The Missional Church & Leadership Formation: Helping Congregations Develop Leadership Capacity

by Craig Van Gelder, ed.

This stimulating book asks the key question it raises: “Can leadership for the missional church be developed in the seminary?” The answer seems to be, “Not without radical reform.”

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2140 Oak Industrial Drive NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505, 248 pages, 2009, $20.00.

Reviewed by Jim Plueddemann, professor of missions, specializing in cross-cultural leadership development at TrinityEvangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

The strength of this stimulating book is the key question it raises: “Can leadership for the missional church be developed in the seminary?” The answer seems to be, “Not without radical reform.” The writers suggest that seminaries are good at providing fragmented encyclopedic information but are weak in “preparing leaders to engage the world through helping the church participate in God’s mission” (p. 38). Schools that focus on knowledge, objective reasoning, and critical research are identified as Wissenshchaft institutions. In contrast, pideia schools emphasize formation and the culturing of the soul as teachers and learners interact in community. The authors downplay the importance of Wissenshchaft in favor of paideia.  

The Missional Church & Leadership Formation is divided into three sections. The first two address missional leadership development in the seminary and in the local church. The third provides helpful insights about actual missional churches. Chapter One, “Theological Education and Missional Leadership Formation: Can Seminaries Prepare Missional Leaders for Congregations?” provides a concise American history of the relationship between the seminary and church in leadership development. Chapter Two, “Missional Theology for Schools of Theology: Re-engaging the Question ‘What Is Theological about a Theological School?’” discusses the dynamic relationship between knowledge and formation. Professors and pastors would profit from rethinking ways to develop missional leadership through an integration of knowledge and formation.

My primary critique relates to the disturbing vagueness of the term “missional church.” The key problem arises from an unclear theology of missio Dei. Is it really the mission of the church to participate in the “whole mission of God”? Partly. But God stretches out the heavens like a canopy, brings out the starry hosts, and calls them each by name (Isa. 40:22, 26). Our mission is only a small part of the mission of God and is primarily seen in the mission of Christ. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). How can missional leaders foster the missio Dei while ignoring the sin-cancelling, reconciling mission of Christ?  

I’m puzzled as to why many missional churches are mono-cultural and seemingly anti global missions. Proclaiming the word of God to the nations is described as “colonizing peoples to Christianity” and imperialistic (p. 121). The writers don’t want missional churches to be mistaken for “the older emphasis on missions” (p. 209). Truly missional leaders must not disregard Christ’s reconciling commission to the Church for all the nations. As a missionary, I found this book helpful for understanding how insiders define the missional church; as a professor, the book stimulated my thinking on how both formal and informal education must be used to develop leaders for the church.


EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 3, pp. 379-380. Copyright  © 2010 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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