71. Balancing your Missional portfolio

NOTE: Mark is available to work with our FEBBC/Y churches to coach missions committees in their role in leading their local church in the area of missions.  Please contact Mark via the Contact Me form or view Mark’s Coaching page

A balanced diet, a balanced economic portfolio, a balanced lifestyle – we are constantly challenged to keep many things in our lives in balance, for the sake of health and sanity!  What about doing missions in the local church?  There are so many options today to be involved in cross-cultural, evangelistic and compassionate ministries – not to mention the demand for missions dollars from hundreds of worthy causes – that missions committees or global missions teams have to make difficult decisions concerning the limit and range of their church’s participation.

For a variety of reasons, some mentioned in a previous article, the scope of “missions” in our churches today has broadened far beyond the traditional understanding. While affirming the missional thrust of churches who strive to be involved in God’s mission both locally and globally, I would also like to challenge churches to not neglect the task that has defined missions through the centuries: taking the gospel to those who have not heard.  In this article, evidence for this focus in the modern missions movement (from Wm. Carey through to the present) is presented along with the concept of the “Acts 1:8 portfolio,” which is a helpful structure for churches to assist them in fulfilling the mandate God has given to participate in his mission.

The Modern Missions Movement: to the unreached

The desire to take the gospel to those who have not heard and who have no access to the gospel except through the initiative of an outsider reflects the apostle Paul’s description of his ministry concern in Rom 15:19-21.1 This perspective has been a defining characteristic of the modern missions movement and played an important role in setting priorities for missionaries and missions agencies.

Ralph Winters helpfully divides the modern missions movement into three eras:  The first era (1792-1910) he entitles “To the Coastlands”.  Initiated to a large extent by the efforts of Wm. Carey, this was the beginning of mission societies who sent missionaries to lands where the gospel was unknown.  The second era (1856-1980) was characterized by a movement inland to “the unoccupied fields,” again reflecting the desire to contact those who had no previous exposure to the gospel.  The third era (1934-present), which Winters calls “To the Unreached Peoples,” is characterized by an increasing sensitivity to those barriers to the gospel beyond geography and the focus on people groups with distinct ethnic identities.  These groups require an outside source in order to be exposed to the gospel message.2

10,000 people groups = “final frontier of missions”

Even though the unreached have been the primary focus of traditional missions, this should not be confused with the comprehensive missional responsibility of the church. At the beginning of the modern missions movement the unreached lived in the majority of the world, the concern for them in the western protestant churches was relatively small and, due to the lack of a missions effort, there were few successes in cross-cultural ministry that needed strengthening.  However, because of God’s gracious actions and the sacrifice of missionaries through the past few centuries, this is no longer true.  Now, with the shift of Christianity to the south and east, it is estimated that there are only 10,000 people groups remaining that are unreached.3 This has been called the “final frontier of missions” and while “there is a great need for thousands of new missionaries to reach them,”4 the vast percentage of people in the world now live within “reached” contexts.  It is the 10,000 people groups that are identified as the concern of traditional missions in order to complete the mandate in accordance with the spirit of the apostle Paul’s ministry and his desire “not to build on another’s foundation.” In this understanding of missions, the end of the task is in sight, the course has been mapped.  For example, Wycliffe has initiated Vision 2025 which states, “By 2025, together with partners worldwide, we envision Bible translation in progress for every language that needs it”5 – a key component towards the completion of the traditional missions mandate to reach the unreached.

Traditional Missions as one part of the Missional task of the church

But while the end of traditional missions can be postulated, it is not the only missional responsibility of the church. The apostle Paul consistently completed his task of establishing a group of believers and then moved on, even when the vast majority of people in that area were unsaved. Why? Because with the establishment of a church, an internal witness to carry on the gospel mandate had come into existence. Following this pattern, traditional missions is understood as the initiative of the church on the outside crossing boundaries to those inside a people group. But when that initiative bears fruit, God’s mission6 has only just begun, for then the missional responsibility shifts to the church on the inside of the people group.  In fact, the larger missional task facing the church today is the growth of the kingdom among those people groups who do have a gospel witness, not to mention the needed re-establishment of the gospel in places where people have turned away from their parent’s faith.  Churches and mission agencies rightly consider these tasks as part of their missional responsibility, even though they move beyond the traditional focus of missions.

This distinction between … missions … and the broader missional task … is not one of importance

This distinction between the narrowly defined traditional task of missions – the church on the outside reaching across ethnic boundaries – and the broader missional task of the newly formed church on the inside, is not one of importance or even of priority when speaking of participating in God’s mission. God’s concern is for the whole world.  Influencing others locally or globally for God’s kingdom is equally a part of God’s mission, whether or not it is classified as missions.  Affirming the reality that all levels of participation in God’s mission are equally valid and important reflects the spirit of the apostle Paul when he spoke of being called to the Gentiles, while Peter was called to the Jews (Gal. 2:7,8).  Separate ministries, both are equally valid and needed, but it is only the former that is traditionally referred to as “missions.”

Assessing your Missional Portfolio

A helpful way to understand these concepts is to use Jesus’ vision of the expanding impact of the gospel in Acts 1:8 as a “portfolio”7 for local church involvement in God’s mission: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Using this model, the traditional understanding of missions parallels the final element in Acts 1:8, “the ends of the earth,” the pioneer extension of the kingdom to those people who have no access to the gospel.

“Samaria” can refer to cross-cultural partnerships with established churches who welcome support in needed areas, such as leadership development or ministries of compassion. The people group is “reached” – the believers have taken up their missional task – but the consolidation and expansion of previous missions efforts requires outside involvement.  Both “Samaria” and “the ends of the earth” can also be identified by the boundaries that must be crossed in order to participate in God’s mission, including boundaries of culture, language, identity, geography, misinformation, prejudice, values, and worldview, as well as psychological and socio-economic barriers.

“Judea” describes regions and people outside of the immediate influence of the local church, but because of a common identity through shared culture, language and history, the primary boundary is geographical.  In order to provide a lasting impact in this area, churches often join forces, e.g., the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada (FEBCC), to cooperate in joint ministries such as planting churches.

“Jerusalem” refers to the local missional task of an established church.  It includes all the ministries, individually and collectively, that affect the people who come in contact with the members of that church.  Even as Paul expected the churches he planted to expand the kingdom where they were, so this is a major responsibility of local church members in their daily relationships.8

The challenge of the Acts 1:8 portfolio approach for churches today is to play a strategic role in each of these four areas. At the same time, it is neither necessary nor helpful to closely define the borders between these four areas of concern.  The borders will be fuzzy and porous, and some ministries may span more than one area, making it impossible to precisely categorize them. The key is to be involved in what God is doing in the world, while recognizing that God’s mission encompasses the whole world. What is needed is a comprehensive missional agenda with a diversified portfolio, so that each church can participate in God’s mission close to home while not neglecting traditional missions: Jesus’ vision for the ends of the earth.

