Category: Missional Church

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.

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.

 

Evangelical: Cultural Friend, Foe, Intimate, or Radical?

The current evangelical seems obsessed with social justice. The older evangelical, intent on doctrinal tidiness. What is the appropriate posture toward culture? Should we be friends, foes, intimates, or radicals?

20th Century Evangelicals: From Enemies to Friends

In an article entitled “Where We Are and How We Got Here?” noted historian Mark Noll demonstrates the absence of significant evangelical thought and action in the first half of the 20th century.[1] White American evangelicals abandoned serious engagement with academia, popular culture, and politics. The in-house fundamentalist-modernist controversy left fundamentalist Christians disconnected and quarantined from the ideas of the universities, the burgeoning impact of television, and civil rights legislature. We were enemies of culture.

The second half of the 20th century presented a new evangelical—concerned, engaged, and actively influencing the world. A friend to culture. Noll notes two key developments that contributed to a shift in evangelical posture towards culture. First, immigration reform led to an influx of de-Europeanized Christians, bolstering evangelical numbers. Second, the civil rights movement was launched from the southern African American evangelical church. As a result, American evangelicalism grew in number and influence. Subsequently, three culturally reforming movements followed—volunteer organizations (Young Life, Campus Crusade, Fuller Seminary), charismatic movements, and the Jesus People (Calvary Chapel).

The Jesus People rode the church and culture pendulum from enemy to friend. Without quarantining themselves from hippy fads and music all together, the Jesus People found a way to live out a contextualized 70’s gospel. They didn’t demonize culture. Noll comments: “From the 1920s to the 1950s, American evangelicals had tended to view popular culture as an enemy—to keep the gospel it was necessary to flee the world. In the late 1960s, the Jesus People treated popular culture as a potential friend—to spread the gospel it was necessary to use what the world offered.”

New Evangelicals: Intimates to Radicals

However, the latter thirty years of the 20th century did not chart a delicate course between cultural extremes. Leaping quickly from “enemy” and over “friend,” Evangelicals soon found themselves in bed with cultural compromise. I am shocked by what is considered normative media consumption for this Christian generation. They seem to check their morality at the door of the theatre. I am impressed with the new evangelical deeply concerned for the poor and the marginalized. Sexual ethics seem to be up for grabs, while sex-trafficking is anathema. Freedom to engage the culture goes hand in hand with devotion to inconsistent church participation.

The new evangelical appears to be obsessed with social justice, dismissive of doctrine, technologically baked, and so culturally integrated that the Christians look like loosely organized non-profits. Where is the witness of the church? Syncretism has crippled the church’s witness with Christians and secularists alike. What do we stand for again? Many of the new evangelicals are so un-informed that they confuse the term “evangelical” for “evangelistic, and they want little to with that.

In the latter 20th century, and into the first two decades of the 21st century, ecclesiology was uncritically integrated with business models, discipleship radically individualized, the pulpit turned into a therapeutic platform, and the mission of the church reduced to relevance or social justice. The result is a de-churched generation whose faith has been characterized as moralistic therapeutic Deism at best. This vacuous Christianity lacks appeal to thoughtful onlookers. The emerging evangelicalism seems to take on various dispositions to culture, depending on the issue at hand–friend, foe, radical activist, and unnoticeable intimate. If this cultural savvy or spineless indecision?

Future Evangelicals: To Change the World?

Will the early 21st century continue on in confusion or will we chart a different course? The “gospel-centered” movement seems to be re-centering church around a holistic gospel that addresses personal, communal and cultural life in recognition of Jesus as Christ and Lord. Church planters get a whiff of this theology and off they go to plant a church, meanwhile, they make Sunday attendance, numbers of groups, missional theology, philosophy of ministry, and podcast downloads the measure of success. I’m afraid we’re birthing a bunch of church planters who weren’t first elders with hearts beating for the flock of God. Pastors are more concerned with “platform” than piety. I’m concerned we’ve launched Christian radicals, independent of the church, as the poster-kids of the new generation of evangelicals–who love Jesus’ mission more than his Body and maybe even Christ himself. Should we be out changing the whole world?

That’s the question posed by James Davidson Hunter, “Can or should Christians change the world?” In 1947 Carl F. Henry castigated the fundamentalist gospel: “Whereas once the redemptive gospel was a world-changing message, now it was narrowed to a world-resisting message…”[2] Is a gospel shaped church meant to be world-changing or world-resisting? Perhaps our perspective is too broad, taking the need of the global forest while neglecting the local trees. Hunter suggests the way forward should be patterned after Jesus, who provides an example of “faithful presence” in his time and culture. It is remarkable that Jesus did not travel the world to spread his message; he did not awaken his disciple’s attention to global justice issues, though his gospel message certainly holds the whole globe in view. Is faithful presence, locally engaged mission, the way forward? If so, what postures should we accept? Leslie Newbigin once said that the church should be both for and against the world. Do we accept this, and are we willing to embrace both the cost and theo opportunity? These are important questions that will affect our children and their experience of church. For now, our country watches as we steward our historical and cultural moment. We have a rare opportunity to reshape, or perhaps, recover evangelicalism.



[1] Mark Noll, “Where We Are and How We Got Here?” Sept 29, 2006, Christianity Today. See also George Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).

[2] Cited in David Bosch, Transforming Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991, rep. 2003).

Biblical Missiology Conference – 9/17

Missional best practices can only get us so far and then we burnout. In order to carry the mission of God forward, leaders and churches need deep theological conviction formed by biblical missiology. But that’s not enough. Even with strong biblical convictions in place, competing cultural stories like consumerism and individualism can challenge, distort or undermine the mission of the church. How can we plant, lead, and multiply churches that make discerning disciples amidst these challenges? Finally, using Scripture and culture, how do we form missional practices that are true to the gospel?

Michael Goheen, top notch scholar and faithful practitioner, will deliver three robust talks based on three important books he has written:

Don’t miss this Micro-conference on September 17, 2013.