Missional Church – Book Review – Final Post
Another challenge to the church in North America is in developing “Missional Structures.” The main question in this chapter is “As we assume the missional definition of the church as the sign, foretaste and instrument and agent of God’s rule in Christ, we shall ask now, how should the church organize itself for vocation?” Perhaps the most important part of this chapter is its emphasis on the necessity for the scriptures to function as a major guide in our formation of the structures that serve our mission. (223) In this, it is important to keep in mind that “if we read the biblical witness missionally, we will not fall prey to the naïve and unfaithful notion that the goal lies simply in replicating some particular New Testament church.” (228) Of course, any way we structure our churches must keep in priority our missional task. This goes away from the modern means of forming structures which focus measurement in terms of ‘numbers, financial stability and the capacity to function as an organization.” (238)
Finally, while we must think of the local church structures and seek to form them in a missional way, we must also be sure not to isolate our individual communities from the whole catholic Church. The authors point out that “it is not biblical however, for particular communities of the visible, organized church to exist in isolation from one another.” (248)
As I stated in the beginning of this review, I find it hard to read this book and walk away unchanged in the way I think about church. Perhaps the most challenging and formative chapter of this book was chapter 4 which discussed the vocation of the church in light of the gospel. It seems to me that if we are going to think about mission at all we must begin (as the authors argued) with a rethinking and recapturing of the Kingdom and Reign of God as our starting point for mission. This is not an easy task for most of us. I can honestly say that before I read this book for the first time a number of years ago (for the record, I did re-read it for this paper) I had a very scarce understanding of the kingdom of God and how it fit into the life of the church. In fact, I would have been uncomfortable with the idea that Jesus’ main message was “the kingdom of God is near” even though those were some of the first words out of his mouth and that is what John the Baptist came announcing as well. For me, a fresh hearing of the gospel is transforming my understanding of my role as a follower of Jesus, my role in the church life as a participant and my role as a leader in the church.
The other chapter that was extremely challenging was chapter 7, Missional Leadership. There are two key reasons for this. First, I was challenged by the fact that as leaders we must be people who are engaging in and experimenting in the practices of the church ourselves as we lead others in the same. It seems like in modernity and Christendom, the model of leader was much more sterile and one could get by without even being a Christian, much less a growing and pietistic leader. But, in a missional church, if the calling is to lead communities into spiritual practices that shape them as the people of God who are sent to be a sign, witness and foretaste to the reign of God than we cannot neglect these practices. There is no “sliding by” with any hope of success. The second challenge I found in this chapter is the organization structure that Alan Roxburgh put forth of a bounded and centered set that is pointing to the reign of God and not primarily about building and organization but more about developing a covenant people who invite others towards this reign. While this ideology looks great on paper, it is very, very hard to live out. If we are in a church setting where the structures have been in place for quite some time, changing them is no small task! Of course, if we are in a setting where the community structures have not been established we have the freedom to start fresh. However, in this setting we are always faced with the temptation to sell out to becoming organizationally and structurally viable at the risk of losing its missional vision. I can speak from experience that “missional leadership requires courage and perseverance. Missional communities will be minority churches, and minorities question the veracity of their identity over against the ascendant culture. The temptation is to lose hope, to allow the dominant culture to write one’s agenda.”