Unlike today’s economic portfolios, your missional portfolio is guaranteed to produce eternal dividends!


Mark spends part of his time coaching churches for effective involvement in missions.  If you are interested in taking advantage of this, please contact him via the Contact Me form.  If you would like to leave a comment, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.


  • 1 For further explanation of how the apostle Paul’s ministry relates to missions see the article, “If every activity is “missions,” how do we set priorities?
  • 2 Winters, Ralph. 1981. Four Men, Three Eras, Two Transitions: Modern Missions in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: 253-261. see especially the chart on p. 259.
  • 3 A 2006 update from Jason Mandryk of Operation world divides the unreached people groups as follows: Muslim 4100, Hindu 2700, Tribal 2000, Buddhist 1000, Others 600. See “State of the Gospel” download at http://www.operationworld.org/index.html
  • 4 Wilson, Nate. Motivations for Missions in http://www.globaltribesoutreach.org/articles.php?id=7. Accessed Dec 21, 2008.
  • 5 http://www.wycliffe.ca/aboutus/vision2025.html. Accessed Dec 21, 2008.
  • 6 As defined in “If every activity is “missions,” how do we set priorities?” God’s mission “refers to his gracious acts within history to bring redemption to the world.”
  • 7 I was introduced to this helpful terminology from 1615 missions coaching material. See http://www.1615.org/about/
  • 8 See Significant Conversations for a helpful way to support believers in this role.

70. If every activity is “missions,” how do we set priorities?

NOTE: Mark is available to work with our FEBBC/Y churches to coach missions committees in their role in leading their local church in the area of missions.  Please contact Mark via the Contact Me form or view Mark’s Coaching page

It is so easy to become distracted! Whenever I come home from my Bible translation trips, I have a number of chores waiting for me.  Unfortunately, I often find myself jumping indiscriminately from one task to another so that a lot of chores are half-done and nothing is properly completed.  For example, if I set out to mow the lawn I will discover that the lawnmower shed is a mess.  So I begin to organize the shed and notice some old plants that should go into the compost. On the way to the compost I see some tools lying outside, so I put down the plants and pick up the tools to put them away.  As I do, I notice that one of the tools belongs to a neighbor and I set off to return it. Walking across the lawn, I see that it is somewhat overgrown and so I make a mental note to mow it….

Working out the direction and priorities in missions in our churches can feel similarly overwhelming.  A missions program used to be fairly simple for the average church: commission a missionary for overseas ministry, send money to their missions agency and pray.  Today the complexity of the world has changed things.  Global has merged with local, simple relationships have morphed into complex networks, information is ubiquitous and communication instantaneous.  I asked my daughter how many countries she is connected to on Facebook, and she instantly gave me about 10 country names, from South Africa to Germany to Pakistan.  People are involved with other ethnic groups on a daily basis, face to face as well as through the variety of media available today.  When traveling on a city bus, I am amazed by the realization that, ethnically speaking, I am usually in the minority.

An all-encompassing view of Missions

Opportunities for involvement in outreach abound.  Short term missions teams travel to many needy places in the world. Churches are often made up of more than one ethnic group, encouraging a network of significant cross-cultural engagement in the broader community.  Moreover, the diverse ways to be involved are more than we can handle, from World vision appeals on television, to feeding the homeless, to supporting the development of water filters in Pakistan. In such a context, the potential for missions includes so many different activities that the diversity and demand is overwhelming.

Furthermore, if an activity such as constructing a church building in Haiti, or providing a home for the poor in Mexico, is “missions,” isn’t that “missions” status also appropriate for helping out with the construction of a church building in Canada, or even participating in a local Habitat for Humanity project?  In this way of thinking, any service to God that impacts people becomes our involvement in missions.  But if so, what distinguishes missions from other activities of the church?  Is it time, cost, geography, commitment?

what distinguishes missions from other activities of the church?

Over the past few decades the common understanding of missions in our churches has broadened dramatically beyond the traditional emphasis to include almost any worthwhile and impacting project that focuses on those who are not yet believers.  Every believer is challenged to “be a missionary right where you are,” and the recognition that missions is now “from everywhere to everywhere” encourages people to consider any activity with an evangelistic or compassionate focus as “missions.”

In light of this major shift of what constitutes missions, it is important to remind ourselves what missions has been traditionally understood to be and why that task was given priority.  Otherwise, it is possible that we may become so distracted by the many opportunities to do good that we miss out on an important aspect of what God is doing, and fail to continue the work that missionaries have faithfully struggled for through the years. Stephen Neill warns us that “if everything is missions, then nothing is missions.”1 By intentionally maintaining the traditional thrust of missions within the broader and more encompassing missional emphasis we experience today, the danger inherent in that warning can be avoided.

“What do you mean by that!” – Definitions

As I will argue below and in a following article, traditionally missions has been primarily understood as the effort to bring the gospel to those who have no access to it within their context.  As noted above, it seems unlikely that the word “missions” can be reserved for this narrow understanding.  My purpose in presenting these articles is not to rescue one particular term, but to ensure that churches have the opportunity to consider the traditional focus of missions as one of the priorities in their overall missions program.

God’s mission (singular) refers to his gracious acts within history to bring redemption to the world. “A careful reading of both Old and New Testaments reveals that God himself is the subject of mission. We have here to do with Missio Dei, God’s mission.”2

An unreached people group is an ethnic group with a distinct identity “judged to have inadequate Christian resources to evangelize itself.”3 For example, the Sindhi people of Pakistan, among whom our family lived and worked for 14 years, is one of the largest unreached people groups in the world.

The missional task of the church is broader than the traditional missions mandate

Missional refers to the response by the church to partner with God in his mission by bringing the message of salvation to those outside of his kingdom.4 Traditional missions, as I will argue below and in the follow-up article, is a subset of this missional orientation. The missional task of the church is broader than the traditional missions mandate and encompasses all efforts to support, maintain and extend the kingdom of God.

Although many definitions of missions do not make the distinction that I am proposing,5 I believe that acknowledging traditional missions as one aspect of the missional task of the church will help alleviate some of the frustration and confusion felt by missions committees and global missions teams as they seek to prioritize their missions program.

Paul’s mission to those who have not heard

In a previous article, the “apostolic” appointment in the New Testament was proposed as the foundational biblical concept to understand missions – the “sending” of chosen messengers beyond the boundaries of the local church for the purpose of extending the kingdom of God.  In this article some of the distinctives traditionally used to define missions will be examined from the writings of the apostle Paul. As he has been considered the prototypical missionary,6 his perspective on his role provided an important biblical foundation to the modern missions movement.

As a missionary of the gospel of Christ, Paul provides a description of his responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission (Mt 28:19,20):

… through the power of the Spirit of God… I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written, “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand” (Rom 15:19-21).

