Missional Journal Vol. 2 No. 3 – When Missional is Not Helpful

What do you think?  Have missional leaders sent the wrong message?  Have we pushed people away by conveying an attitude of superiority?


9 Responses to Missional Journal Vol. 2 No. 3 – When Missional is Not Helpful

  1. Mike Keatley says:

    I have to admit that I have had this response when speaking about missional church. Some people feel that folks who tend toward postmodernism view themselves as somewhat intellectually superior. It is a bit challenging to get people to try and understand their own context without coming off as superior because what you are implicitly saying (spoken or not) is “here is something you may not have understood before”. The typical response being “that my current understanding is just fine…thank you very much!”

    I have to say that in this regard Brian McLaren has been an example of humility and openness. He is not defensive and is respectful of others despite some rather non-generous (pun intended) things said about him.

    On the other hand I have recently (this week) seen how some evangelicals come across as extremely smug…it is really distasteful and disrespectful. I know that in the past I have been this way as well. Now seeing how self-righteous it is, it makes me want to hide in embarassment from some of the things I have said and done. God please forgive me.

  2. memrob says:

    Since “missional” has become such a buzzword it might be helpful to qualify the term, and I think you’ve made steps in the right direction. If it means being disaffected and dismissive toward everything that has gone before (and for some the term has come to mean precisely this) then it is unhelpful.

    Where “missional” has been helpful is in reminding us to re-examine assumptions. Too often we have assumed our theologies and methodologies are supra-cultural and universally applicable rather than humbly acknowledging that they are formed by our own cultural background.

    The prescriptive is not to dismiss everything that is culturally formed and instantiated, but to examine it. There may be some things worth dismissing, some worth cherishing, but regardless it is valuable to understand our assumptions so that no matter what course God may be sending us on, we can do so with full intentionality and cognizance and humility, recognizing our own fallibility and temptation to seek our own agenda. We are often too prone to simply act viscerally and proceed on auto-pilot, rather than seeking God’s vision for this church in this place at this time manifesting the eternal truths of Jesus Christ, and proceeding on the basis of knowledge. We know our knowledge will not be complete, but we should seek to know those things God has chosen to reveal to us.

  3. Keith Harris says:

    The use of Bob Dylan lyrics is telling. It is a perfect illustration for the dangers of the reform movement that is “emerging” in the church today. The 60’s generation was sincere but flat out wrong on a number of levels bringing grave consequences (drug abuse, sexual immorality and anti authoritarian attitudes in general) upon society that plague us still. A reform movement, however well intentioned or sincere, that does not know where it is going or ought to go is a dangerous thing.

    What makes Christianity glorious is that it gives us timeless truth as a foundation to build on contained in God’s Word. And incidentally, it provides the only basis for real humility because it is not a product of my own wisdom in reading the latest cultural winds. I find it disconcerting to see Dunbar quote Roxburgh to the effect that clear answers are impossible to come by in the period of flux before us and that all that matters is that we discern the right questions. Christianity took the world of the first century by storm precisely because it gave authoritative answers in a world of religious flux much like our own. God has made the “unchanging nature of his purpose very clear” so that “we might have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Heb. 6:17,19) The bold proclamation of that truth is not triumphalism. It is faithful obedience.

    All the true reform movements I see in the Bible are reforms back to the unchanging truths of God’s Word, not accommodations to the cultures in which they operated. The wisdom of the apostles and prophets lay not in their ability to predict where their cultures were moving to, but in recovering God’s unchanging Word. And their response was not dialogue or discussion but faithful and courageous proclamation

    The word “missional” is not necessarily a bad one. But quite frankly I am becoming tired of it. I would be much happier going back to “biblical” as our defining label. It is not possible to be truly biblical without also being missional. But it is entirely possible to be missional without being biblical.

  4. Dave Dunbar says:


    You wrote:

    “The wisdom of the apostles and prophets lay not in their ability to predict where their cultures were moving to, but in recovering God’s unchanging Word. And their response was not dialogue or discussion but faithful and courageous proclamation.”

    This feels like a false dichotomy: either dialogue or proclamation; either cultural engagement or an unchanging divine Word. How about dialogue AND proclamation, or cultural engagement in light of a true word from God?

    This is exactly what I see in the NT. Take the book of Acts: the Jerusalem apostles initially assume that a Jewish Messiah is for Jews (with perhaps a few Gentiles thrown in for good measure–at least if said Gentiles will accept Torah). Even on these grounds Peter struggles with going to the house of Cornelius.

    But when it becomes evident that the church is about to be flooded with Gentiles, it creates a crisis. This is both a theological crisis and a sociological (cultural) crisis. How does the church handle this? By a big meeting with lots of conversation/dialogue. True, they also appeal to scripture, but it is not really a direct appeal, because the OT did not speak directly to the new cultural situation of the increasingly Gentile character of the church.

