If this is your first venture into the missional conversation—welcome to the journey! While it is a road that many have been traveling for some time, others are just now getting their bearings and are beginning to discover why this is such an important topic for the church in North America. If you are fairly new to the discussion, a word of warning may be in order. Along the way you will learn there will be times of frustration and bewilderment towards outdated and unbiblical ideas; woven together with wonderful times of encouragement, discovery and adventure. Regardless of the bumps, however, you will discover this is one journey that must be taken.
If you are a veteran of the missional literature we hope you will find this book a resource that brings affirmation and additional clarity to your journey. Further we hope you discover The Missional Quest to be unique from other books in the missional genre in at least one way. We have written the book to provide very simple—but not always easy—steps to move an existing congregation in a missional direction.
Over the past several years we have worked with many dying and stagnant churches that have heard whispers from the missional dialogue. A church leader had read something from authors like Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, Hugh Halter, Neil Cole or others, but they just didn’t know how to apply it in their local congregation. They knew there was profound truth in what was being written. They realized the church growth methods upon which their church was built were no longer sound or applicable. They acknowledged that there was a more theologically robust way of understanding mission and the church. And they knew their church must think differently about their place within their community and neighborhoods.
But they wondered how to go about implementing the necessary change. They asked what should be the first step? What church programs needed to be killed? And what new activities did the church need to engage? We believe this book will help you begin to answer those and many other questions you may be asking about leading your church on a missional quest.
The layout of the book is very intentional. The first section is titled Fostering a Missional Mindset. The first chapter is all about how the church should think. The chapter speaks to what we call the theological foundations. As a result of four decades of church growth thinking, most of us have deeply held assumptions about God, church, and mission that must to be challenged, or realigned.
Without such realignment, we run the risk of simply attaching the word “missional” onto everything we are already doing and ignoring the significant changes that are necessary. A genuine missional movement is not about tweaking the way we do church. Instead, it is a complete and thorough recalibration of the way we understand God’s mission in the world and how we are to participate in it.
To employ an often over used phrase, it requires a paradigm shift. A transformation. The hearts and minds of the people in our congregations must be captured by a revolutionary way of thinking and living out the Christian life. And this simply will not happen if we don’t begin the journey with serious theological reflection.
Another way to frame the importance of starting with a theological foundation is to speak of answering the why questions before posing the what questions. Before we ask what should we do—or what are the action steps—we must first ask why? Why does the religious landscape in America seem to be changing so quickly? Why don’t the strategies and models for church growth from the past seem to “work” like they use to? And more importantly, why do we need to reconsider the nature and essence of the church? Why does the church in North America need to rethink mission? Why do we need to change the way we live our lives, individually and collectively as the body of Jesus? Addressing questions like these will prompt us to think both biblically and missiologically. We will begin to think like a missionary. Only today the mission field is not in a far way land, it is in our own back yard.
The benefit to starting with theological reflection is that it is the only way to fully understand the practices we should be engaging. In other words, this must be a theological process and not just a pragmatic one. Without serious reflection on the missionary nature of the church we will not completely grasp the fact that we are all missionaries sent into a local context. Without thinking well on the incarnation of Jesus we will not totally comprehend the crucial posture of humility and sacrifice. Without seriously considering the doctrine of the missio Dei we will not recognize the importance of discovery and discernment throughout our missionary engagement.
With this in mind, we simply encourage you not to move to the rest of the book too quickly. Make sure you understand the implications of each of these theological perspectives. Moreover, make certain the people in the congregation are fully aware of the importance and magnitude of these foundational pieces. Without a clear understanding the changes we make will simply not be sustainable. People will question why the church has started “doing” certain things and stopped doing others. Without unlearning and relearning there is no underlying rationale for change. However, we have discovered that when people are captivated by the missionary nature of God and the church, and they realized that they were created as a sent, missionary people, they are energized to be an active participant in God’s mission.
The second section of the book is title Fostering a Missional Posture—subtitled What Steps are Necessary? In this portion of the book we take eight chapters to emphasize particular missionary principles and practices. Each of the chapters is organized in a way that builds upon the preceding chapter to continuously create momentum for equipping and releasing people into their local mission field. While we have made clear that we believe a rethinking of some core theological assumptions must take place, we also understand that we cannot simply think our way into a new way of acting. As important as chapter one is for moving a church in a missional direction, it is also true that people will never fully comprehend the concepts in the first chapter without stepping into mission as proposed in chapters two through nine. The good news is that as we struggle with the ideas from chapter one intellectually, while at the same time we are engaging in mission in fresh new ways, the learning curve for both increases significantly.
One additional aspect of the book that we hope you will find helpful are the sections we call “Next Steps on the Journey.” Here we provide to church leaders practical suggestions for both communicating missional values and instilling core practices in a local congregation. There is no silver bullet for turning an inwardly focused, self-centered church into one that is fully engrossed in God’s redemptive purposes. But we believe “Next Steps” will give you very specific and concrete ideas for moving in the right direction.
Alan Hirsch is well known for saying to the church in America, “we are perfectly designed to achieve what we are currently achieving.” For anyone who has been paying close attention to the impact—or lack thereof—the church is having on the culture today, the achievement is clearly nothing to cheer about. The church must recapture its missionary identity and activate every Jesus follower to engage whole-heartedly in the on-going mission of God. Our hope is that this book will give you the practical tools to lead the church in getting the job done.
~ The Missional Quest by Lance Ford and Brad Brisco