The Missional Church & Denominations: Helping Congregations Develop a Missional Identity

by Craig Van Gelder, ed.

The Missional Church & Denominations is the second volume in the Missional Church Series. It continues the conversation of the missional church in relation to the North American mission context, this time through denominations and denominationalism.

William B. Eerdmans, 2140 Oak Industrial Drive N.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49505, 2008, 282 pages, $17.99.

Reviewed by Tom Steffen, professor of intercultural studies in the School of Intercultural Studies at Biola University in La Mirada, California, where he directs the Doctor of Missiology program.

Tired of all the bureaucracy in your hierarchical organization? Tired of working in an organizational structure left over from modernity’s “corporation” paradigm rather than post-modernity’s “Internet” paradigm? Searching for an organizational structure that decentralizes so that power is dispersed to the many rather than concentrated in a few? So that focus is on a team rather than on an individual? So that focus is outward rather than inward? If so, here’s a book worth reading, particularly, but not exclusively, if that organization is a denomination.

The Missional Church & Denominations is the second volume in the Missional Church Series. It continues the conversation of the missional church in relation to the North American mission context, this time through denominations and denominationalism. This volume is a compilation of the essays presented at the Second Annual Missional Church Consultation at Luther Seminary in November 2006. The movement is driven by the writings of missiologist Lesslie Newbigin. The authors seek to define a congregation that is missional. By missional they do not mean having a mission program; rather, they mean a church that recognizes her missional nature. Missions, for them, means that the church is not church-centered but God-centered—the missio Dei. The only way to accomplish this, they believe, is to critique the role of denominations.

The editor divided the book into three sections. Section 1, which includes four essays, develops a constructive argument for a missional church, while bringing denominations and denominationalism into the conversation. Section 2, which also includes four essays, provides specific case studies of what a missional ecclesiology, polity, and theology looks like in various religious traditions. Section 3, an epilogue, provides helpful insights from a decade-long journey of the Reformed Church of America as it seeks a more missional denomination.

Denominations are not going away, argue the authors; however, a major problem exists. Most denominations addressed in the book focus attention on the internal life of the church rather than having a missional goal to reach those outside the church. However, the authors note that many pastors within these denominations want help that will nurture their missional journey.

After a brief history of 250 years of denominationalism, the book documents the rocky journey of some North American denominations as they transfer from static hierarchy to more flexible organizations so that focus and finances move beyond maintenance to missions. The authors script new narratives that offer identity and legitimacy, helping make it possible for entrenched denominations to extract themselves so they can become truly missional. This is excellent missiology as it integrates theology, organizational theory, social analysis, and contextualization.

Check these titles:
Finke, Roger and Rodney Stark. 2005. The Churching of America 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy. Piscataway, N. J.: Rutgers University Press.  

Guder, Darrell L. and Lois Barrett, eds. 1998. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans.

Newbigin, Lesslie. 1986. Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans.

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