Paul’s desire was “to call all the Gentiles (Gk. ethne) to faith and obedience for [Christ’s] name’s sake” (Rom 1:5).  That is, his priority to fulfill his calling was to preach the gospel wherever faith in Christ was non-existent among a people group (ethne).  From those who responded, communities of believers were established who, in turn, became witnesses to the gospel within their own context.  Paul also took steps to see that they maintained spiritual vitality by visiting them again and writing to them, and he expected that they would carry on the missional mandate that he had inaugurated.  That is, his work as a “sent one” (apostle) was the beginning of an expansion of the gospel which those new believers would complete.  This is evident in his expressed pleasure in the people of God at Colossae because “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world- just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace” (Col 1:6).

[Paul’s] work as a “sent one” (apostle) was the beginning of an expansion of the gospel

By “his personal example and through his teaching, Paul constantly reminded the churches of their apostolic calling. They had been sent by God into the world to reach beyond their local neighborhoods with the gospel. Their task was to bring into God’s kingdom the nations for which Christ died and which had yet to acknowledge him as their king.”7

The following article will explore the way Paul’s focus on missions was worked out in the modern missions movement (from Wm. Carey to the present), and then propose a way to maintain this concern within a broader missional portfolio of the local church.


Mark spends part of his time coaching churches for effective involvement in missions.  If you are interested in taking advantage of this, please contact him via the Contact Me form.  If you would like to leave a comment, please use the “comment” link at the bottom of this article.



  • 1 Quoted in Bosch, D.J. 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm shifts in theology of mission. Maryknoll: Orbis, 115.
  • 2 Bosch, David. 1981. Witness to the world in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement,  59.
  • 3 Mays, David. Missions Stuff II, ACMC 2002:7.
  • 4 For a fuller exploration of the missional implications for the local church see the CCI Missional articles.
  • 5 For example David Mays provides the following two definitions: “Mission is the intentional crossing of barriers from Church to non-church in word and deed for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel”  (Stephen Neill) and “When a person is ‘sent out’ beyond the borders and influence of the local church to make disciples, that is missions”  (Woody Phillips), from Let’s Define Missions in Missions Stuff II, ACMC 2002:5.
  • 6 For example, note the title of Roland Allen’s influential book first published in 1912, “Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?”
  • 7 Glasser, Arthur. 1981. The Apostle Paul and the Missionary Task in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement,  132 (emphasis mine).

49. Missional Church 6: Centered vs bounded Churches

Validating Missional and Communal

“Attractional” churches according to Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch are those congregations that develop “programs, meetings, services, or other ‘products’ in order to attract unbelievers into the influence of the Christian community.”  They argue that this approach is “increasingly ineffective” and is the result of “old Christendom” ideas that need to be replaced [1]. In contrast Milfred Minatrea includes both inward and outward focused churches under the heading “missional” and contrasts this category with stagnant “maintenance” churches [2].  In the previous articles I have argued for a middle road by proposing that the term “missional” should be limited to the missionary orientation of bringing gospel transformation in the world and a missional church has this as its primary orientation.  Missional Church A missional church is a church that recognizes that it is on the margins of society and therefore moves out relevantly into its context. 
At the same time, this orientation does not invalidate “attractional” or communal focused congregations and therefore should not be viewed as the only appropriate church model. A communal focused church has a role to play when it already holds a significant influence within its broader context and thus already shapes the community by conforming it to the values and practices of the church.  Communal ChurchEven as the vision of Zion in the Old Testament was of the glory of God drawing the nations to the temple for worship, so this church seeks to be an alternate society whose communal expressions as the body of Christ are so influential that it is natural for people to come and be a part of their experience of the kingdom of God.  This phenomenon can be observed in small, traditional rural settings and, arguably, in the case of megachurches.

Centered vs Bounded Churches

illustrationThe essential distinction between missional and communal oriented churches is the outward, incarnational orientation of the former verses the inward, attractional orientation of the latter.  But missional churches also differ from communal oriented churches in the way they are structured.  Missional churches will prefer a more centered approach, while communal oriented churches tend to adopt a bounded structure.  A church with a bounded approach is concerned about determining who is “in” and who is “out” and thus an evangelistic communal church will provide programs designed to draw outsiders into their community or sphere of influence.

illustrationA church with a centered approach seeks to maintain the core value of living as disciples of Christ with little concern about defining who belongs to the organization or developing a sphere of influence controlled by the church. Thus a missional congregation defines its identity as followers of Christ within a non-Christian context where they are seeking to point others to the way of Christ.  The goal is not to have people “join a church,” but to develop significant social networks with those who are not disciples of Christ in order to awaken them to the realities of the kingdom of God.

Frost and Hirsch offer a helpful metaphor of wells and fences to illustrate the difference between these two organizational structures [3].  Fences serve farmers by keeping their livestock separate from their neighbor’s cattle.  By defining the limits, the identity of the cattle is ensured.  In contrast, when the land is vast, such as in the Australian outback, the farmer creates “a precious water source” from which the cattle do not stray.


Minatrea provides an excellent example of a centered, missional church with his description of Mosaic, a church pastored by Erwin McManus.  All members of the church are considered “bi-vocational staff.” Staff personnel do not exist to serve themselves, but others.  Thus, rather than drawing boundaries around the church of those who are “in” and “out,” the focus is on the “staff” living as disciples of Christ within their network of relationships.  “As a result of this change in language, Mosaic has commissioned more than six hundred staff persons as missionaries to the Los Angeles area” [4]. This is not a traditional church, but a mission organization partnering with God in his mission to the world.

Centered organizations in the Canadian context

In many ways our Canadian context is more comfortable with centered rather than bounded organizations. For example, companies are centered on their purpose of producing a financially viable product, but they are also outward focused on pleasing their customers.  The goal is not to have people join their organization, but for them to commit to the product.  Soccer organizations for kids have soccer committees whose role is to provide the organization and arrangements for the whole community of soccer families.  The “center” is the soccer experience and the primary concern is the broader community.  In Brentwood Bay, we have a summer program called “Music in the Park.” The committee’s “center” is to provide bands for the community to enjoy and so participate in the program.  The goal is not for people to join the committee.

Contextualizing Church

Even as New Testament believers shaped their expressions of church around the cultural and religious structures with which they were familiar, so we also need contextualized expressions of the missional church for the Canadian context. Leaders who favor expressions of the church of Jesus Christ with a centered, missional orientation will have a number of priorities:

  • First, they will consider their relationship to Christ as primary in every aspect of their lives.
  • Second, they will seek to be competent in and dedicated to reaching out to others in order to draw them closer to Christ.
  • Third, they will provide a support and accountability structure for others who wish to be intentionally missional in their context. 
  • Fourth, they will shape all communal expressions of the church around the singular mission of making a gospel transformation in the world.
  • Fifth, their teaching will stem from the creative tension that exists between God’s revelation and culture.

