The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation

by Craig Van Gelder and Dwight J. Zscheile

Baker Academic, P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516, 208 pages, 2011, $19.99.

Reviewed by Jason McKnight, lead pastor, Grace Fellowship Church, Kinston, North Carolina.

This book is meant to do two things: provide an update in the area of missional church, and move the conversation forward. First, it summarizes missional church concepts, from their inception, through the seminal 1998 work, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, right up to today. “Our purpose… is to place the missional church conversation in perspective” in four directions: grasping an initial understanding, exploring the popularization of the conversation, enriching it through biblical and theological depth, and understanding where we can go from here (p.13).

To that end, Craig Van Gelder and Dwight Zscheile do a good job. Although I have not read too widely or deeply on the topic per se, Part 1 helps get me up to speed. The insights, summary, and synthesis provided are solid and helpful.

Their second goal is to move the conversation forward—identifying trends and areas for growth or impact. They tackle three major areas: theological development, engaging culture, and church frameworks.

First, they explore how the fuller development of the doctrine of the Trinity enables us to join God more deeply in proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel. God is not only a sending God on mission, he is also a social God who lives missionally in Trinity. Thus,“to be is to belong in community” (p.107). What that means for the church is that we are

…not a collection of individuals who choose to associate primarily to have [our] spiritual needs met or do some good in the world. Rather, the church is a community of mutual participation in God’s own life and the life of the world—a participation characterized by openness to others. (p.107)

Second, the authors explore how the missional church engages culture: How are we to conceive of the relationship between God, world, and church (p.138), especially in a context apart from the framework of Christendom? A particularly intriguing thought revolves around the role of hospitality in mission—both hospitality extended (e.g., Heb. 13:2) and hospitality received (e.g., Luke 10:1-12).

“Hospitality here [the sending of the seventy] is reversed—not offering hospitality to the stranger but seeking the hospitality of the stranger, with all the vulnerability that implies” (p.132). This is the nature of the missio Dei, in which God sent his Son to be vulnerable, relying on our hospitality. It reinforces the difficult truth that refusing to show hospitality to the King’s messenger is to reject the kingdom.

Finally, Van Gelder and Zscheile explore how missional practices need to affect church life and leadership. Among other things, they reinforce the argument that we need to frame leadership structures based on mission, rather than on organizations that have long existed: “The church is; the church does what it is; the church organizes what it does” (p.158).

The Missional Church in Perspective will help pastors and teachers at all levels wrestle with and move more deeply into God’s calling on his people in his world.


EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 254-256. Copyright  © 2012 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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