Tony Stiff is a graduate of Westminster seminary, a friend, and a solid young thinker — and he will do a four part series for us on “Missional” theology and Bible reading. I look forward to this series and I ask you to join in the conversation.
I must tell you how much I appreciate folks like Tony — regular readers of this blog, regular commenter, and one willing to offer suggestions like this for the blog. It is folks like you — and Tony — that make this blog what it is. Thanks.
Now over to Tony, and here’s how he opens:
“Every time I walk into a Christian bookstore I see the word missional applied to dozens of trendy books on how to do church from authors of diverse traditions. It seems like missional is the newest model on the shelf for pragmatic evangelicals to buy and consume and self-apply. Missional is doing for younger evangelicals what Neo-Evangelicalism did for the last generation.”
I had someone share this sentiment with me over a conversation on the the importance of the missional church. Perhaps as you look at this booklet [and read this post] you’re saying to yourself something similar, “the missional church is just the latest buzzword,” “the missional church is a pragmatic theologically light version of the church,” etc.. If these things were true then why in the world should any group of Christians – small or large – spend time exploring what the missional church is? The honest answer is they shouldn’t. If the missional church is just the latest fad in the church then its not worth our time.
The essence of the missional church in the West is to recognize a change of conditions: from the Christian West to the Post-Christian West. What is the biggest evidence for this in your opinion? Where do you most feel the Post-Christian condition?
What I hope you’ll experience in these posts over the next few weeks is that the missional church
conversation happening all over the Western church represents not the latest
growth theory taken from popular culture but rather a deeply theological and
culturally thoughtful exploration of the biblical and historical nature of the
What is the missional church? The missional
church is a ecclesial expression of a new situational awareness
Christians the in West are having as the church continues to decline and revert
to its original marginal character in our global pluralistic world. The
missional church is the overflow of fresh considerations regarding the nature
of God as one who sends. The missional church also represents a shift in
how mission is viewed: no longer as a geographical movement from a
Christianized West to a paganized East. Lastly, the missional church is
a revived understanding of the church as sent rather than just sending.
The Situational Shift
What is the missional church? The answer to
this question can be found in the experience of a single 20th century
missionary. Lesslie Newbigin. Tim Keller in one of the most popular articles on
the subject called, The Missional Church, shares the situational shift
“The British missionary
Lesslie Newbigin went to India around 1950. There he was involved with a church living ‘in mission’ in a
very non-Christian culture. When he returned to England some 30 years later, he
discovered that now the Western church too existed in a non-Christian society,
but it had not adapted to its new situation. Though public institutions and
popular culture of Europe and North America no longer ‘Christianized’ people,
the church still ran its ministries assuming that a stream of ‘Christianized’,
traditional/moral people would simply show up in services. Some churches certainly did
‘evangelism’ as one ministry among many. But the church in the West had not
become completely ‘missional’–adapting and reformulating absolutely everything
it did in worship, discipleship, community, and service–so as to be engaged
with the non-Christian society around it.
It had not developed a ‘missiology of western culture’ the way it had
done so for other non-believing cultures.” Tim Keller, The
Newbigin was not the first missionary to return
home to the West to find that the West was not the Christendom society he had
left, but he was the one whose clarity of vision and missiological profundity
helped raise the issue in a way that captured the attention of Western ministry
The missional church is not a cliche …. here today and gone tomorrow, because the situational shift
it comes from – the shift from a Christian to a Post-Christian setting for the
church in the West – has brought about a lasting dynamic that will shape and
inform how Christians speak of the mission and nature of the church. Darrell L.
Guder, editor of perhaps the most well known work on the topic called The
Missional Church, sets up the problem facing the Church in the Western
“Rather than occupying a central and
influential place, North American Christian churches are increasingly marginalized,
so much so that in our urban areas they represent a minority movement. It is by
now a truism to speak of North America as a mission field.”
How does the life of Lesslie Newbigin help us understand the
situational shift the Church in the West has gone through?
What do you think caused the church to lose its presence and
influence in the West?
Intro video for this study @ Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCowUtjot4c
PDF version of the four week small group study called “What is the missional church?”: http://setsnservice.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/what-is-the-missional-church4.pdf