Standing in the World

Frost and Hirsch provide a stimulating illustration from Leonard Sweet [5]. Imagine a group asked to stand in a circle.  The tendency is for the participants to stand shoulder to shoulder facing inward.  This is an exclusive stance that emphasizes the division of those on the inside from people on the outside. But to turn and face outwards is also unhelpful as they lose sight of the center.  Rather a more helpful stance is for each participant to face one of the people standing next to him or her in the circle.  One arm can then reach inside (i.e., towards Christ), the other can reach outside (i.e., towards others).  Facing a partner symbolizes the fellowship and encouragement needed from those involved in the same ministry of bringing people to Christ.

Exegeting the Context

A key part of FEBInternational’s missions efforts is to bring gospel transformation into new contexts.  This necessitates the planting of missional churches whose primary goal is to bring gospel transformation into their setting.  In Canada we now live in a primarily non-Christian context that requires the establishment of missional churches. Without them many people will not be reached for Christ.  Although both communal oriented and missional churches are valid within their appropriate settings, Canada has a great need for more missional efforts to deal with the reality of our context.  Part of this need can be met when communal oriented churches recognize that they have been moved to the margins of society and must now readjust their orientation in order to face the new reality.


  • (1) Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (Peabody: Henderson, 2006). 225-227.
  • (2) Milfred Minatrea, Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004).
  • (3) Frost & Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, 47.
  • (4) Minatrea, Shaped by God’s Heart, 39.
  • (5) Frost & Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, 45.

48. Missional Church 5: Rescuing “Missional”

A Fatal Trend

When we were missionaries in Pakistan there was a time when “church planting” became the standard for our team – it was the tie to church planting that validated the ministries we were involved in.  However, the demand for a direct church planting connection resulted in an analysis and critique of the definition of “church planting” that stretched it to fit everyone’s particular ministry.  Rather than maintaining a clearly defined role within our mission along side of other important ministries, church planting became so broad in scope and fuzzy in meaning that it ceased to be a helpful measurable concept.  Once everyone is a church planter, the impact, purpose and role of a church planter loses its significance and unique purpose. In order to maintain its usefulness, the term either needs to be replaced with a more helpful term, or it needs to be redefined with careful boundaries, excluding those activities that can be defined with other terms.

The term “missional” is in danger of a similar fate. As a description of the primary orientation of a church to bring gospel transformation in the world, it is in danger of losing its usefulness and impact. It has become a popular buzzword to describe practically any church that has an outreach program. Because articles on the missional church often state that all churches must be missional in order to be legitimate expressions of the body of Christ, the meaning of the term has been broadened and stretched beyond its original intent. However, it is neither a given that a growing, healthy church is missional, in the original sense of the term, nor that being missional will necessarily result in a growing, healthy church as traditionally understood.

Missional Vs Communal

Missional Church“Church” can be described as the communal relationship between followers of Christ within which spiritual growth occurs.  This definition encompasses both communal oriented and missional orientated local congregations.  However, a missional church is different from a communal oriented church because it is the communal relationship between followers of Christ that stems from intentional Gospel transformation in the world.  Its primary reason for being is to demonstrate the relevance of the gospel within societal contexts (i.e., outside of the four walls of the church) and all other aspects of church life are shaped to fulfill that one purpose.

Communal ChurchA communal church, on the other hand, is the communal relationship between followers of Christ as an expression of the transforming power of the Gospel.  Even as Zion in the Old Testament was intended as an expression of God’s glory on earth drawing all nations to salvation and worship, so the communal oriented church seeks to be an expression of the kingdom through its programs and thus invite people into membership with them.

It is important to maintain this distinction in order to validate each approach within its appropriate context.

Undermining the Missional Concept

i. Confusion with Communal issues

The tendency to weaken the import of the missional term can be illustrated from Milfred Minatrea’s book Shaped by God’s Heart. The problem is not that he fails to describe missional accurately (1) but that he goes on to expand the “missional” definition so that it becomes synonymous with “healthy” and therefore includes inward focused yet positive actions of churches within the missional concept.  By contrasting “missional” (good) with “maintenance” (bad) churches, he does not leave any room for positive expressions of the body of Christ that do not have a missional focus as their primary orientation.

For example, Minatrea constantly uses the phrase “missional churches are…” followed by a description which can be true of many non-missional but active churches such as “the missional church understands that prayer empowers” (2). Minatrea’s motive is to provide a holistic description of the missional church, but many of the descriptions provided relate not to missional, but to communal issues.  While a holistic view of the missional church is needed, the confusion between communal and missional concepts detracts from the essence of the missional church in its primary, outward orientation to the world. 

ii. Leadership

Similarly, a “missional leader” for Minatrea is synonymous with a visionary leader who holds “a vision for what the church might become” (3), rather than emphasizing the unique role of leading people into a transforming engagement with the world. He writes further, “Ultimately, such missional leaders are shaping the culture of their community” (4).  If “community” referred to the society and context within which the church finds itself, this statement would be correct.  However, because he is actually referring to the believers within a particular congregation, this cannot, by definition, be the “ultimate” goal of the missional leader because it is inward.  The ultimate goal for the missional leader must be the same as the missional church: to bring about God’s reign in the world.  The means towards the ultimate missional goal is to shape the culture of the congregation.

iii. Worship

A further example of this confusion with a communal orientation is in the treatment of worship. He states, “Worship is designed to exalt God, not to entertain people” (5). In creating this straw man of churches that are interested in entertaining, he ignores the essence of the missional church’s stance that worship is a reflection of and response to God’s glory revealed through His missional activity in the world.  The churches in this passage reflect a more inward focused communal orientation which can be illustrated by the statement that “Missional communities invite those who do not yet know God to join experiences of worship, knowing their encounter with God’s Spirit might draw them closer to personal relationship with Him” (6).

iv. Equipping

Minatrea’s claim that “Successful equipping involves movement from information through contemplation to transformation” (7) also lacks a missional focus.  It assumes that equipping begins with information and leads to action, i.e., from the abstract to the concrete. This modernist approach to education reflects communal church values that begin with God’s people in God’s presence and invites other in.  In contrast the missional church begins with God’s people interacting with others in the world and lets the contemplation of God’s word address the issues that arise from those relationships.  Both approaches can lead to a “pastoral circle” (8) of moving between God’s word and culture, but only the latter approach intentionally initiates and ensures relevant interaction with the world.

v. “Missional Assessment” Check lists

The strength and value of the missional concept lies in an outward focus as the core purpose of the church.  All other aspects of the missional church are shaped to facilitate this one vision, that as the people of God we are chosen for others. Any attempt to measure the missional aspect of a church must focus on this outward orientation.  Unfortunately, the “missional assessment” check lists in Shaped by God’s Heart often fail in their professed purpose because there is no connection to a distinct missional concern.  For example, “members are equipped to practice spiritual disciplines” (9) is not a concern unique to missional churches.  A better analysis of missional focus would be “members are equipped with those spiritual disciplines which empower them to bring transformation within their particular context.”  Rather than “We have a high regard for God’s Word” a better analysis would be “members use their Bibles effectively and relevantly in making an impact in the community outside the church.”

vi. Community

In addressing the issue of community, Minatrea states “One means of achieving unity in a missional community is to state clearly what is expected of members” (10).  This communal focus loses the important missional orientation that insists on keeping an outward vision as the driving force behind the involvement of the members.  Unity in the missional church emerges through the passion to fulfill a goal in the world, rather than conformity to a covenant to “invite my friends … to church” and “pursue spiritual worth in a 360 Community through Bible Study [and] fellowship….” For the missional church it is not “clear expectations for members” (11) that fulfills this “missional practice,” but a commitment to gospel transformation in the world.

