Church Leadership Foundations, Ecclesiology

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Part of ministry resources on Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal.


Note: This lists several ministry resources on practical theology, all of which are referenced in the index, Theology of Mission and Ministry. places great importance on ecclesiology, the theology of the church. All attempts at church leadership are incomplete without it. Too many renewal models assume ecclesiology at best, and ignore it at worst. This is unfortunate. Church leaders often focus on the mechanics of doing church, and at times become overly pragmatic in adopting the newest methods. These methods are helpful, but healthy renewal should begin with biblical benchmarking on the essence of the church. We must first ask what the church is before we consider what it does. We must ask, “What is God’s intent for the church?” “What is all the activity for?” “Why is all this important?” Questions like these cannot be answered simply through mission clarification processes, many of which are consensus efforts that are only as effective as a congregation’s level of biblical maturity. The best answers to these questions require a serious look at the biblical teaching on the church, and perhaps even a survey of how believers have sought to express God’s intent throughout history. This is the contribution of ecclesiology, theology of the church.

Ecclesiologies come in several varieties, and there are many acceptable ways of classifying them. uses three categories — biblical, comparative, and contextualized. The largest group is the contextualized, which includes many of the missional theologies. Resources are categorized below under these divisions. Be sure and see the list of related topics at the bottom of the page.

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Biblical Ecclesiology

The most basic ecclesiologies are in-depth surveys of biblical material on the nature and purpose of the church, especially as revealed through the New Testament.

Let’s begin with two observations on biblical theologies. First, how a writer uses the biblical text reflects one’s church affiliation. For this reason, some would classify these more specifically into constructive ecclesiologies that represent a particular faith tradition — Catholic, Baptist, Free Church, Anabaptist, Church of Christ, Wesleyan, Pentecostal/Charismatic, etc. There is also the distinction between evangelical, mainline Protestant, and non-denominational discussions. This makes it important to acknowledge where an author comes from.

Second, in one sense, all good ecclesiologies are both biblical and contextualized. If by “biblical” we mean an attempt to mine out of Scripture the teaching on the nature and purpose of the church, most authors do this. Also, each person writes out of and to a specific location or context. This is an unavoidable aspect of theologizing. We all write from where we are. For example, some missional ecclesiologies purposely relate the message of Scripture to current issues of the post-Christendom era. Others simply survey and comment on the witness of Scripture relative to the church, and leave the readers to make their own applications. I have categorized the latter group as biblical ecclesiologies, and the former as contextual theologies.

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Here are a few of the better biblical ecclesiologies, with some comment on the faith tradition of the authors. I have listed them in suggested order.

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Comparative Ecclesiologies

These compare the attempts of various faith groups to desccribe the meaning and ministry of the church. Here are a few examples:

Comparative ecclesiology is very closely related to concept of congregational culture or identity which looks at the sociological and organizational ethos that emerges as each church seeks to live out its mission in a local setting.

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Contextualized (Missional) Ecclesiologies

These works contextualize God’s intent for the church into a specific setting. As stated above, all ecclesiology is contextual to some extent. Some, however, are deliberately targeted at applying the biblical witness on the church to a certain time, location, ethnic group, etc. listings on contextualized ecclesiology emphasize the current missional conversation that addresses the shift in Western society in general and North America in particular away from the religiously privileged era of Christendom’s cultural dominance, and into a period where the church is culturally marginalized. The First Reads below are my top suggestions, followed by an alphabetical listing of other excellent works:

First Reads:

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Other Excellent Volumes:

A closely related concept is Church Identity or Congregational Culture, which looks at the church through organizational and sociological lens to assess the unique personalities congregations develop as they seek to live missionally in their time and place.

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Related Ministry Resources

Other Ministry Resources on Theology of Mission and Ministry:

See Other Resources on Church Leadership and Renewal:

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See Resources on Over 100 Areas of Christian Ministry:

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