For the past seven years, I have been challenged in my understanding of how we are to interact with the Church both locally and universally. My journey to find the answers to some of my most challenging questions were both formed and shaped while I was an undergraduate student at Lancaster Bible College. Something within me thought there really had to be more to the body of Christ than what I was reading and learning. Reading several books by some well-known authors prompted my thought process and has significantly, through the leading of God’s spirit, to Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA. As I look back over these past seven years, I can honestly say that each answer I have received has brought about newer and deeper questions that I now wrestle with and am challenged with, even at this very moment. If there was one book I wish I would have had while going through some of these questions, Missional Church by Darrell Gruder would have been such a book I would have wanted on my shelf. This post wrestles with Guder’s understanding of what it means to be a “missional church” within a culture that is very new and is continually being shaped by a very different a shift both nation and church wide we have not seen in the United States within the past two-hundred years.
As I looked through Table of Contents, I noticed a theme had emerged. The term missional simply means that they body of Christ has been given a responsibility to be “missionaries” in the context of where they work and live. We have all been given this challenged and responsibility as believers and followers of Jesus Christ (John 20:21). This calling – to be Jesus-ish – is valuable to the work of God within our own culture. So it is, within the Table of Contents, the term missional begins every new chapter. All the other words used after missional are familiar words we have used within the church, indicating that perhaps we, as the body of Christ, are in need of seeing these terms through the lenses of being a missional people. This is the premise I had while I read. One of the other things I had noticed before reading the book was the authorship of not just one person but of several people who had contributed their thoughts to this project. Receiving several people’s perspectives on this issue of being missional is valuable as well. It indicated to me that no one person was able to fully answer this subject but each relied on one another to fill in the gaps. My final pre-reading thoughts stem from the authors who contributed to this writing project. As I read through the names of those who wrote the articles printed in this book, I noticed an amazing diversity of people from different denominational backgrounds and areas of study. Some are pastors and others are teachers, receiving their degrees from different seminaries and fields of study. It is problem something that is most overlooked but I read and appreciated reading.
“On the one hand, the churches of North American have been dislocated from their prior social role of chaplain to the culture and social and have lost their once privileged positions of influence” (78). George Hunsburger continues asserting, “At the same time, the churches have become so accommodated to the American way of life that they are now domesticated, and it is no longer obvious what justifies their existence as particular communities” (78). The question then presupposes itself to be, “How do we deal with these issues within the context of the Church and the reign of Christ? The answer seems almost redundant to the title – be missional. The Missio Dei of God has been given to us, as God’s people in order to be about God’s business. We have been invited to join God’s mission. Our involvement happens through tangible means of our witness, our ability to cultivate meaningful relationships in the context of our communities, taking part in leadership roles, rethinking the way in which we do church in a postmodern context, and connecting with those within our cultural context. Each one of these points has been given a particular significance within the chapters of this book through its contributing authors.
Our example of being a witness comes from the Apostles, literally a calling to “go out and be” rather than calling people to enter our churches to “come and see.” We must imitate the leading of the Apostles and be “in the world and not of it.” The author of this chapter writes, “The missional church differs from the world because it looks for its cues from the One who has sent it out, rather than from the powers that appear to run the world” (110). The church therefore, must be an Alternative Culture that lives and breathes differently from the rest of the world’s ideologies of living and breathing. This is not only subject to the goings on of the church but within the individual lives of those who make up the body of Christ in their respected communities. The way in which one spends money, treats the poor, participates in politics, cares about socio-economic issues, and stands up for issues of justice must also follow this alternative cultural way of life. Though we are different in how we live, we must not separate our witness from the world. We must continually be a people who represent the salt and light of God. We must offer ourselves as a city on a hill for those who are in need of refuge and aide from the world’s greatest downfalls and disappointments. Our witness must remain strong and tangible while the work of Christ continues “behind the scenes,” intangible to the naked eye through His Spirit.
One of the most significant statements made in the chapter that focuses on a missional community states, “A missional people walking in the Spirit, led by the Spirit, and sowing the Spirit manifests the fruit of the Holy Spirit manifests the fruit of the Spirit” (147). It is the fruit of the Spirit that provides us with a model of how we are able to live with one another in a missional community. Once again, this is a tangible aspect of being missional. The Gospels write about several instances in which, Jesus and the disciples are sitting around the table, eating. The most significant meal in which Jesus and the disciples shared was what we call, “The Last Supper.” The Church can imitate communal living though community dinners, breaking bread with one another, through community prayer, and the sacrament of baptism. Community takes work and effort in order to cultivate it effectively. This is no different than attempting to grow a plant from a seed. Though much of the work seems to happen below the surface, the work of cultivation must continue throughout the whole process of the plant’s life. In many respects, this is the job of the church as it seeks to cultivate a community in the church that is visible to the world.
