19th February, 2013
The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church
Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2011
"If someone wants to know ‘what is missional church really about’ this is a readable and inspiring introduction. For readers already conversant with the conversation or churches already recalibrating around mission, this is a timely measuring grid to evaluate how missional things are shaping now."
Over the last decade there has a plethora of books and articles, churches and ministries that have taken the adjective ‘missional’. But what does it define? And has the word been overused to include more and mean less?
When Forge Mission Training Network closed most of its Australian state bases at the end of 2010, one of the reasons given was that "Forge had done its job because everyone was now talking about missional church". But just because missional books now have pride of place in Christian bookshops alongside John Maxwell and Joyce Meyer, does not mean the church has fully grappled with how to be missional. Even where the church has accepted the prophetic challenge to be missional, it still needs the apostolic guidance on what to do differently.
Michael Frost is one of Australia’s most influential evangelists and missional church activists. Together with Alan Hirsch he co-founded Forge and co-authored the seminal The Shaping of Things to Come. He has also written Exiles and other books on theology of risk, film, sexuality and everyday spirituality. He pioneered the missional experiment smallboatbigsea that has been active for more than a decade. He teaches as Vice-Principal of Morling College and travels internationally to stir up missional action. He is well placed to comment on the essence of what it is to be missional.
In The Road to Missional, Frost recalls the church to be missional in its pure sense, "the wholesale and thorough reorientation of the church around mission". He warns against ‘not-quite-missional’ leadership that accepts an attractional paradigm and adds a certain missional flavour to the ways we do church. To help guide the church to refind its missional center, Frost points to missional indicators for evaluation and new directions. His agenda is explicitly to help equip mission-shaped churches announce and demonstrate the reign of God, locally and globally, and embody mission in the way of Jesus.
The book grapplers with significant issues missional leaders and local churches face: finding new paradigms for evangelism beyond the four spiritual laws, empowering people for mission rather than just offering church members what they want, embracing the humiliation of the cross in Christian living, and moving into a neighbourhood and breathing shalom to a broken world.
A key framework for Frost, drawing on NT Wright, is the Kingdom of God and its reconciliation, justice and beauty. Just like movie trailers give an audience a taste of a film’s special effects and funniest or most romantic scenes, Frost describes the church as like a trailer or taster for the reign and rule of God. Heaven has come to earth, and it is the church’s role to sniff out and point to evidence of the kingdom. Pointing to and fostering the kingdom of God is the role of a church – a missional church – at its best.
Frost’s vision of more, smaller, multicultural, integnerational, hospitable, monastic, liturgical churches will be attractive to many. He critiques the internal orientation and judgmentalism of pietism tradition and challenges readers to be life-givers and fully engaged with their world and cultures. He bemoans any preoccupation with different styles and flavours of church, when the more important issue is dreaming about how the church can change its neighbourhood and the world. The book is worth it just for the pages of practical suggestions on evaluating how missional a local church actually is and planning to map and engage local neighbourhoods.
If someone wants to know ‘what is missional church really about’ this is a readable and inspiring introduction. For readers already conversant with the conversation or churches already recalibrating around mission, this is a timely measuring grid to evaluate how missional things are shaping now.
This review was originally published in Australian Journal of Mission Studies, 6:2 (December 2012), 79-80.
Follow the link to purchase, The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church.
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