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Thinking Through Missiology Together

Well, I must say that I am pleased. My MissionSHIFT discussion idea was just that– a (crazy) idea. The first installment was posted yesterday and the comments contain dozens of responses of people thinking seriously about missiology.

Sometimes it seems that everyone wants to talk about missiology without actually engaging in missiology. It is easier to just say, “Well, that’s not missional” rather than to understand the deeper thinking behind much of that conversation. I could not be more pleased with some of the interaction. I think it will bless and stretch you if you will wade into the conversation.

Below are some of the responses from yesterday. I will only excerpt them, so be sure to read each response in its entirety by following the links back to their own blogposts. Others were posted later, so I will add some later. And, I did not include all, just a few highlights. You can find all the links at the original post.

Some provided additional clarification around the definition of “mission.” Michael Kennedy explained:

In my estimation, any definition of “mission” that is not biblically faithful and culturally applicable will be problematic. We should vigorously discuss our understanding of “mission” with great love and humility. This, however, should not be the main focus of our attention. We must put into practice that which we know to be true:

1. The idea of “mission” originated with God when he sent His Son to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

2. God “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) and we are assured that people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” will be present in heaven (Revelation 5:9).

3. Followers of Christ have been entrusted with the message of the gospel (2 Timothy 1:14) and given the mission to make disciples wherever they go (Matt. 28:19-20, Mark 16:14-18, Luke 24:44-49, John 20:19-23, and Acts 1:4-8).

4. Even if we develop a definitive definition of “mission,” followers of Christ must still apply Jesus’ command to make disciples to their daily lives. I am not sure that we need more “head knowledge” as evangelicals as much as we need to put into practice what we already know to be true!

Michael Kennedy

Ricky Kirk gives another “tentative” definition that is worth considering:

For me, the essence of mission is expressed in the following way: it is being sent by the commission of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to make the name of God known among men. It involves presenting the gospel (there is another term that can yield a multitude of definitions) to man explaining that through repentance of sin and faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ at Calvary man can be reconciled to God, forgiven of sin, and subsequently they become sent as well. In the same way that Van Engen presents a ‘tentative’ definition, I do the same. How that ‘mission’ is described and acted upon today very well may be something different tomorrow. Using the very cliched phrase, the message doesn’t change, but the method may.

Ricky Kirk

Like Ricky, Doug wants us not to lose the focus on disciple-making and he wants to keep things simple.

This is likely a severe oversimplification of mission. But nonetheless here it is. When I read the call of Jesus I can’t get past the fact that our mission is to make disciples. Somewhere along the way mission and discipleship had an unfortunate divorce.

Doug Foltz

But, Chuck Huckaby called us to a simpler way… and called out Crystal Cathedral and Willow Creek in the process. (I think he is referring to the “rethink” that Willow took when they did the reveal study, since most would not see it as the same kind of failure that the Crystal Cathedral is experiencing right now.

Perhaps the failure of projects like the Crystal Cathedral and Willow Creek with time, brains, money and those related resources justify an attempt at a spartan missional simplicity like Jesus and the Pre-Constantinian Church?

In studying the Book of Acts, we find an identifiable apostolic “kerygma” – the apostles’ core proclamation of the message of Jesus presented to Jews and Gentiles. It presented the significance of our Lord’s coming and summoned all to repentance and a lifestyle commensurate with such repentance.

Chuck Huckaby

Jeremiah is frustrated that the term missional has become trendy rather than leading to people engaging in God’s mission. I can’t disagree with him.

My view is that missional church is a very sad commentary on the Church as a whole. As Van Engen and many others have said, the church is God’s sent out ones. We are meant, in part, to help bring the Kingdom of God to the world, to our own communities. If we cease to do this we are nothing more than a club. The fact that the term missional church is now en vogue is a disappointing pointer to the fact that we, as the Church in general, have stopped being God’s sent out ones.