Centered vs Bounded

A fundamental structural difference between missional and communal oriented churches lies in the difference between “centered” and “bounded” sets (12).  Both Frost and Minatrea provide excellent examples of this distinction that will be explored in the following article.


  • (1) For example see the good contrast between “missions-minded” and “missional” in Milfred Minatrea, Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 11.
  • (2) ibid., 151.
  • (3) ibid., 161.
  • (4) ibid., 168.
  • (5) ibid., 66.
  • (6) ibid., 66-67.
  • (7) ibid., 56.
  • (8) J. Holland and P. Henriot, Social analysis. Linking faith and justice (Revised and enlarged edition, Maryknoll: Orbis 1983).
  • (9) Minatrea, Shaped by God’s Heart, 64.
  • (10) ibid., 34.
  • (11) ibid., 30.
  • (12) Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (Peabody: Henderson, 2006), 47.

47. Missional Church 4: Missional Scholarship

In The Shaping of Things to Come, St Thomas’s Crookes is given as an example of a church that is shaped around its participation in God’s mission to the world. The basic level of the church consists of cells whose aim is to relate relevantly and redemptively with a particular segment of society.  For example, one cell is involved in rock-climbing, another with the football crowd and a third with nightclubbers.  To support this missional effort, congregations consisting of a few cells meet together weekly for teaching, sharing resources and worship.  At a third level all congregations meet together occasionally for a time of celebration, worship and vision-casting1.

Current Misuse of “Missional”

“Missional” has become a popular term used to describe this kind ofMissional Church redemptive orientation towards the world. Churches like St. Thomas’s Crookes consider it their primary task to make the gospel relevant within a variety of settings outside of traditional church organization.  Communal ChurchThis concept contrasts the more communal oriented focus that endeavors to engage people within local expressions of church. Much has been written to help churches readjust their orientation and become missional. 

Unfortunately, the popularity of the term has resulted in two unhealthy extremes.  Some authors use the word as nearly synonymous with “healthy” and thus contrast missional with “maintenance” churches that have little evangelistic drive2.  This broadens the meaning to such an extent that it loses its original intent of highlighting an orientation towards gospel impact within the world.  At the other extreme, some authors are so passionate about the need for God’s people to be redemptively relevant in the world that more traditional, communal expressions of church are referred to pejoratively as “institutional,” “traditional” or “attractional”3. A quick review of important missiological scholarship can help us maintain a clear and distinct definition of the term “missional” so that we can avoid these two extremes.

Christ and Culture

In his seminal work, "Christ and Culture," Richard Niebuhr4 explores five possible motifs to understand the ways Christ and culture relate to each other. The first motif sees culture as a human construct that must be rejected as evil and therefore the Christian goal is to become separate from the world.  Churches with this view have an extractionist mentality with the goal of bringing people out of the world and into the church.

The second motif takes the opposite view and acknowledges a fundamental agreement between Christ and culture. This perspective sees culture as the object for the church: "man’s greatest task is to maintain his best culture"5. The weakness of this extreme view of culture is that it marginalizes God’s revealed truth. God’s word must be preserved as a prophetic message for transformation over and against culture.

The third motif is more inclusive of both culture and God’s revelation by not only seeing Christ in culture but also Christ above culture. That is, a spiritual Christianity can be expressed through cultural forms. This synthesis view of culture and Christ is strong when control over the context is maintained, but it is unable to adjust to outside pressures and is not transferable to new cultural settings. This approach is illustrated by the North American evangelical church subculture. It espouses values well in keeping with general social norms such as education and democracy and capitalism, and yet maintains a strong aversion towards changes, such as egalitarianism and postmodernism, that have occurred within the culture. The concern of such churches is not to engage culture, but to distance themselves out of a fear that they may lose control of basic Christian values and invite harmful cultural practices into the church. Yet at the same time, the response is not so much a radical rejection of culture as with the first motif, but rather an attempt to develop a Christianized subculture parallel to the secular society in areas of drama, music, sports and education. This motif also leads to an extractionist and inward focused mentality.

The fourth motif views the relationship of Christ and culture as an irresolvable paradox. This motif works from an assumption that there is a dualism of spiritual ideal and fallen human reality that cannot be reconciled or overcome. However, this view is ultimately not sustainable. Living with such tension pushes us on to grow and develop, but as humans, we do not like tension and seek to resolve it. Irresolvable tension is bound to lapse into complacency and a domestication of the gospel in order to ease the tension.

The fifth motif provides a solution to the weakness of the fourth motif by seeing Christ as the one who converts humanity within culture and society. This view looks at the world and trusts in the creating and transforming power of Christ to bring redemption. Thus the tension between good and evil is not equated to the tension between the ideal and culture, but a battle that occurs within culture. This battle is a result of the tension between the good resident within humankind because of the image of God (Gen 1:27), and the evil evident in the fall (Gen 3:7) by the turning away from God. These are the two paradoxical realities observed at both individual and communal levels. Therefore culture is best described as corrupted, that is, twisted, warped, misshapen or misdirected, rather than evil. Culture does not exist as an antithesis to good, but something created good but corrupted from its true purpose and thus requires redeeming. At the same time it must be recognized that culture is the medium through which humanity finds expression and thus it is only by redeeming humanity that culture can be saved.

Missiologists later developed the implications of the final motif to support the concept of the missional church.  Communal, inward oriented churches tend to adopt the first motif (culture as evil) or the third motif (developing a parallel Christianized subculture).

Missio Dei: God’s Mission

D.J. Bosch provided a theological basis for the missional concept through his work on missio Dei in Transforming Mission6. Missio Dei is a move to a theocentric view of missions rather than considering it equivalent to the expansion of the church.  That is, rather than considering church planting or church growth as the fulfillment of the Great Commission, the focus shifts to the recognition that God is working to bring transformation in the world.  Missions as a human endeavor then becomes a partnership in the greater story of God’s redemptive movement in the world.  This places the locus of God’s action in the world, rather than in the church.  A missional orientation seeks to be involved with God in the world rather than adopting an inward mentality that draws people from the world into local expressions of church life.

