Defining the Missional Church

The following is a brief essay that I wrote for the congregation in hopes of communicating more clearly what the missional church is and what I am trying to work towards (lead us to be/become).  The essay is not meant to be overly exhaustive and my own understanding is surely still a work in progress.  What do you think?

            The term “missional church” has become somewhat of a cliché to some and yet to others, there is still a lingering question as to what is meant by describing the church as the missional church.  My hope is to answer some of these questions with this short little essay and why the missional church that is needed within the North American culture.

            In their book The Shaping of Things to Come, experienced missionaries and professors of missiology Michael Frost and & Alan Hirsch, adopt the definition of missional church provided by The Gospel and Our Culture Network which defines the missional church as:

The missional church represents God in the encounter between God and human culture.  It exists not because of human goals or desires, but as a result of God’s creating and saving work in the world.  It is a visible manifestation of how the Good News of Jesus Christ is present in human life and transforms human culture to reflect more faithfully God’s intentions for creation.  It is a community that visibly and effectively participates in God’s activity, just as Jesus indicated when he referred to it in metaphorical language as salt, yeast, and light in the world.[1]

The authors continue on to describe the missional church as “always outward looking, always changing (as culture continues to change), and always faithful to the Word of God.”[2]  This understanding of church assumes the primary purpose of the church is for the local congregation to be faithful witnesses of the gospel in a relevant way to the surrounding culture and community.  Rather than taking a one-size fits all mentality to the church, this understanding assumes the approach of the local missional church will be derived from faithful conversation with scripture and intuitive understanding of its local culture and community. 

            Though this understanding may still be a little too academic for some, the implications of a missional church are astounding.  First, the missional church is neither a maintenance church (one that is simply occupied with surviving and prolonging its current way of being) nor a pastoral church (one that is occupied inwardly at protecting its own livelihood).  Secondly, the missional church is “Great Commission” oriented.  That is, the missional church is focused on communicating the gospel and engaging its culture and community with the gospel for the purpose of making disciples – sinners being taught, mentored, and transformed into mature followers of Jesus – who exist as a living testimony of God’s redemptive work to such a degree that the church becomes a redemptive influence upon its surrounding culture and community.  Lastly, the missional church lives in confession of the good news believing that it is and is becoming God’s intention for creation and redemption.

            As I have spent time reflecting on what it means to be a missional church, both in scripture and listening to other Christians, I have sought to define my own understanding of the missional church and its purpose.  I understand the missional church to be a future community who exists in the present as the representation of God’s finished work of redemption for the purpose of inviting and enabling others to join the redemptive story of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The church is a future community because is exists as God’s future redemptive goal but it exists in the present as a representative of God’s redemptive work so that others can join in and become a part of God’s redemptive work.  By the power of God, we are, we can be, and we can become a missional church.  The first step is for us as a church is to offer the confessional prayer “Lord, here we are.  Do with us as you please.”

[1] Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), 7.

[2] Ibid.  The idea of ‘always changing’ is scary to some Christians and heretical to others.  Frost and Hirsch are not speaking about the gospel message but instead are talking about methods and behavioral habits churches develop and employ for functioning as a church.  These methods and habits must change if the church is to engage its culture and community with the gospel.  Just as God engaged the world through change (incarnation), it is upon the church to make the change and not the outsider.

5 responses to “Defining the Missional Church

  1. I like your definition – especially the part about being a “future community who exists in the present.”

    I’ve just gotten into The Shaping of Things to Come by Frost and Hirsch, and am really liking it so far. I’m about halfway through it now, and have already recommended it to a couple of other people.

  2. I learned so much from “The Shaping of Things to Come” that after I finished reading it, I turned around and read it again a second time. One of the things I really appreciated about the book was that it was above just promoting the latest church growth fad and instead was interested in promoting sound missiology in a North American context. So, enjoy your reading.

    – Rex

  3. Looking at the present from the vantage point of the future gives a different pespective than looking at the future from the perspective of the present. Such perpsective is needed as ministry and life approach are put in place individually and congregationally.

  4. Eddy,

    I am re-reading Jugen Moltmann’s “Theology of Hope” right now which advances the understanding of eschatology as looking at the present from the vantage point of the future (promises of God). I find that very intriguing but very challenging to communicate this paradigm shift to the average Christian who has been trained to look at the future from the vantage point of past and present.

    Thanks for stopping by the blog!


  5. Awesome definition. Thanks for sharing this, Rex!

    -bill @ spiritual oasis

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