church in Austin, TX that is seeking to establish a missional mindset among their new and growing congregation. In seeking this endeavor, my friend told me that a professor at a prominent seminary in the U.S. had responded somewhat pessimistically concerning the recent “missional church” movement, stating that it is merely a “fad” that will come to pass. It is true that the conversation of ecclesiology in the recent years has become much more focused on the concept of “missional church,” and there are a lot of folks who have jumped all over the “missional church” bandwagon for the sake of being a part of the next coolest thing. However, there are also a lot of folks who are following the leading of the Holy Spirit in their communities for the sake of obedience to the Mission Maker. So, the question poses itself: “Is the ‘Missional Church’ a fad worth following?”
It might be helpful, to provide a description of what is meant by the idea of “missional church.” In a broad sense, the term is a a manifestation of the Missio Dei or Mission of God. Most missiologists and theologians describe the Mission of God in terms of the Triune God’s activity throughout history, beginning with Creation and culminating in the return of Christ. Darrell Guder, from Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, defines it this way,
“We have come to see that mission is not merely an activity of the church. Rather, mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purposes to restore and heal creation. ‘Mission’ means ‘sending,’ and it is the central biblical theme describing the purpose of God’s action in human history.”
A crucial component to understanding the Missio Dei is that it is derived not from “ecclesiology or soteriology,” as Guder states, but rather flows directly from the Trinitarian nature of God. Thus, just as the Father sent the Son and the Son sent the Spirit, so too is the church understood as the sent people of God. Just as the three persons of the Trinity cannot be separated from the singular essence of Trinity but are intimately united as one (i.e., perichoresis), so too are the people of God intimately connected to the activity or mission of God in history. This is seen in the creating and sending of Adam and Eve into the earth to “fill and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28), it is seen in the calling and sending of Abram to be a “blessing to all nations” (Gen. 12:3), it is seen in the emancipation and sending of Israel into Canaan to be a “holy nation, a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:5-6; Duet. 4:5-8), and it is seen in the redemption and sending of the church to “declare the divine excellencies of God” (1Pet. 2:9).
From this it is clear that to be “missional” is a characteristic that is not anthropocentric but again, theocentric, centered in the Trinitarian activity of God. Colin Gunton describes the missional portrait of the church as a, “finite echo or bodying forth of the divine personal dynamics,” “a temporal echo of the eternal community that God is.” Such a perspective then shifts the activity of the church from simply being about “missions” to being “missional.”
The irony though, and I believe this is what the seminary professor’s comment was hinting at, is that many American churches have taken this concept and have made it into being about “missional church.” In other words, they have made this concept a fad to follow rather than an identity to incarnate. One does not realize who they are in Christ by wearing Christian t-shirts, watching Christian movies, or joining Christian blogs (although many are sadly deceived and believe they do), but instead by submitting to the Word and Spirit of God. In the same way, the church must not simply observe the latest “fads” of ecclesiology or missiology or etc., and jump on the bandwagon, but instead must carefully evaluate these “fads” in light of the Word, by the guidance of the Spirit, and with the help of the church, both past, present, near, and far, and then determine if this “fad” is really the character of God in disguise. In the case of the “missional church,” I believe this is one “fad” worth…becoming.
It would be great to hear how you and/or your church is playing a part in the Missio Dei. The great thing about being a new creation in Christ and about being a “missional church” is that not everyone looks the same. Each follower of Christ and each body of Christ is placed in a specific context at a specific time in history and in the world. Each of these portraits will look differently, yet all will and should be united around the same mission: to bring all peoples to know and follow the Triune God. So what does that look like for you?