    Nor did the so-called Jerusalem counsel produce a definitive answer to the problems (although it made a crucial move in the right direction). Various letters of Paul (Galatians, Romans, Ephesians) took the discussion much farther. But clearly, there was no simple “recovery” of God’s unchanging Word. Instead, the church takes its current experience (dramatically “discontinuous change”) and learns to re-read the OT narrative in the light of what they discern is a moving of the Holy Spirit (“it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”). Before the Gentile influx, most of the apostles assume they know quite well where the OT story is headed, but they didn’t.

    And Keith, can you really apply your analysis to great renewal movements like the Reformation? Do you think that Luther knew where he was headed when he posted the 95 Theses? Hardly! But the religious and cultural climate of the late middle ages created a set of problems that led Martin to a re-examination of the standard ways of reading the Bible and from there to a major reworking of theology and ecclesiology. And he did NOT know where he was going, but he did know (some) of the most important questions.

    I think we are in that kind of day.

  5. Keith Harris says:


    Thanks for you response. However, with all due respect, it seems to me that your illustrations support my point rather than contradict it. The Jerusalem Council was hardly an open-ended dialogue that anticipated generations of conflicting opinions before a definitive statement could be rendered. The Council came to definite conclusions almost immediately and the aftermath as we have it in Paul’s writings was hardly a ‘dialogue.’ (cf. Gal. 1:9-10)

    And though I never mentioned Luther and the reformation (I referenced only reform movements in the Bible – I had in mind reforms under Hezekiah, Josiah, Nehemiah, etc. that grew out of a recovery of biblical teaching), I think that it also illustrates my point rather nicely. What gave the reformation its impetus was not Luther’s ability to read the cultural landscape of his day but his recovery of the principle of sola scriptura. You are right that Luther did not know where things were headed when he posted the 95 theses on the door and I’m glad that he did not make that the focus of his life’s work. He labored rather to recover the true meaning of God’s Word. The rest is history.

    You are of course right that we should not make a false dichotomy between cultural engagement and proclamation of God’s Word. We all make certain accommodations to the culture so as not to throw up barriers to the gospel. But you know as well as I do that if all we were talking about here were styles of music, or the use of modern technologies there would be no controversy here. Nor is the concept of a church reaching out to its community a new idea – call it ‘missional’ if you will. The problem is that so many of those who fly under the banner of ‘missional’ or ‘emergent’ have made such concessions to postmodernism as to undercut the very foundations of biblical truth and authority. What grieves me is not the arrogance of missional leaders but that the leaders of the seminary seem to be oblivious to the errors that have crept in under the guise of being culturally relevant.

    What our culture needs desperately is not more uncertainty and dialogue but the bold and confident assertion of God’s truth revealed in Jesus Christ.

  6. Chris Nickels says:

    I’m sorry Keith, but I can’t follow your arguments here. And if I’m misinterpreting anything, please let me know. Did the Jerusalem council really come to “definite conclusions almost immediately”? Was it “hardly and open-ended dialogue”? To me it seems to be all about conversation, and I love how they explained the result: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (15:28). The words that come to mind when I read this passage are community, conversation, prayerful, and humility (it “seemed”-that’s so honest!). They wrestled with scripture, tradition, and stayed in dialogue with each other and the Holy Spirit, and moved forward with a sense that they were doing what Jesus told them they could do (bind and loose). I find it to be a pretty amazing text, and feel that it includes some practices that I wish more of our churches would emulate in our own meetings and decision making process. It challenges me to be more humble and prayerful in how I am serving Christ. But I think it devalues what happened at the council if we don’t acknowledge their faithful struggle to make important interpretations that would affect this community going forward. And if they struggled together to work out aspects of the faith (how culture is engaged, how the good news is communicated, etc), we probably should probably be trying to do the same things as well.

    Part of the conversation regarding postmodernity and faith is the realization that we all come to the texts of scripture (and other things as well) with our own set of lenses. We view things differently, and draw conclusions or have opinions in accordance with this reality. And everyone does this…not just postmoderns. That doesn’t mean that missional or emerging Christians reject absolute truth (though we are often accused of this, along with a laundry list of other errors!); it simply means we are trying to be real about how we interpret reality and communicate God’s truth. I am in conversation with a number of “emerging” Christians and rarely do I find any who are “arrogant”. And we have to be careful that we don’t put that kind of label on those who have other views. That’s one of the challenges of true dialogue and conversation. Missional Christians are simply asking some good, honest questions. I’m ok with that, because I think God is big enough to handle any questions we have about him (and Jesus seemed to be pretty fond of questions). If we were better at dialogue within the church, I think we might be less inclined to put up our defenses so often. And I think that folks on all sides of the debate would have a much greater sense of respect for one another (another element that seemed to be present in the account of the Jerusalem council).

