The word missional has been around for a while and everyone assumes they know what you're talking about even if you're talking about very different things. It's an issue that is not lost on one of the architects of all things missional and the author of The road to missional: Journey to the center of the church, Michael Frost. So Frost writes,
"We now have missional conferences, missional church planting schemes, and all manner of missional programs. This is not to mention the fact that books on the missional paradigm are becoming a dime a dozen. So much so, in fact, that one author recently suggested to me me that the term missional is a bit old hat these days and that the shelves are sagging under the burden of missional church literature. Better, he advised, to use a different, more appealing title to engage potential readers. Ten years ago it never would have occurred to me that being missional would become hip, let alone that it would become passé."
I've read a few authors cited by Frost as missional; Martin Robinson, Stuart Murray & Dan Kimball and I was aware that Ed Stetzer is becoming increasingly widely read among Newfrontiers leaders but I'm not sure I'd read a book that directly addressed the idea of a missional church before. At least not one good enough to stick in my memory.
So I'm going to let Frost define the terms for us beginning with, `what is mission?'
"Mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ. Mission is not primarily concerned with church growth. It is primarily concerned with the reign and rule of the Triune God. If the church grows as a result, so be it." (p24)
A missional church then, is a church that realises this Missio Dei and has a `wholesale and thorough reorientation of the church around mission' (p16).
As a result mission cannot be reduced to simply spoken evangelism or acts of kindness and compassion. It's a bold attempt to transcend the old evangelism vs social justice debate, because to be missional is to declare that Jesus is Lord through what you say and what you do. It's evangelism plus, so to speak. But if you think it's just another word for doing some more evangelism, Frost says, you've missed the point.
The good news according to Frost is that our God reigns and rules through Christ and so whatever you do that alerts people to the fact of the rule of God is missional. The weakness of the book is that while it affirms this alerting of people by both `announcement and demonstration' (p35) almost all the focus and the examples are on `demonstration'. So, if you are from a church that is concerned about the `announcement' part of the equation you will find The Road to Missional a bit on the flimsy side, but if you were from a church that is looking for affirmation of the `demonstration' side to the equation then there is much to love and encourage you.
For example, in the chapter on evangelism Frost, rightly in my opinion, talks of the need to declare Christ not just as Saviour but also as Lord. So he says that evangelism requires `a radical reorientation' and that should `involve the decision to acknowledge the reign of God through Christ and submit oneself to live under it'. I agree.
Again, Frost spells out a presentation of the Gospel that replaces the `four spiritual laws' with this: designed for good, damaged by evil, restored for better and sent together to heal. Again all well and good but, for me, there was a missing descriptor.
So while I agree that `evangelism is then much more about announcing the lordship of Jesus than the sinfulness of the unbeliever' it is also about my sinfulness and my unbelief. Somewhere between restored for better and sent to heal, I need to repent. I really do. Every sinner on their way to sainthood does. I genuinely don't think there's another way to become a disciple of Jesus than to `repent and believe'. I think Frost would agree, but I just wish he'd spelled it out.
There is so much here that I agreed with and loved; I loved the focus on Jesus; the focus on genuine community, peace and reconciliation, sharp questions that help you become aware of who your neighbour is, an emphasis on discipleship, an everything agenda that sees value in the life and work of everybody and not just church workers. I found myself agreeing and wanting to be increasingly `missional'.
Having said all that, here are a few observations where this vision of church is missing a few important things. There was little mention of the role and place of the Holy Spirit in the life of the disciple or in the life of the church, so read The Spirit Filled Church by Terry Virgo along side this.
As a discussion on the centre of the church and what it means for a church to be missional there was also little on the role, place and structure of leadership for a church. Whether this is because missional can be super-imposed on any denominational or leadership structure or because it favours a flatter, more democratic approach to church life I'm not sure. Yet leadership remains crucial, I can think of several missional endeavours that failed or are failing for one very simple reason: poor or vague leadership.
These issues notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed reading and being provoked by Frost who is an engaging and interesting writer and I'd be interested in reading more.