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Ed Stetzer: What Is Missiology?

What IS Missiology?

technical definition of missiology is “the reflective discipline that undergirds and guides the Church’s propagation endeavors as it advances the knowledge of the gospel in all its fullness to every people, everywhere.”

Here are three ways to consider what missiology is and thus what missiologists do.

First, missiology is an academic discipline.

Not all missiologists function primarily in the academic realm. There are a host of missiologists who function in a more practical way, and some function both academically and practically. But the idea of missiology includes an approach to the work of academics who think about the work of Christ particularly through missions, and then it became more broadly understood. It was Gustov Warneck who is seen as the founder of the discipline of missiology.

Missiology is driven by sound theology.

As I wrote on this previously, “Understanding the purposes of the creator God allows us to gain deeper insight into the longings of men and women as beings created in His image. Missiology is practical theology at its best.”

Missiology also looks at statistical analysis of data and sociological factors in its multidisciplinary approach. My dissertation was on a statistical analysis of 602 church plants looking at their results over a span of four years. I’ve written a theology of mission book. There are statistical, theological, sociological, anthropological, and other disciplines engaged in this work. I’ve done some anthropological study at Asbury Seminary and found it to be incredibly helpful. Missiology as an academic discipline contributes both to our understanding and practice of effective and biblical missions.

Second, missiology asks not only the “how” question but also the “why.”

When I wrote my first book called Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age, I dedicated the book to someone you may not know: Mark Terry. By this time I had planted four churches. Mark Terry was my professor in missiology, so I said in the dedication, “I knew the ‘hows’ of church planting, but you taught me the ‘whys’ of missiology.”

This is what missiologists do. We ask the “why” question.

Third, missiology seeks to help the church fulfill her mission locally and globally.

As the discipline of missiology developed over time it became more about asking the question: If the mission is from everywhere and to everywhere, are there people in the church who can help us to be more faithful and fruitful? Missiology does not exist only for the academy but also for the local church. I wrote:

Missiological research is guided by specific questions aimed at seeking to understand the culture and society in which the church is situated. This research is carried out by formally specified procedures designed to gather, measure, and interpret data. All this work is done with the aim of equipping the church to minister in ways that are not only spiritually meaningful, but also in ways that are situational and structurally beneficial for society as a whole. As a missiologist, I help the church understand what it means to be a faithful presence in this broken world.

The goal of missiology is to help the church more faithfully and fruitfully fulfill the mission God has given to his church. I’ve given my life to this, as have other missiologists who serve the academy and the church.


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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, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and 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 leads the Stetzer ChurchLeaders podcast. Ed is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.