“Hermeneutic of the Gospel”

In The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Lesslie Newbigin asks how the church can “truly represent the reign of God in the world in the way Jesus did” and responds with a poignant description of the missional church.  He states that church’s purpose is not fulfilled through simply responding to the “aspirations” of people in the world, nor is it by “portraying the Church in the style of a commercial firm using modern techniques of promotion to attract members.” Instead “the only hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.”  This congregation “will be a community that does not live for itself but is deeply involved in the concerns of neighborhood.  It will be the church for the specific place where it lives, not the church for those who wish to be members of it – or, rather, it will be for them insofar as they are willing to be for the wider community.” Moreover this church will be a “royal priesthood” within the world continuing the work of Jesus by “reconciling people to God.”  This priesthood occurs not within “the walls of the Church but in the daily business of the world”7.

“Missional Congregations”

Darrell L. Guder builds on Bosch and Newbigin to contrast a “producer-consumer” model of church with a church as “a body of people sent on a mission.” This mission is centered on the “reign of God as [the church’s] missional perspective.” It is not a project that the church is to work on, but a gift of God that is lived out by the church in the world.  Thus evangelism moves “from an act of recruiting or co-opting those outside the church, to an invitation of companionship.”  That is, the essential purpose of the church moves from a project or a formula for church growth to the development of transforming relationships within the wider community.  Along with the experience of the kingdom of God within the body of Christ, the church “represents to the world the divine reign’s character, claims, demands, and gracious gifts as its agent and instrument”8.

With this understanding serving as the basic definition of the missional concept we can move on in the next article to contrast some ways the missional church concept has been misrepresented.


  • (1) Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (Peabody: Henderson, 2006), 53.
  • (2) Milfred Minatrea, Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 5.
  • (3) Frost & Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, 16, 19.
  • (4) This section is a summary of a review of Richard H. Niebuhr’s book Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1951) by Mark Naylor in The Intercultural Communication of the Gospel (Unpublished, 2003), pp. 35-38.  Direct quotes from Niebuhr are footnoted.
  • (5) Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, 102.
  • (6) D.J.  Bosch, Transforming Mission.  Paradigm shifts in theology of mission  (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991), e.g., 519.
    (7) L. Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), see pp. 226-230.
  • (8) Darrell L. Guder, Missional Church: A vision for the sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), see pp. 85-102.

46. Missional Church 3: Biblical Perspective

An Inward or Outward focus?

Hudson Taylor was a pioneer missionary to China who recognized the need to immerse himself in the Chinese culture in order to relate the gospel to the people in ways that made sense to his audience.  He learned their language, wore his hair in a pigtail, wore their clothes and, in general, lived his as close to their lifestyle as possible.  According to some of his European colleagues, this was inappropriate.  Because the Bible had been in their culture for so many centuries, they reasoned, their cultural values and norms were the true expressions of Christian life and universal for all cultures.  Hudson Taylor disagreed.  Rather than requiring people to become like him, he deliberately sought to become like them.  Rather than “bringing people in” to meet Christ, his goal was to bring Christ into their lives.  Such thinking represents the heart of the missional church.

When Karen and I lived in Pakistan1 we worshipped with the Baptist church located across the road from our residence.  I had a sincere young Muslim ask to attend the worship service, so I took him with me.  Afterwards I was taken aside by an elder and told that this was inappropriate: the young man was not a Christian, he was not baptized, he didn’t belong.  Some time later the man was baptized, but not in that church.  I took him again to a worship service in the church and the same elder took me aside once more.  I explained that the young man was now baptized.  The elder asked, "What is his name? Where does he live?" I told him the man’s name and that he lived with his father. The elder responded by explaining that until the man changes his name to a Christian name, and until he leaves his Muslim community and joins the Christian community, he cannot attend the church. 

The point here is not to criticize the elder for this attitude because there are complex cultural issues that need to be understood. However, what is pertinent is the "bring them in and make them like us" mentality, an inward focus that is also prevalent in many Canadian churches. We are good at sending missionaries, we are good at bringing people into our meetings (very few churches would deny Muslims entry), but there is often a lack of conviction that we are a people who have "been sent" by Jesus to make the gospel relevant to others where they live.  When churches talk of “outreach” a primary goal is usually to bring them in and assimilate them into church life. In contrast, we had gone to Pakistan with an outward focus. We attempted to learn what it means to live in a relevant Christ-like way in their culture, from the standpoint of their worldview, rather than conforming them to our culture and worldview.

Communal ChurchThere are two ways to be a church involved in God’s mission to the world:

1. Bring them in so they can assimilate (communal orientation) OR


Missional Church2. Appreciate and interact with people in their context so they can experience the way Jesus relates to them where they live (missional orientation).

Jesus’ Incarnation is the basis for Missional Orientation

Jesus’ incarnation, “God with us,” is the “theological prism through which we view our entire missional task in the world”2.  In his high priestly prayer Jesus said, “As you (God) sent me into the world, so I send them (disciples) into the world” (Jn 17:18).  Jesus came to make a difference in people’s lives by becoming like them.  We are also called to be like Jesus and make a difference in people’s lives.  Like Jesus this requires the maintenance of a paradox: becoming like others in order to be a transforming catalyst.  Gospel transformation occurs through the cultural values and perspectives of a people group rather than by insisting on our own cultural norms.  The missional church follows Jesus’ method of relating the gospel message to people’s lives within their context.

This biblical perspective of how God interacts with humanity contrasts sharply with Islamic theology. In Islam there is no accommodation of God towards humanity.  God never becomes immanent with people, as in the incarnation.  He is immovably transcendent.  Thus, in their view of scripture, the Koran was dictated in heaven and handed down to the prophet.  There is no human hand or culture involved in providing God’s revelation to humanity.  It remains transcendent and pure.  In contrast the biblical picture is of a God who speaks in and through human cultures, in and through human languages.  Unlike the Koran, the Bible can be translated into other languages and remain the authoritative word of God.  The ultimate accommodation to human frailty is found in the person Christ, the Word of Life seen with human eyes and touched with human hands (1 Jn 1:1). 

God became human within a particular context, for our sake.  Similarly, Jesus sends us, so that he can become Lord in many different contexts.  The New Testament does not provide a blueprint for a universal form of church for all cultures to which people must accommodate.  Rather the descriptions of church development and instruction reveal the missional understanding of the disciples who “worked out” the gospel message in their 1st century culture.  The function of the church (e.g., fellowship, worship, teaching) was fulfilled through the cultural patterns with which the apostles were familiar. Proponents of missional churches believe that they are called to do the same: to work out salvation in other contexts using those forms that best express the message.

The Incarnation of the Gospel not the Messenger

It is important to recognize that the incarnational implications of the missional orientation do not require that the messenger literally become a full member of another culture, but that they work towards the gospel becoming an integral expression of another setting.  While missionaries in Pakistan, we did not become Pakistani.  That was impossible and, because of our own cultural values and priorities, would have been inappropriate if we had attempted it.  When Paul spoke of becoming “like a Jew, to win the Jews” and becoming “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:19-22), he was not speaking incarnationally, but from a desire to accommodate his practices and priorities for the sake of the gospel.