Justin proposes that we rethink our theology through a missional lens. In the comment stream yesterday, Caleb Crider pointed out that one of my favorite systematic theologies (Wayne Grudem) includes very little on mission. I know of several such projects in the word that would help with this– some completed and some in progress. Justin writes:

Historically, the word ‘theology’ was rarely used in the sense of unapplied theology until the Enlightenment. Theology then became fragmented into practical theology and spiritual theology. Practical theology became the driving force for the Church movement, whereas other disciplines became as “pure” science. As the Church advanced through the centuries and missionary efforts grew, there came a need to rectify this fragmentation. In the realm of theological education, this was done through (1) studying missions as one of the disciplines under practical theology, (2) introducing missiology as an independent discipline, and (3) incorporating the missiology into other disciplines. Of the three approaches, I find that the third came the closest, although all still fell short of how theology should be viewed. These approaches merely saw missiology as an extra subject or dimension, but failed to realize that theology ceases to be so if not for its missionary nature. Thus, there needs to be a shift from a theology of mission to a missional theology.

Justin Peter

Justin — nice work on the historical perspective. When missiology was “separated” in the European academy, the intent was to elevate its status so that people might see it as a real discipline of study. I am not sure that was a good thing. First, I have to explain it every day (my favorite interaction being with Seth Godin who asked, “Is ‘missiology’ a real word?”) Second, my experience in academia has shown me that when mission is an afterthought in the theological track, we often produce knowledgeable people who are not prepared to engage (and lead others to engage in) God’s mission.

Chad warns us of that very thing and wants to see all of God’s people in mission.

The history of missions lends itself to the professionalization of missions. It focuses churches and organization as sending individuals with others supporting by finances and prayer. This has led to the view that “missions” is something only for a few select.

As I look at missions/missional living I understand that we all who choose to follow Christ are “sent ones. If we apply his definition to this paradigm of all being sent, we can then begin to see missions begin to take off. There will no doubt be those who we send and support, but we must realize that this process does not alleviate us from our responsibility in the process of missions.

Chad Chute

Lilli gets the purpose of the book right. Books like these make us think and she is asking more questions.

To be completely honest, I have been challenged and even somewhat discouraged by the reading. I know that the goal of the book is to pull together essays and responses from some of the leading missiologist of our day and in that regard it is extremely successful. It is an impressive list of contributors. I firmly believe that information is good and by all means necessary, but in many cases, I feel that this book has only led to more questions than answers. I feel that the waters of my mind are more muddied. Maybe, this is the point of the book? To show us just how broad today’s view on the scope of mission is? To show us how far we have to go?”

Lilli Mitchell

But, Lilli and several others commented that it is about action — joining God on mission.

And Aaron wants to remind us about the need for action rather than a dictionary!

The purpose of missions is so simplistic and practical, we need to apply missions before we define it. A church that is outwardly focused will find a variety of missions expressions based off the context they live in, the personality of the leadership, theology and the gifts of the people. The conversation of MissionSHIFT is most helpful in that it creates the desire for more missions laboratories to apply theories. These laboratories may be an evangelical crusade or a social initiative. The important part is activity and action that points people towards Jesus Christ.

Aaron Allison

Marti puts it succinctly: “Do. The. Bible.” Nice.

When my husband and I first met 3+ years ago, he talked about “organic” church, “simple” church, “emergent” church, etc. I’m like “What are you talking about???” It truly sounded like a foreign language to me. In some cases, I still think that. We can get so caught up in language and verbiage that we miss the point entirely. I can boil it down to 3 words. Do.The.Bible. (As taught to me by one of my mentors, Don Coleman.) Do what the Bible calls us to do. Do what the Spirit leads me to do in the way the Spirit leads me to do it…which may be different than what He leads another to do. Do it prayerfully. Do it in accountability with others. Do it as a way of life individually and as THE church, not A church.

