Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One
Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2009. 200 pages.
This book by Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren recaps the essentials of the missional church discussion for the newcomer, but the subtitle also reveals a development within this discussion from a previously descriptive to a more prescriptive approach. That is, Roxburgh and Boren, drawing from their experience as church staff have co-authored this book in order “to answer the question of how these important developments [could] become accessible and usable for the whole church” (11).
In the first of three sections, the authors discuss the fundamental assumptions that undergird church practice and innovative church strategies. They point to the biblical narrative of the people of God, who are created by and caught up in God’s mission; this narrative forms the basis for the evaluation of the church. Missional imagination views the church through this biblical lens, seeing a people shaped by the mystery, memory, and mission of God’s “one missional river.”
In Part 2, Roxburgh and Boren describe three conversations that serve as “tributaries” into this river. These include (1) reconsidering context and recognizing the West as a mission field; (2) rethinking the gospel as the missio Dei; and (3) re-imagining church as a foretaste of the redemption to come. The authors promote these conversations as three significant ways in which congregations can move toward a new imagination and also begin to think practically about being missional in their respective contexts.
The third section of the book moves from cultural and theological analysis to pragmatic suggestions that churches could follow to become more missional. Roxburgh and Boren reaffirm their warning against the tendency toward adopting a new agenda or ideal in order to reinvigorate a church. Instead, they encourage local congregations to re-envision themselves and their surrounding neighborhoods with a different imagination, thus creating as many styles of missional engagement as there are missional churches. Roxburgh and Boren suggest a highly detailed process by which a church might move from awareness of their context, to understanding it and evaluating it, to experimenting with new ways of being church in that context, all of which eventually leads to a new level of commitment to their role in God’s mission.
This book largely succeeds in its primary objective to make the important developments in missional church theology “accessible and usable” for local congregations. By proposing a process with steps measured out in years, not months, the authors stay true to their conviction that becoming missional is not about adopting a new vision statement or set of church programs; it is about a long-term change in imagination (28). Their suggestions for implementation of missional theology in a local congregation cannot be more detailed, specific, and prescriptive without betraying such a church ethos.
This may not seem helpful to churches whose expectations of “accessible and usable” are still defined by older patterns of practice. Roxburgh and Boren suggest steps toward “being missional” while some readers may be looking for steps toward “doing missional.” The common complaint that the discussion around missional church consists primarily in “academic ideas” and has no practical value (10) may suggest that some churches are not even interested in the theological rationale behind new practices.
The authors address this theological apathy in chapter 6, entitled “Why Do We Need Theology?” Here they lay out a case for the church’s task of doing theology in their local context. By including a chapter devoted to this question, Roxburgh and Boren must be aware that apathy is a significant problem in North American churches, but unfortunately they do not discuss possible root causes of this condition. Later, they describe a church’s move from a “developmental” stage (simply revising or improving what has worked in the past) to a “transitional” stage (asking more fundamental questions about the nature of the church). However, by not asking why churches and pastors are so reluctant to engage in below-the-surface theological discussion, the authors fail to remove what might prove to be a serious roadblock in the move to the transitional stage.
Introducing the Missional Church includes both the basic cultural and theological reflection that is foundational to the missional church discussion and a practical guide for becoming such a church. For these reasons, this book may be a valuable resource for those just starting to explore missional church ideas as well as those who are looking to advance the conversation into more practical areas.