In order to do this effectively, we must rethink our leadership and ministry models. Those who are well educated do not primarily build leadership in a missional Church. Those who are deeply concerned with the Missio Dei and the proclamation of God’s Word, who have received forgiveness and restoration, should also be considered as prime candidates for church leadership. It is not enough that a person has several degrees on their walls. They must be willing to engage with what God is doing within the context of the community in which the person lives. They must possess a passion to see the will of God made manifest and come full circle. The writer of this chapter states, “For such communities to emerge, leaders will need to become like novices, learning to recover practices that have become alien to current church experience. Becoming a novice is a difficult transition. It requires waiting and listening to the Spirit’s directions, listening to the Lord’s song in a strange land” (199). This will look different to each community, as the context of their community is significantly different. The main concern though must be to rise up leaders who are not just well educated but have zeal to see God’s mission fulfilled on the earth.
If we look a missional church to build effective leaders in this fashion, there will need to be a rethinking of how we structure our churches in order that these missional leaders can function and lead effectively. The author of this chapter writes, “A missional ecclesiology for North America will address the situations of already existing congregations prophetically and critically. It will lead Christian communities to ask: What is our particular expression of the mission to be Christ’s witnesses” (241)? The author continues stating, “This missional ecclesiology will significantly shape the leadership of the missional pastor, whose identity we may best describe as missionary to the congregation, so that the particular community maybe become a mission community” (241). The goal of building a missional church must not be forgotten. It is to build a connected community between the body of Christ and the world. It is to this end that we must instinctively work to build this kind of church. This is where the book itself ends and the challenge to model this kind of church is left up to us.
After reading Missional Church, I found myself challenged to take from what I have learned and apply it to the church I currently attend. I have also gleaned several principles I will be able to use in future ministry roles God opens. We should always be willing to be challenged by new ways of doing things (as long as the function of the church does not change, the form can, and in most cases, probably should). As we enter into a postmodern way of doing church and living as a people set apart for the work of God, it is imperative to continually ask the questions that drive us to a greater and deeper knowledge of Jesus. This is not an option for a serious follower of Jesus.
One of the more challenging chapters for that I read was the chapter that dealt specifically with the missional community. The reason it was a chapter I had to work through the most is because, in many respects, I have never seen this type of community lived out. I have never seen a community where people view the body of Christ like a family. When I read this chapter, I was also working through the book of Acts and came across Acts 2:42-47. I saw a community of people who had everything in common and helped to meets the needs of others because they were a family. I had never seen that before. They devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. These three things helped shape a community in which the world saw and respected with awe and wonder. For me, I thought something like this, as tangible as it should be, would certainly be impossible. When I finished this book however, I slowly began to realize the potential of building a missional community. I began to believe that perhaps there was hope for this missional mystery of community I have desired for so long. For now, I am personally in prayer about how to bring this ideal concept of missional community into existence where God has placed me for this season of my life. I am talking to my pastors and searching the Scriptures to find principles and examples that we are able to build from in order to make a missional community possible for not just us as a local body of believers but for others as well.
There was a term used in the last chapter of this book that I had not heard before. The term is “Catholicity.” It apparently comes from two great words kata holon, which means, “appropriate to the whole, or appropriate to the whole” (257). When we say the Apostle’s Creed (if we say it), one of the statements of faith is, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church and the communion of the saints.” I have to admit that until I had read this chapter, I had absolutely no idea what the “holy Catholic Church” referred to. Anytime we would say this prayer in church, I would not speak these words because I thought perhaps, for some unknown reason to me, the church I used to attend, though Protestant, had some “Catholic beliefs” I didn’t know about. When I would look around the room, everyone looked like zombies while they recited this prayer. I thought perhaps they were disillusioned by the words on the screen. I had no idea what to think of these words and how they should significantly affect the church I attended and the body of Christ as a whole. Though this might seem like a small issue, it has helped me in my ability to worship God fuller, especially when we recite The Apostle’s Creed.
In closing, I am not so sure I would have wanted this book as a tool of reference in my early stages of questioning my church and my faith. Wrestling with the Scriptures with other people and with God has shaped me into the type of person who desires to go deeper than the surface when it comes to a personal knowledge of Jesus, His Word, or the Christian faith as a whole. For those who have struggled for a time with the Word of God, I would submit this book as a valuable resource to read and inspire one to press forward in doing the work of the Gospel in the local Church and within the context of one’s personal community. Each chapter is filled with ideas that are valuable and noteworthy to consider. Each chapter speaks to a different aspect of the missional church but is ultimately tied together by the bonds of the Church respectively. The authors of this book have challenged me and I know they will challenge any reader who is willing to wrestle with a new way of thinking about how we live and breathe as the Church. Therefore, I would recommend this book to those who have spent some time working through the questions they have come across themselves and have sought God in His Word of authentic answers that will spur on a mindset of a missional church.