Similarly, our goal was to relate to the Sindhi people in such a way that they would recognize the gospel not as an imported western religion, but as God speaking to and relating to their lives.  As foreigners, we understood and lived the gospel from within our cultural perspective because that is the means by which the gospel message is significant to us.  What was required was an introduction of the gospel expressed relevantly within their cultural perspective.  This involved a resolute investment in relationships with people and sensitivity to their context. We had to leave our “comfort zone” and learn to appreciate a very different perspective on life and relationships.  However, the goal was not our incarnation into their reality, but the incarnation of the gospel of Christ. This is commonly referred to as a contextualization of the gospel message so that significance of the death and resurrection of Christ impacts both individual lives and the broader community in such a way that it is identified as integral to the culture.

The following article will provide a brief overview of how the missional concept has been developed by influential missiologists.


  • (1) From 1985-1999 Karen and I lived with our family as FEBInternational missionaries in Pakistan.
  • (2) M. Frost & A. Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), 35.

45. Missional Church 2: The Missional Priority

In the previous article, a missional church was Missional Churchdefined as the communal relationship between followers of Christ which stems from intentional gospel transformation in the world (outward orientation).  In contrast the more prevalent communal Communal Churchoriented church can be defined as the communal relationship between followers of Christ as an expression of the transforming power of the gospel (inward orientation).  This article will explain why FEBInternational is seeking to plant missional churches as opposed to communal oriented churches.

Missional Drives Communal

The point is not that “missional is good and communal is bad.”  What is the benefit of working on roads if there are no gas stations?  How can a new believer grow in Christ without the support of other Christians?  Every church must have both missional and communal components. However, even though a missional orientation will result in communal expressions, the converse is not necessarily true. One pastor put it this way, “If you are missional oriented, you will have communal focus.  But if you are communal oriented, you can lose the missional focus.”

A missional church cannot survive without a communal expression. It cannot fulfill its vision of participating in God’s mission to the world without healthy relationships in the body of Christ. But for this model of church, organized expressions of body life are evaluated and prioritized based on their ability to enhance the missional orientation.  The inherent danger of having a communal focus as the primary orientation is the tendency to relegate missional concerns to a lower priority and view them as a means to church growth rather than the essence of the church. Unfortunately, a communal oriented church can continue to function without relevant and significant impact within the surrounding community.

Dowsett’s comment is worth repeating:

The church has always ebbed and flowed, but whenever it has become preoccupied with itself and lost sight of its missionary calling, it has lost its way. Sometimes it has disappeared from view, as with the North African churches in the early years of the rapid expansion of Islam. Sometimes it has become a hollow and spiritually powerless institution, as with some of the European churches in the past two hundred years. On the other hand, whenever it has turned out towards the world with a missionary heart, seeking to bring the gospel of Christ to those outside the church’s it has recovered its meaning for being. For in reaching out in love and longing, it has begun to beat again with the heart of God, it has begun once again to reflect the character of the God in whose name it stands. The church that is not missional is no church at all. Our seeking and finding is a mirror reflection of God doing just the same—and ahead of us. We seek and find, because God first sought and found.1

Living in the world

When the goal of a local congregation is church growth with an inward communal orientation, outreach often consists of removing people from their natural environment and bringing them into the controlled environment of the church in order to teach them how to be Christian.   A missional orientation avoids this extractionist thinking and sees the world as the locus of church activity, empowering people to be impacting followers of Christ in a variety of settings outside the four walls of the church.

As mentioned in the previous article Karen and I spent a number of years seeking to plant a communal oriented church in the Sindhi context.  We sought to develop a controlled environment in which people could be taught God’s word and faith in Christ would be pre-eminent. This attempt failed.  However, during this period one of the believers, Nathaniel 2, shared with me that one of his favorite passages was Noah and the ark because, “just as God used Noah to save his family, so he wants to use me to save mine.”  This missional vision resulted in the establishment of a house church among his extended family.  We discovered that in a context where churches do not play a significant role in the community, the goal of a local body of believers is not to bring people into the church, but to bring Christ into people’s lives.  When a missional passion exists within people’s lives as they live in the world, the church of Jesus Christ emerges in new ways and unique places.

Living on the Margins

Church on the Margins

FEBInternational personnel work in areas where the church is not central to the society, but survives on the margins.  These societies function without taking into consideration the values and concerns of local churches. A missional orientation as the primary focus of a church is required wherever the society functions with the understanding that the church is insignificant in fulfilling the purposes of the community.


A communal orientation as the primary focus of a church is valid when the church is the major player in shaping the values and decisions of society. For example, one of our FEBBC churches had such a popular youth program that the local high school would not make any plan without first checking to see that the dates did not conflict with the program of the church.  It is imperative that church leaders exegete their context and understand which orientation is required so that the purposes of God in their setting can be fulfilled.

Practical applications of both Orientations

The following examples demonstrate how a church’s orientation, whether communal or missional, determines its activities.

  • Soccer moms at their children’s games on Sunday morning

Communal: We need to “help them prioritize their lives so that their spiritual needs come first” (said by a pastor in a sermon indicating that they should be in church).
Missional: We need to help them become soccer moms who are impacting servants of God as they stand on the field.

  • Cyclists who ride on Sunday morning

Communal: We need to get them off their bikes and into the pews (The idea of “filling the pews” was recently said by a pastor in a morning service).
Missional: We need to help cyclists become people serving God as they ride their bikes.

  • Seeker sensitive

Communal: Inviting people into a comfortable, nonthreatening environment.
Missional: Going where people are comfortable.  My wife, Karen, and daughter, Becky, belong to a karate club and members often visit the pub after a session.  In this environment significant spiritual conversations have occurred.

  • Coffee bar in the lounge

Communal: A place in the church lounge to chat with people who attend the worship time.
Missional: The local Starbucks (i.e., a neutral environment).

  • Children’s programs

Communal: Awana (i.e., within the controlled environment of the church).
Missional: Boy Scouts and Girl Guides (i.e., being an influence for Christ in a setting that is not conducive to overt expressions of faith).

  • Church Planting

Communal (quotes from church planters):
“We need a core of people committed to coming each Sunday.”
“I am discouraged because people don’t want to meet together for church.”
“People are showing interest.  We are now working on getting them to church.”
Missional (examples from cross-cultural  ministries):
Asia: medical ministries open doors for visitations and the beginning of home churches.
Asia: Men are challenged to be spiritual leaders in their extended families in order to begin churches where the people live.
Philippines: A worship service is held in a restaurant to meet the spiritual needs of the staff.

  • Building

Communal: There is a high priority given to a place to meet. Buying property is considered essential and a sign of church establishment and growth.
Missional: A building is optional and is considered only as it benefits the missional purpose in the extended community.

  • Prayer

Communal: “Please pray that our outreach event would be used by the Lord to cause the church to grow” (from a prayer letter).
Missional: “Please pray that our church would be used of God to make a transforming difference in people’s lives.”

