Tag: Darrell Guder

Transitioning to Missional Church (Pt 1)

Missional Church has been quite the buzz in the evangelical church world. As with any buzz, it has a polarizing effect. People often adopt or reject the concept before they have properly understood it. This creates a bandwagon effect, uncritical early adopters who adopt an idea, jump on the bandwagon, without depth of understanding of what they have committed themselves to. Alternatively, there are the hypercritical naysayers, who naysay missional church as a fading fad. Ironically, the hypercritical naysayers commit the same error as the uncritical early adopters. Both responses fail to adequately investigate just what “missional church” is. This three part series will address the dangers in transitioning to missional church, either as a new church plant or an existing church.

Clarifying Missional Church

The missional church is not a church with a mission. All churches have a mission. Stated or unstated, all churches practice some kind of mission. It may be keep to the immoral out, to keep sound doctrine in, to pray for revival, or to send missionaries to the nations. Each of these churches is an example of church with a mission. The missional church, however is church as mission. In the words of Darrell Guder, the challenge “is to move from a church with mission to a missional church.”[1]
In light of this important distinction, it is critical that transitioning churches understand the difference between church with a mission versus church as mission. To clarify the difference, consider the following chart:

Church WITH a Mission                                                Church AS a Mission

What You Do         (Task) Who You Are       (Identity)
Optional                  (Elective) Essential               (Core)
Extraordinary       (Elitist) Ordinary               (Everyone)
Project Focus        (Event) People Focus       (Disciple)

Traditional churches view the church as a church with a mission, at best. This mission may be sending missionaries to the nations, transforming the church neighborhood, or guarding and promoting sound doctrine. While all worthy missions, these are all examples of church with a mission. They focus on a task to be performed not and identity of the church. As a result, the mission of the church becomes optional not essential, creating a first and second tier Christianity comprised of ordinary and extraordinary Christians who do mission. At best, this accomplishes some mission but often remains very project focused not disciple-making driven.

What then is a missional church? Guder writes: “With the term missional we emphasize the essential vocation and nature of the church as God’s called and sent people.”[2] Missional churches are missional in nature and vocation. Missional is who they are, and as a result, mission is what they do. It is not simply a both/and. If mission as nature does not precede mission as vocation, mission-as-identity before mission-as-task, then churches that attempt to become or transition into missional church will either fail or fall into syncretistic missional ecclesiology. A depth of understanding that mission is what we are before it is what we do will be absolutely essential to planting or transitioning a missional church.

This post is adapted from my recent talk Why Missional Church Doesn’t Have a Shelf Life

[1] Darrell Guder ed., The Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, 6. This was a landmark book for the missional church movement in North America. Many missional leaders and organizations can trace their roots to Guder’s seminal influence on American ecclesiology.

[2] Guder, The Missional Church, 11.

The Study of Evangelism

There are a lot of useless books on the topics of evangelism and mission. For starters, a lot of them divorce evangelism from mission; evangelism is reduced to a method or project, effectively subtracting narrow gospel proclamation from the broad path of mission. We need a whole gospel for whole mission. We need deeper philosophical, theological, and practical reflection on the practice of evangelism within the broader context of mission. The Study of Evangelism: A Practice of the Missional Church delivers.

This book is a collection of essays written by top missiologists, theologians, and practitioners such as: David Bosch, Carl Braaten, Walter Brueggemann, Darrell Guder, George Hunsberger, Lesslie Newbigin, Ron Sider, John Stott, and Hwa Yung.

Six propositions guided their selection of essays and articles for this book. The propositions alone are worth the book (emphasis added):

  1. Evangelism is a vital part of something larger than itself, namely the missio Dei.
  2. Evangelism is a process more than an event.
  3. Evangelism is concerned with discipling people in Christ.
  4. Evangelism is oriented toward the reign of God.
  5. Evangelism is a missional practice of the whole people of God.
  6. Evangelism is inescapably contextual.

Leading Missional Communities

Leading our church into somewhat uncharted waters, I am constantly on the look out for helpful influences in cultivating missional communities, what we call City Groups. City Groups are local, urban missional communities of disciples who redemptively engage people and culture. These groups are intended to foster the church being the church to one another and to the city and world. They meet in homes three weeks in a row and on mission in their communities every fourth week. Each CG has been charged with the task of finding a strategic social partnership, through which they can be a blessing to the social needs of Austin, while also learn how to love the city better. City Groups are the lifeblood of Austin City Life.

The influences I have found profitable are few and far between. So many models and methods of the church are not based on missional ecclesiology. However, the resources that have shaped my thinking and our practice have been good. Churches like Soma, Providence, and Kaleo. Books like The Missional Church, The Forgotten Ways, Exiles, Missional Leader, Total Church have been a help. But nothing beats personal reflection and prayer as we do our best to express the call of the church in the world.

I am currently working on new curriculum for our City Groups that covers the biblical storyline, while also discovering the place of the 21st century North American in that larger Story. It’s called The Story of Scripture and Our Place in It. Tim Chester’s The World We All Want has been some help as I reflect on how to cultivate gospel thinking and living at the intersection of the biblical and personal stories. The challenge is to always keep the missional nature of the church in view as I write the material. It is so easy to fall back into “Bible Study” mode. Yet, as Alan Roxburgh has pointed out, “these ministries of leadership are given to enable the church to carry out its fundamentally missiological purpose in the world: to announce and demonstrate the new creation in Jesus Christ” (Missional Church, 185). Alan also points out that “leaders will need to become like novices, learning to recover practices that have become alien to current church experience…it requires waiting and listening to the Spirit’s directions…in a strange land” (199).

My hope and prayer is that we are listening to the Spirit’s directions in Austin. That direction has led us to build our church on City Groups, not Sunday services. These City Groups are based on four principles and four practices (that will, no doubt, be revised in the months and years to come), which shape our identity and practice of being a missional church. I look forward to continuing to learn from and with Austin City Life and the larger missional Church.

Darrell Guder in Austin

Darrell Guder, author of Missional Church, will be speaking at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church in Austin on April 12 & 13.

APRIL 12th 4:00 PM
“What Happened to Christendom?”
7:00 PM
“Reclaiming the Missionary Nature
of the Church”

APRIL 13th
8:15am, 9:30 and 11:00 AM
“Praying for the Conversion of the Church”