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

by J.R. Woodward

InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426, 2012, 256 pages, $25.00.

Reviewed by Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv, ThM), pastor and apostolic leader, Austin, Texas. 

As the volume of missional church literature increases, a segment of North America has grasped the apostolic impulse of the Church. Yet as books on mission are shelved, the challenge of planting, leading, and growing 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.

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 cultural architect is to lead the way in developing environments where people will learn God’s truth, are healed by God’s power,  are welcomed by his love, are liberated by his grace, and thrive as part of a mature, missional community under the lordship of Christ. 

Woodward provides helpful diagnostic questions to evaluate these five environments in the local church. The environments may seem arbitrary, but in parts two and three, Woodward introduces a model of leadership from Ephesians 4 that corresponds with them—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…” (p. 60). 

Instead of one center of leadership (pastor), we should have five centers: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. Each is essential to cultivating the five environments to equip the church for the work of mission to the world. How do the equippers accomplish this task? Each of the five leaders should use the following “thick practices.” 

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 examples of this collaborative leadership. For instance, he suggests each equipper speak into preaching content, as well as contribute to overall leadership decisions. He warns that the polycentric approach is messy but affords the church an opportunity to be influenced by its various equipping gifts. 

Woodward is well read. Some will desire more exegetical support for polycentric leadership, which can be found in Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim’s book below. Woodward thinks creatively and practically about creating missional culture. This 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” (p. 96). Once absorbed, a shift to polycentric leadership leaves the reader wanting more practical bite. More examples of this type of leadership and equipping would have been helpful. Creating a Missional Culture is a worthwhile read that provides a gracious, yet prophetic corrective to individualistic, pastor-centric churches, moving the missional church forward. Perhaps Woodward will expand upon the application of these ideas in a future work.

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

EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 241-244. Copyright  © 2013 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS. 

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