by JR Rozko
Marv Newell is certainly on to something in his observations regarding a move away from the word “mission” in certain quarters. It behooves us, however, to ask what lies behind this phenomenon. My own experience seems to offer some counter-observations that I believe shed light on this question. In short, where Newell sees the de-missionization of missions, I see the re-ecclesialization of it—in academy, assembly, and agency alike.
In 2004, I enrolled in Fuller Seminary’s MDiv program as a young pastor with many questions about the nature and purpose of the Church, especially regarding its future in a rapidly shifting cultural context. I soon discovered, however, that the most relevant courses were being offered in the School of Intercultural Studies and addressed the development of a missiology of Western culture. This led me into studies and conversations around missional theology, ecclesiology, and leadership.
I went from seeing mission(s) as a distinct activity to an organizing paradigm for Christian thought, witness, and formation. Ten years later, I am finishing a DMiss, also through Fuller. Against the grain of Newell’s observation of the trend for this degree, Fuller has endeavored to re-imagine it for a new generation of leaders like me who regard mission as core to the Church’s identity as opposed to one of its activities.
I have also been heavily invested in the missional church movement. Through writing, pastoring, and creating conversational spaces, I’ve spent the last ten years of my life exploring, and helping others to explore, what it means for the church to understand itself and its context in missionary perspective. It’s interesting to note that a search for the phrase “missional church” on Amazon produces over 450 results, most published in the last 15 years! Thus, even as we observe the disappearance of “missions committees” in congregations, we witness explosive interest in their “missional identity” on the other.
Finally, it’s worth noting that when deciding on a name for the initiative I help lead (an initiative that exists to advance the theological imagination and witness of North American church leaders and systems from across tribes and traditions), the organizing group settled on Missio Alliance. Here again, mission was seen as the issue of most relevance and interest to those vested in the future of the Church in our day. More, mission was seen as the concept most capable of establishing a common basis for fellowship, co-learning, and collaboration. All this, I submit, points in the direction of seeing how the de-missionization of missions may be a manifestation of its re-ecclesialization.
One final observation must be made. The re-ecclesialization of mission as I have described here is marked by a profound awareness of the colonialism of much of the modern mission movement. Thus, while mission has become a central theme for many church leaders, what this means for our engagement with people in global contexts remains a key question. A new appreciation for the Church’s missional being is fertile ground for reframing her missional doing.
Vitally interested in a missiology of Western culture, JR Rozko currently directs the work of Missio Alliance and teaches courses through Fuller Theological Seminary. He has spent over 10 years serving in pastoral ministry and the world of theological education, seeking to advance the vision and practice of missional theology.
EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 1 pp. 54-55. Copyright © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.