Category: Books

Book Review: Creating a Missional Culture (JR Woodward)

Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World

J. R. Woodward, IVP, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426, 2012, 256 pages, $25.00.

As the volume of missional church literature increases, North America is recovering the apostolic impulse of the church. Yet, as the books on mission are shelved the challenge of planting, leading and growing truly missional churches remains. What is required to create missional church culture? How do we evaluate the church’s maturity as it grows? How do we create missional leaders that stay the course? In four parts, Woodward creatively addresses all of these questions.

Polycentric Leadership

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Part one lays a conceptual foundation, focusing on the meaning of culture and the necessity of leaders to become “cultural architects.” The task of the culturalarchitect is not only to teach Scripture and shepherd God’s people, but to lead the way in developing environments where people will learn God’s truth, be healed by God’s power, be welcomed by his love, be liberated by his grace, and thrive as part of a mature missional community under the headship of Christ. Woodward provides helpful diagnostic questions to evaluate these five environments in the local church. These environments may seem arbitrary, but in parts two and three, Woodward introduces a model of leadership from Ephesians four that corresponds with these environments—polycentric leadership. Grounding polycentric leadership in the social Trinity and a Christ-centered reading of Ephesians, Woodward calls for “a polycentric structure, where leaders interrelate and incarnate the various purposes of Christ…” (60). The apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are essential to cultivating the five environments in order to equip the church for the work of mission to the world. How do they do it? According to Woodward, each of the five leaders use “thick practices” to cultivate their environments for mission.

The 5 Equippers: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, & Teacher 

The apostle makes disciples and reflects through Sabbath for the church to thrive and rest in God’s mission. The prophet calls disciples to liberation from sin through the healing experience of spiritual disciplines. The evangelist helps the community become welcoming to the lost through hospitality and sharing God’s story with others. The pastor fosters a healing community through the practices of confession and peacemaking, promoting a reconciled community. The teacher cultivates an ethos of learning by encouraging people to participate in sacred assemblies for equipping and future-oriented living. The church is to be a foretaste of the future, where peace and righteousness dwell. Polycentric leaders work together to cultivate the whole church in diverse ways for the mission of God. In the closing chapters, Woodward provides some examples of this collaborative leadership in shared preaching and communal decision-making. He warns that the polycentric approach is messy but affords the church an opportunity to be influenced by its various equipping gifts and voices.

Conclusion

Woodward is well read across the theological disciplines. He has thought creatively and practically about how to lead and multiply missional churches. His creativity is both a strength and a weakness. Those unwilling to absorb his new language for equipping the church will miss out on a rich application of biblical leadership. After all “our approach to leadership makes a theological statement to the church and the world.” (96). Once absorbed, a shift to polycentric leadership leaves the reader wanting more practical bite. More concrete examples of this type of leadership and equipping would have been helpful. Perhaps Woodward will offer these in a later volume. Some will desire more exegetical support for this leadership, which can be found in Hirsch and Catchim’s book below. Creating a Missional Culture is a worthwhile read that provides a gracious yet prophetic corrective to individualistic, pastor-centric churches.

This review originally appeared in the excellent missions journal, EMQ.

Check these titles:

Hirsch, Alan and Tim Catchim, 2012. The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century. San Francisco, CA.: Josey Bass.

Breen, Mike, 2012. Multiplying Missional Leaders. 3DM Press.

Books I’m Currently Using in Ministry

Here are a few books I am using in ministry this Fall. They are all good books but the * indicates an exceptional book:

Hermeneutics Class

Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church

How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth

How to Read the Bible as Literature

Preaching

Imagining the Kingdom*

Readers Greek New Testament**

James

James*

Elder Training

The Ministry of the Spirit-filled Church

The Pastors Justification

Gospel Eldership

Discipleship

Overcoming Sin & Temptation*

 

Book Review of On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason & Precision

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision by William Lane Craig (WLC) is a good introduction to evidential apologetics. Evidential apologetics primarily relies upon reason to argue for the truthfulness of the Christian faith through evidence to support its various claims. This is different from the presuppostional approach taken by Van Till, John Frame, and to a degree Tim Keller. Those authors presuppose that everyone starts from a place of faith–in reason, another god, materialism, and that Christianity is unique and more compelling in its overall account of human existence and purpose. WLC takes a different tack, and while within the evidential stream, insists upon “positive apologetics”, meaning that if you can make a sound and persuasive case for Christianity, you don’t need to be an expert in world religions. WLC is a renown apologist who has debated all kinds of worldview thinkers and philosophers around the world. He is widely respected for his commitment to reason and defending the gospel of Christ

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WLC doesn’t assume any prior knowledge of apologetics, and provides handy pull out quote boxes to simplify and explain major concepts. This is nice because many apologetic books either assume a working knowledge or have trouble engaging the everyday reader. He uses historic vignettes to introduce the reader to key thought leaders throughout the book.

His logic is steely and his prose is spartan, but he moves deftly through 10 major apologetic topics, equipping the reader to think well about such areas as: atheism, meaning, basis for ethics, problem of evil, the plausibility of the resurrection, and the exclusivity of Christ. These chapters are introductory and do not cover all the objections that could be raised on a given topic. For existence, in the chapter on “Why there is something rather than nothing”, he argues by deduction for the existence of an uncaused, unembodied Mind that transcends space and time, and then makes a leap to call that thing “God.” Could that thing not be an infinite and intelligent version of the president of the United States that we haven’t yet met? What makes that thing God? Moreover, how do we get from there to Jesus? WLC builds his case for Christ as the Son of God in the later chapters, weaving in his personal story of skepticism and faith.

What On Guard lacks in warmth, it makes up for in clarity. This is not a devotional book; it is a introduction to evidential apologetics, and a fine one at that.