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The Missionary Imperative of the Missional Church – the Church as Sent

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series

"Missional Worship"

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Flowing naturally from the idea that God has an overarching mission for mankind, thus rendering that mission God-centered, is the assertion that the church, as one component of that mission, is sent by God to help accomplish the mission. Newbigin saw a natural flow from the idea that mission begins with God’s purpose of reconciling the world to himself the truth that the church is part of that mission:

We who have been chosen in Christ, reconciled to God through Him, made members of His Body, sharers in His Spirit, and heirs through hope of His Kingdom, are by these very facts committed to full participation in His mission to the world. That by which the Church receives its existence is that by which it is also given its world-mission. “As the Father has sent Me, even so send I you.”1

DuBose explains how the very idea of mission is inherently one of sending:

Why limit the meaning of mission to sending? The answer is because that is what mission means. If we are to capture this essential idea, we must be guided by the discipline of that idea. Since mission and sending have essentially the same meaning, we look for its meaning in the message it conveys in Scripture just as we look for the meaning of covenant, kingdom, grace or any other biblical concept through that precise language, at least at the outset.2

Missional proponents will suggest that this conception is a subtle yet radical shift from the way missions has been viewed in the past. Previously, the church considered missions to be one of its several ministries; now, missions is not a component of the church, the church is part of the mission of God. As Hirsch succinctly states, “The church must follow mission.”3 Guder explains, “In particular, we have begun to see that the church of Jesus Christ is not the purpose or goal of the gospel, but rather its instrument and witness.”4

This is inherently communicated in the key definitions of mission or missional formulated by missional proponents. Consider, for example, Alan Hirsch’s definition:

So a working definition of missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes itself around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission in the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true church. The church itself is not only a product of that mission but is obligated and destined to extend it by whatever means possible. The mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith adheres to Jesus. To obstruct this is to block God’s purpose in and through his people.5

In other words, if a church does not understand its essence as being rooted in “sentness,” then it is not a true church.

The idea that the church is part of mission and not the other way around has important implications for how missional thinkers understand the role of the church in its cultural context. God has sent the church into the world, and yet, according to missional authors, the Western church has mostly expected the world to come to it. This is the essence of the church growth movement, as Van Gelder explains:

Approaching the work of the church from a very different perspective, [the church growth] movement focused on reaching persons outside the church to incorporate them into the church. To do so, it intentionally planted congregations within given social boundaries so that persons could meet Christ without having to cross cultural barriers.6

Proponents of missional theology are quite critical of what they call the “attractional” model of evangelism, where churches establish programs and design services to attract unbelievers so that they may encounter the gospel. Rather, the church must go out into the world.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Goodall, Missions Under the Cross, 189. []
  2. DuBose, God Who Sends, 25. []
  3. Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 143. []
  4. Guder, Missional Church, 5. []
  5. Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 82. []
  6. Craig Van Gelder, “Missional Context: Understanding North American Culture,” in Missional Church: a Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998), 73. []