I began reading seriously about the Missional Church in the 90s with books like God’s Missionary People by Charles Van Engen, and The Continuing Conversion of the Church by Darrell Guder. I resonated deeply with their writings and saw many of the things they wrote about being lived out in my ministry while a pastor as well as in the ministry of many of the great churches with whom God has privileged me to work over the past twenty years.

The Missional Hoax?

But in this decade many of the writings on the Missional Church have unintentionally opened up a huge can of worms that many books have exploited. The can of worms simply put is “Is there any validity to the institutional local church?” Books by authors like Frank Viola and George Barna have picked up on the can of worms and have basically denied the biblical validity of the institutional form of the church. I think they have gone too far.

Although I still resonate with much of what is being written today on the missional as well as the incarnational Church (and much of Viola’s material), I’m turned off by the conclusions of many of these writers. I simply refuse to believe that the only missional church is the one that abandons all forms of the institutional local church in favor of informal gatherings throughout the neighborhood.

That’s why I resonate with Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren’s book Introducing the Missional Church.  They don’t throw the baby (the local church) out with the bath water (the missional movement).

I’m a simple person, so I boil books down to their absolute minimum. When I do that with this book, here’s what I come up with – the missional church is one that asks a basic question –“What is God up to in our neighborhood?” rather than “How can we improve what we’re doing so we can attract more people to worship?”

In one of my seminars (I can’t remember which one) I shared this prayer with the group:

“God, show us what you’re up to and run over us with it until we become a part of it.”

In my mind that’s being missional.

Anyone with any sense knows that Christianity is far more than any local church; it is a movement that wishes to transform the entire creation.  And one of the ways it does so is through the institutional local church. Even in the first few centuries before Constantine, local congregations began formalizing the entrance into membership which suggests the beginnings of a formal group of people.

Still, we should take to heart the critics of the institutional church. They have much to teach us about what is wrong with 80-90% of the churches in the West. Those who have followed me over the years know that I was one of the earliest critics of the institutional church. As early as the 70s I was seen by many as a maverick in my tribe (the United Methodist Church). The title of my third book, Dancing with Dinosaurs, clearly stated how I felt about what Christianity had become.  But still I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bath water, and you shouldn’t be either.

Instead we should all take notice of the reproductive movement under way today – churches planting churches and multi-site churches. Churches that reproduce themselves are rapidly taking the place of denominations and will become the norm by the midpoint of the 20th century. Nay-sayers take notice: the institutional local church is here to stay in the West; it’s just morphing into something you don’t understand. So pay attention.

Bill Easum

Question: What do you think about the missional movement? Have you always thought that way? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below.

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