  7. len says:

    One of the things that has struck me of late in addition to the multiplicity of lenses is how the starting lens influences the outcome. So, in terms of this conversation around the gospel and culture, some begin with a church lens, others with a kingdom lens. Where you start makes a huge difference on where you come out. But its also intriguing that when we are really open to new information (desperation seems to help, but not always) and prepared to suspend the leap to new answers, we soon discover partners on the journey and that leads at some level to an interpretive community. At some level theological reflection really is a body task, and it requires a willingness to release control and give up our previous mental models in favor of joint discovery. As Auden put it, “The Christian Church came into being at Pentecost. The gift of the Holy Spirit on that occasion is generally called the gift of tongues, but it might equally well be called the gift of ears…”

  8. Gerald (Jerry) Landis says:

    A brother at the chapel in Orlando, Florida told his grandson something like this,
    “Son. I am happy you are going to seminary. This is something I could never do ..
    but please do not get a BIG HEAD!”

    This brother is now home with the Lord as is my father. His grandson now
    is in the ministry and has a website on the internet.

    THE BEST LOCAL CHURCH WAR is fought “over and over again.”

    We see many churches who claim to be best or at least the most “Biblical”
    NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE MEETING in that particular city or area of town.
    Many denominations and nondenominational “denominations” claim to be
    the “best church” in town.

    I have driven past many good Bible believing churches when living in N. Atlanta
    and now living in the Orlando area because I enjoy the weekly BREAKING OF
    BREAD MEETING or the Lord’s Supper times of worship. Hopefully I didnot
    look down on these other churches where other brothers and sisters choose to
    worship. If I did, than I was guilty of a bad Christian attitude. I love this hour
    of worship and remembrance and try not to miss it when at all possible.

    My one question is at least in the “missional church models” I have seen they
    donot have this meeting and other meetings found in Acts 2:42 and Acts 20:7.
    The history book of the Bible tells us the Believers met together for worship at the
    Breaking of Bread and than Paul preached the WORD OF GOD unto them.

    If we are going back to the New Testament truths to me this meeting should
    be part of our weekly church times. Preaching and exposition of the Scriptures
    in my humble estimation is not really a worship service. Very few churches
    have a weekly Lord’s Table where any brother who loves the Lord is free to

    Frankly the term “missional” is new to me and I donot understand it. The idea that
    the CHURCH is the people and not the building definitely is Scriptural.

    Are churches who hold to the “missional model” actually Vineyard style fellowships
    in disguise with out the name Vineyard on the signpost? They may not hold the
    same Vineyard doctrines but they have a certain style of worship with the
    big band and praise music teams having one GIANGATIC SERVICE on
    Sundays and small groups.

    Churches are judged by their Bible teachers. The one teacher I saw on your list was supposed to be pushing un Biblical doctrine at least according to
    DAVID CLOUD’S WAY OF LIFE website. I donot agree with everything Mr.
    Cloud writes but his website challenges your thinking on contemporary church
    issues. I have seen others question this teacher also in Christian magazines
    and websites who was part of your “missional church conference” (if I read your
    website corectly).

    The two teachers on THEchurch which influnced my thinking were WILLIAM
    MAC DONALD and R.K. CAMPBELL, both which are home with their Lord.

    We need to be planted in some local NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE MEETING
    and it is our responsibility to choose the “best independent Bible Church”
    as close to the Scriptures as we can find. iI may not be a so-called Bible Chapel or Gospel Hall which I might feel is a good New Testament church choice.

    Are the teachers of the “Missional church movement” seeking to go back
    to the Scriptures or are their promoting doctrines and teachings which are
    not Biblical?

    Hopefully I drove past other good Bible believing fellowships not because
    where I do to is superior but because the group I have chosen is the
    most Biblical.

    Churches for years have split over personalities and issues but hopefully the
    new church will continue to be Scriptural andd Biblical. Pastors and elders
    see people leave churches for many “stinking reasons” which is not a part
    of our discussion here. Do we leave a church for a Biblical reason? Personally
    I donot feel it is wrong to leave because of issues over personalaties. We need to
    be at peace for SUNDAY WORSHIP.

    THE BEST CHURCH WAR will never stop and we will have to wait until
    we get to heaven to see many issues solved.

    By the way, “My father did enjoy talking to you on that Wednesday prayer meeting

    I am just a “little brother” and never will be a “doctor of thelogy” like you ..
    Hope neither of us are guilty of having a BIG HEAD and are puffed up.”
    Probably I will never become a doctor of theology in my old age but I will
    continue to be enrolled in my own Caleb school of the Bible until He calls
    me home. There are many good Chrtistian books and websites out there.

    I am assuming neither of us are guilty … Hope to see you some day in heaven.

    My sister and her husband do like their Vineyard fellowship out west,

    Thank you for sharing your Biblical education with many around the world.

    We have the responsibility to find the “local church” in our area which is
    closest to THE BOOK and to be BIBLICAL, Do we have a choice over the
    BIG CHURCH MODEL or whatever church model or do we follow the NEW
    TESTAMENT BIBLE MEETING model for the local assembly?

  9. After reading the article, I just feel that I need more info. Could you share some resources ?

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