  • Pubs

Communal: A church group purchases a pub and transforms it into a place of worship.
Missional: A teetotalling Christian becomes a manager of a pub in order to minister to the patrons 3.

The following article will provide a biblical foundation for the concept of the missional church.


  • (1) R. Dowsett, “Reaffirming the Missional Heart of God” in Connections, January – April, 2004, 14-15.
  • (2) Not his real name.
  • (3) See “A Tale of Two Pubs” in M. Frost & A. Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), 9-11.

44. Missional Church 1: Not Just Business as Usual

FEBI goal: missional churches

FEBInternational, the mission arm of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada, is a church planting mission and has been from its inception over 40 years ago. Recently under the leadership of the current director, Richard Flemming, this goal has been clarified as planting missional churches.  This is not merely a restatement of the original goal of establishing healthy, growing churches cross culturally; it introduces a particular missional orientation within a congregation that distinguishes such a church from the more prevalent communal oriented congregation 1.

When Karen and I went to Pakistan as FEBI missionaries to the Sindhi people of Pakistan, part of our mandate was to plant a church.  When people became followers of Christ, we taught them the significance of being a community of faith.  We studied God’s word together and gathered for prayer, worship and fellowship.  We sought to develop a vision of a community centered on faith in Christ.  However, this group failed to become an established local church.  A large part of this failure was an incomplete vision.  The group lacked a missional purpose towards the surrounding community as part of their reason for being.  The vision we promoted of the body of Christ separate from the world was insufficient. What was required was a unifying identity of being called to participate in God’s mission to the world.

The primary orientation determines the missional church

Essentially a missional church is a congregation whose primary goal is gospel transformation in the world.  The organization and function of the missional church flows out of the core goal of being a part of God’s mission, which is to bring change (redemption) within the surrounding community.  This contrasts the communal oriented church that primarily seeks to provide an expression of the kingdom of God separate from the world.  Of course, the missional church requires communal expressions in order to function and the communal oriented church will have programs focused on reaching the lost.  The difference between the two is found in the underlying purpose, the essential identity and the primary orientation that shapes the teaching, structure and activities of each church.  This article will clarify the important distinction between a local church that has as its primary concern a communal orientation and one that has amissional orientation.

Definitions of missional and communal oriented churches

In these articles a basic assumption is that the form or structure of a church is determined by culture, rather than prescribed by biblical directives.  Thus the organization and leadership of a local congregation of believers is shaped by the demands of their particular setting as they seek to apply Jesus’ teaching to their lives.  Priority is given to the function of the church.  From this perspective a working definition of a “local church” can be phrased as “the communal relationship between followers of Christ within which spiritual growth occurs.”

Missional ChurchWith this understanding a missional church can be defined as the communal relationship between followers of Christ which stems from intentionalgospel transformation in the world.  In the illustration the green arrows represent the primary goal of the missional church to impact the world with the kingdom of God.  The purple arrows represent the way this task shapes the form and function of the communal aspects of the church in order to facilitate that goal.

Communal ChurchWhat I am referring to as the communal oriented church can be defined as the organized relationships between followers of Christ as an expression of the transforming power of the gospel.  The green arrows represent the primary concern of being an expression of the kingdom of God.  The purple arrows represent the secondary concern to bring people into this community of believers.

The following three metaphors help illustrate this contrast between missional and communal oriented churches.

I. Business metaphor.

TheaterThe communal oriented church can be compared to a theater. The goal is to encourage people to come in and be a part of what is happening within the program of the organization.  To facilitate this the atmosphere is comfortable and appealing, the programs presented are satisfying, and the hope is that people will want to come back and support the agenda.  For a theater the agenda is that people enjoy the movie, for the church the agenda is that people should become committed participants.

For example, a member of one church made the suggestion that “we should show Christian movies in our building on Sunday evening” as an outreach program to bring people into the church.

Computer CompanyThe missional church is more like a computer company whose goal is to bring the product into the homes where people live.  Their efforts are focused on making the product relevant and appealing to the needs of the person within their context. For example, my wife, Karen, buys her computers from one local company because it provides excellent support coupled with the technology to design computers to meet their customers’ business needs.  Their offices and organization are shaped to fulfill this goal.  In a similar fashion the aim of the missional church is to make the gospel relevant to people where they live, rather than seeking to create appealing programs that will draw people in.

II. Nature metaphor

NatureIn E. R. McManus provides a powerful river metaphor to illustrate the dynamic way church relates to culture 2. I will take some liberty with the picture by adding fish. The missional church lives dangerously in the rapids with the fish that are struggling to swim upstream, while the communal oriented church scoops up the fish in buckets and puts them Fishin quiet pools on the shore. Rather than seeking protection and security within institutional walls, the missional church trusts in the endurance and indestructibility of the gospel and lives recklessly within the rushing rapids of the world.  Leaders of the communal oriented church standing on the edge recognize the dangers of syncretism and compromise,  "Be careful, you are getting too close to the rocks!"  The riverbank represents a controlled environment that provides a place of refuge and facilitates security from destructive influences in the world.  However, for the missional church, the task of the leader is three-fold: to push believers towards the rapids, equip them to thrive in that environment, and keep them away from the rocks. 

In FEBInternational we noted a tendency to plant churches that are safe backwaters; controlled environments that are easily measurable. As a result people are taught to be content to scoop out fish rather than swimming in the rapids. When this happens, the maintenance of the community of believers becomes the aim of the church rather than the transformation of society.  By developing missional churches we hope to initiate relevant and visionary communal networks of people whose primary desire is to make a gospel impact within their environment.Gas Pump

III. Transportation metaphor

The communal oriented church can be compared to a gas station that offers a rest stop for travelers from the rush of the road.Road  It provides the power to keep going and support for mechanical problems to ensure that the car will continue to run well.

On the other hand, the missional church is more interested in road construction.  Roads determine the ability of the travelers to reach their destination as they drive their cars.  This includes the provision of navigational clues (signs, paint) as well as danger signs to keep people from straying during their life journey.  It also provides roadside assistance – “real ministry in real time” as expressed by the slogan of the FEBCC Chaplaincy program.

Next: Examples and rationale

A missional church cannot survive without healthy communal relationships in the body of Christ. Unfortunately, a communal oriented church can continue to function without relevant and significant impact on the surrounding community. The following article will provide examples of the different perspectives that develop from these contrasting orientations as well as provide further detail concerning the rationale behind FEBInternational’s desire to plant missional churches.


  • (1) Some literature on the missional church contrasts missional with institutional, traditional or attractional and the latter terms are generally used in a pejorative manner.  I am attempting to avoid the negative implication by using the term communal in order to affirm this important and legitimate aspect of church life.  The key to distinguishing a missional from a communal focused church is its primary orientation.
  • (2) E. R. McManus, “The Global Intersection” in The Church in Emerging Culture, Ed. L. Sweet. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 237.