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Ed Stetzer: What Is Missiology?


As I start my time at Outreach Magazine and ChurchLeaders.com, I wanted to explain a bit about what I do as a missiologist and what missiology is.

The gospel message never changes.

We can’t improve upon it.

It’s the once-for-all hope for humanity.

Cultures, however, are ever-changing. Communicating the gospel in a timely way in a given cultural context matters even more in a time of rapid change like today. Therefore, an ever-present reality for the church — from pastors and staff, to leadership in denominations, networks, and movements, and including all believers — is becoming more effective in communicating the gospel in a given culture. This is why the work of missiologists and the field of missiology matter so much. But what do we mean by missiology?

And what is the work of a missiologist?

What Missiology Is NOT

Let me start by describing things missiologists are not, though people often assume these traits describe the work of a missiologist.

First, missiology is not simply giving an angst-driven look at current church norms.

Sometimes missiologists are perceived in this way because they are constantly asking questions about how we can most faithfully and fruitfully engage in God’s mission in this time. When we ask these questions, we sometimes find that the church is not being so faithful or fruitful. Most of us would rather see our church through rose-colored glasses than really assess how we are doing. When the church is not being faithful at living an embodied mission or being fruitful in seeing people come to Christ, some may perceive missiologists who ask hard questions about these issues as being angst-driven. No, they are simply doing their job.

Second, missiology is not merely being critical of what doesn’t work in the church.

Criticisms about the status quo can certainly arise when questions about faithfulness and fruitfulness are asked, but the work of missiology in service to the church is not the same as that of a film critic to the theater. Missiologists don’t only critique other models; they critique those they advocate as well. For instance, if you are an advocate for the micro-church, you won’t merely criticize megachurches. Or perhaps you have a number of criticisms of multisite. If you don’t also demonstrate the capacity to be self-critical of your own model for the purpose of greater effectiveness and faithfulness, you aren’t doing the work of missiology; you are just a critic (and the quota for critics has been met).

Missiology looks at all models and seeks to help them to be more biblically valid and practically effective.

Third, missiology is not the same as evangelism.

Missiology is an academic discipline that studies Christian mission. Evangelism is telling people about Jesus, whereas missiology is understanding them before we tell them, understanding them as we tell them, and understanding them as we shape a Christian community that flows from the gospel we are sharing as we evangelize.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches; trained pastors and church planters on six continents; earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates; and he has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the Editor-in-Chief of Outreach Magazine, and regularly writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves at his local church, Highpoint Church, as a teaching pastor. Dr. Stetzer is currently living in England and teaching at Oxford University.