Marti Williams

It seems that many people echoed my concern that some of mission will need to be “described” rather than defined. Now, that does not mean we should not work hard and consider the issues. That is the point of the book. But, the most important thing is not that we know all the missiological terms, but that we join Jesus on His mission. Books like these help us to think– and that is why we actually drew together scholars who think deeply on these issues.

But, we need to ask “how?” and “to what end?” do we involve people. We need to “be, do, and tell” good news. And, we need to do it with a discerning eye to scripture and, yes, history.

Ed Roden explained:

As you ground them theologically, how do you make them mission-focused?

People need it described, they need to see it in action. We need to send them. As we teach, we need to do. Start locally – helping out an elderly neighbor with some chores, volunteering at a rescue shelter, helping out the neighborhood school, being involved in a kids program at the local park, helping out at a local hospital, visiting a juvenile detention center on a regular basis.

Ed Roden

We want to see God’s people engaged in God’s mission, but it would be naïve to not consider history. Many who went before us did not do well on these issues and the consequences were great.

This pendulum swing of social action has been noted by historians, but Glen calls it out as a false dichotomy.

I am most challenged by the unnecessary, but seemingly inevitable, pendulum swing between gospel proclamation and social justice. It is a false dichotomy, in my view, which has hampered the witness of ecclesial communities on either extreme. Holistic balance is a better way forward, although it is easier said than done. It cuts to the heart of where I now struggle. How can I enter into community with others in a way that holds dear the mutual vitality of gospel proclamation and practical service? Furthermore, how might I do this in a way that does not exclude the marginalized by requiring them to believe before they belong in community, yet also maintains the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life?

Glen Woods

Glen says it well and asks a good question. And, we would be foolish to think that those who went before us who lost clear gospel proclamation as part of their mission.

One of my favorite thinkers, Milfred Minatrea, agrees with the cautions about losing the gospel to other things. And, I agree with Milfred as he agrees with Chuck!

I respect Van Engen’s conservative word of caution, not that of an alarmist, but of an informed authentic mission practitioner, “In the twenty-first century Evangelical mission agencies are becoming increasingly committed and involved in humanitarian and compassion ministries, children-at-risk movements, and so on. Given these new emphases in Evangelical mission activism, it behooves us to consider carefully how Evangelical views of mission today may be tempted to repeat the same errors made when mission was redefined…” in a previous era. Let us hear the caution and continue with feet solidly grounded in both components of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

– Milfred Minatrea (from the comments )

There is no question that there are issues with which we need to wrestle. We are at a key time in the churches considering how to faithfully engage in God’s mission. Many voices are pointing different directions and, to be honest, some of them concern me.

But, Brad Andrews proposes a solution. Brad calls for “contextual orthopraxy” and it is worth your time to read:

I believe that as we reflect and dialogue on the implications of a Trinitarian grounding for mission, contextual orthopraxy will emerge. These questions strike me as helpful questions to ask ourselves as we use the filter of the Trinity for mission:

-What does the story of God tells us about how God interacts with His people? How does this inform us on how to interact with people?

-How does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus show us how to live in such a way that the Gospel is attractive to those in our spheres?

-How can we pursue the leading of the Holy Spirit to make prayerful, discerning decisions about mission in our contexts?

Brad Andrews

So, feel free to discuss. Do you agree or disagree with any of the things stated. What is your concern about mission?

I know of several books coming out trying to describe and consider mission. This is a good thing and an important subject. But, to be fair, some of what I hear concerns me. Some seem to make everything mission, a mistake we’ve seen before. Others seem to have a polemic spirit. And, to be honest, I’m biased against reading books that criticize churches on mission from those shouting from the sidelines, relatively unengaged in mission. Too many people are merely talking and not doing.

This is a dialogue that is desperately needed and best comes from theologians, practitioners, and missiologists in conversation, all engaged in and committed to the mission of God.

So, what do you think?

I’m in meetings in Chicago today so I will join the conversation later.

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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.