Thursday, January 5, 2012

Some thoughts on the "Missional Church Movement"

Every few years a new label is given to a movement in the church, usually some branch of the church that considers itself evangelical (a slippery term that used to mean belief in the bible as God's inerrant Word and Jesus as the only way of salvation). In the last twenty years alone we have seen movements labeled "spiritual warfare", "seeker sensitive", "church growth", "house church", "word of faith", "emerging church", and "new Calvinism". The most recent label I hear tossed around is "missional" or "incarnational". Of course, not everyone means the exact same thing by these terms, but a relatively common explanation from those who say they are "missional" is as follows- missional churches see their primary function as one of actively moving into a community to embody and enflesh the word, deed, and life of Jesus into every nook and cranny. To some degree, missional churches are a reaction to the kind of church that is all talk and no action. They are responding to "holy huddle" churches that seem to dichotomize what they do on Sunday morning with everything else in their life.

In each of these movements there are things to be commended. Each of these movements are in some way an reaction to a perceived or real deficiencies in the church at large. each of these movements there are inherent weaknesses. Each seem to eventually wane and morph in to something else. The modern "missional" movement provides a worthy challenge to those of us in more "traditional" evangelical (and Reformed) churches (I despise most of the labels I just used...but I'm not sure how else to describe "us"). Nevertheless, I have long believed the missional movement has a lack of intentional, biblically deep discipleship among it's members (I know, such a statement will get a rise out of some of my "missional friends"). The drumbeat of "community" and "incarnational living" is nice, but without a communal commitment to the Word and Sacraments, and an accompanying accountability between church leadership and church members, what are we left with? We need more communal living in our churches and should reach out to the larger community far more than we do. Furthermore, there shouldn't be a dichotomy between who we are at church and the rest of our life. At the same time, however, we ought not stop being the church God ordained- committing ourselves to biblical, Christ-centered, worship and holistic discipleship. What is true and what to do is our calling. Biblical exposition, doctrinal study, and theological training are necessary callings for a God-honoring church. Often times these features are viewed as too impractical and theoretical by missional church folk.

Michael Breen wrote an excellent post on the "Missional Church" that I hope you read in it's entirety here. Here's a blip to get you started-

It’s time we start being brutally honest about the missional movement that has emerged in the last 10-15 years: Chances are better than not it’s going to fail.

That may seem cynical, but I’m being realistic. There is a reason so many movements in the Western church have failed in the past century: They are a car without an engine. A missional church or a missional community or a missional small group is the new car that everyone is talking about right now, but no matter how beautiful or shiny the vehicle, without an engine, it won’t go anywhere.

So what is the engine of the church? Discipleship. I’ve said it many times: If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.


Lloyd said...

Man, you just don't get it. Start with a tat and then just do whatever seems to come next.

Jim said...


I agree. But I don't understand why so often it seems as though it's an either/or with the type of church rather than a both/and.

It seems to me that more I understand that I am a new creature in Christ - the more I am transformed by biblical doctrine, i.e., by understanding the Word, Ro 12.2 - the more I enact the new creation of which I am already a part. It's a both/and; there can be no true separation between who I understand I am and what I do. What I do is a reflection of who I understand I am.

Woody Woodward said...

I read and re-read, but my pea sized brain doesn't understand what the fuss and what this movement is all about?
Can you explain what's behind or what's the purpose of a "Missional church Movement? If we aren't about His Mission then we aren't about His work. The great Command is not a suggestion, so help me see what I aint' getten' here? PS OVERJOYED WITH THE GLORIOUS NEWS FOR YOUR FAMILY!

Anonymous said...

I came from a church that began to use the term, "missional" often. They also used the terms "spiritual formation" and "transformation." They still use these terms. They are headed into studies on contemplative prayer using silence, solitude, and self-sacrifice. Missional meant doing the "mission of God" or "missio Deo?" It was also focused on "story" for whatever that means. All new language for a different way of doing things. The focus is also on having people in small groups and community.

We ended up leaving because we saw the possibility that the contemplative prayer was going to be a bit like meditation with breathing exercises. Not sure they are doing that, but we thought they might. We felt like the focus on missional was actually a focus off of Christ.

It was very difficult.