Perspectives of the Missional Church

By Dr. James Furr, President of Houston Graduate School of Theology


What is “Missional”?

Since the mid-1980s, reference to the Missional Church has become commonplace in popular Christian literature. Informed and inspired by the work of Lesslie Newbigin and David Bosch, the conversation in the U.S. surged with publication of The Missional Church in 1998 and the ongoing advocacy of The Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN).

A frequent core description is that the Church is called to join God’s mission in the world. Despite this seemingly simple and shared definition, the meaning and use of the term “missional” varies widely. (The Missional Church in Perspective by Van Gelder and Zscheile in 2011 provides a helpful overview and assessment of this diversity.)


First/Second or Third Person Perspective

Perhaps we can view the distinction as a matter of two emphases and describe them using the literary tool of perspective or “person.”


First or Second Person

For some, missional stresses “the Church’s call to join” with a focus on the mission to which “I” or “we” are called or sent by God. The strength of this perspective is a willingness to declare and demonstrate the gospel in ways that align with our church traditions—evangelism, church starting, social ministries, social justice, etc. The risk of the first and second person perspective is that we may become so absorbed with our programmatic “packaging” of the mission (and its implications for our own well-being), that we attempt to confine the power and direction of the Holy Spirit to that with which we are familiar and comfortable.


Third Person

In a seemingly compatible but often contrasting emphasis, the meaning of the missional church underscores a third person perspective of “God’s mission in the world.” The focus is shifted to God’s nature and mission. While not ignoring human activity, the primary subject is God’s creative intentions and redemptive movement. The risk of a completely third person perspective is that we can become unduly disengaged observers of God’s actions or even conceptual purists rather than pursue the messy realities of faithful discipleship, Christian community, and cultural engagement.


The Full Perspective Spectrum

By embracing the missional church across this spectrum, we can better avoid the temptation to champion one perspective at the expense of the other, as well as the tendency to rant condescendingly about the splinters we see in the eyes of others. Whatever our missional emphases, most of us are still learning the ways of Jesus.


In The Mission of God’s People, Chris Wright offers a helpful clarification and challenge.

So when I speak of mission, I am thinking of all that God is doing in his great purpose for the whole of creation and all that he calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose….But when I speak of missions, I am thinking of the multitude of activities that God’s people can engage in, by means of which they participate in God’s mission….[yet] everything a Christian and a Christian church is, says and does should be missional in its conscious participation in the mission of God in God’s world. (pp. 25-26)


The objective of ATCO (At the Corner of…) is to advocate missional life and leadership in a learning community with a spirit of humility and devotion. Please use this website and sponsored events as resources for your journey as a missional leader.