Church Leadership Foundations, Missionally Responsive Philosophies

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Missionally Responsive Philosophies of Church Leadership

Part of the following Ministry Resource Guides: Missional Resources and Church Leadership, Philosophical Foundations. It is part of the site archive, and discusses perspectives that were important to the first edition of the site.

When the first edition of the site was published in 2012, this guide, Missionally Responsive Philosophies, was part of several Philosophies of Church Leadership and Renewal, which also included Church Growth, Emergent/Evaluating-Emergent, and other Missional/Missio Dei. For all the articles in the series, see the index at the bottom of the page.

At the time, two of the more popularly discussed philosophies of church leadership and renewal were Missional/Missio Dei and Emergent. Many, however, did not then and do not now adhere strictly to one philosophy. While still responsive to the current cultural environment, several church leaders integrate their missional impulses with resources from a variety of orientations. I have divided them into five categories:

Note: This is guide is a convenience duplicate of Missional Perspectives 06 – Missionally Responsive Trajectories.

Resurgent Reformed ( Archive)

Mark Devine (Evangelicals Engaging Emergent, 4-46) describeds this group as doctrine-friendly emergent types who shared concerns about the church’s marginalization and the need to contextualize afresh in the current mission environment, but who also strongly affirmed classical orthodox Reformed theology.

In this respect, an organization was formed, the Resurgence Missional Theology Cooperative (similar in many ways to The Gospel Coalition), that operated from a four-point theological foundation (original articulation unavailable):

  1. Reformed Theology – We believe that reformed theology is best described by the “solas” of the Reformation. We love these doctrines because they tell us that we have a glorious God, who’s given us perfect grace, a good book, faith in him, and ultimately the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. (The five solas are sola Scriptura [by Scripture alone], sola fide [by faith alone], sola gratia [by grace alone], sola Christus or Solo Christo [Christ alone or through Christ alone], soli Deo Gloria [glory to God alone])
  2. Complementarian Relationships – God exists in a perfect community; we call this the Trinity. The three persons of the Godhead are all equal in power, glory, and righteousness, yet they complement each other perfectly. The Son submits to the Father, and the Spirit does the work made possible by the sacrifice of the Son. God calls for this kind of community in church government and Christian households.
  3. Spirit-filled Living – The Holy Spirit is often ignored because his work is mysterious and doesn’t fit well into modern systems. But he is powerful. The Spirit comes to soften hearts, give grace, empower the Church for mission, and convict sinners of their sin. We are convicted from Scripture that all Christians are called to live Spirit-filled lives, that is, to live like Jesus.
  4. Missional Churches – Churches are not clubs; they are families that comprise members who’ve been adopted by God. These churches are called to worship God, love each other, and reach out to the people around them with the good news that God loves them and calls them to repent. This means that the church doesn’t exist for its own sake, it exists to worship God and love all of its neighbors in the name of Jesus.

Two examples of the resurgence were Vintage Church and Radical Reformission.

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Missional – Convergent with Conventional ( Archive)

In a manner similar to the Resurgent Reformed, but under a different banner, this was an attempt to blend many of the missional concerns raised by Emergents with an appreciation for “conventional” or established, traditional churches. An example was Liederbach and Reid, The Convergent Church. They used the term “convergent” as a response to “emergent,” with both praise and concern. They said:

“Our concern with the Emerging Church Movement (ECM) lies not with the questions they are raising, the conversations they are generating, or the thinking they are doing. Rather, our concern is with the proper handling of the nexus of cultural relevance and innovation with theological precision and orthodox foundation.” (24)

The authors provided a balanced critique of Emergent, believing it had much to offer as well as dangers to avoid. They also realized that much of the Emergent assessment of conventional churches was justified, though perhaps not to the extent that ECM took it. They attempted to “listen to the critiques and ideas of the ECM while being careful not to reject necessary foundations or truths of the gospel message.” They were “convinced that fresh, relevant, and effective ministry requires a convergence between two paradigms of thought and ministry: so-called ‘conventional’ Christian approaches and ‘emerging’ ones.” (22) They expanded:

We believe that similar to the production of strong alloys in a steel mill, where two metals are melted, cleaned of imperfections, and forged together, an alliance between these two movements is the wisest course of action. Thus it is our thesis in this book that by taking the best of conventional convictions regarding doctrine and truth and gleaning the best from the ECM concerning cultural engagement and relevance, a Convergent Church can be forged that will provide the most biblically faithful and methodologically effective disposition for the Western church. Thus a convergent Christian is less concerned with reacting to what is wrong with the conventionals in their practice or with fussing about where the ECM misses the point theologically than with identifying the strengths of each of these movements and amalgamating them to bring maximum glory to the King of the universe and make the maximum possible impact on the world for Christ. (25)

This spirit of convergence pervaded their text and several other resources on this site, for example Jim Belcher, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional.

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Missional – Convergent with Attractional ( Archive)

This attempted a hybrid approach to ministry that combined the strengths of Emergent and the gains of the attractional mega-churches. An example was the Exponential Conferences, a blend of church-growth theory, exponential thinking, and incarnational missiology into what continues as one of the largest church planting movements. The book by Hirsch and Ferguson, On the Verge, constituted a manifesto of this movement.

Missionally Responsive – Evangelical ( Archive)

These resources were culturally responsive, but maintained a theologically conservative, evangelical, conversionist view of evangelism. They shared this with the Resurgent Reformed, Convergent with Conventional/Attractional, and Evaluating-Emergent (without the polemic). They affirmed Evangelical convictions about the nature of evangelism and offered biblical foundations and practical strategies. They were nonetheless missional in the sense described by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson:

In its simplest form, the term “missional” is the noun “missionary” modified to be an adjective. Missional churches do what missionaries do, regardless of context. …If they do what missionaries do — study and learn language, because a part of the culture, proclaim the good news, be the presence of Christ, and contexualize biblical life and church for that culture — they are missional churches. (Comeback Churches, p. 4)

I suspect Van Gelder and Zscheile would have catagorized these as “discovering missional” or “utilizing missional” (see their review in Missional Church in Perspective, 72-75, 83-84).

There were at least three representative streams of this trajectory. The first reflected a more classic Protestant perspective with Evangelical overtones, such as Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. Dever, John Piper, D. A. Carson, and others are part of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals led by Ligon Duncan. Currently, the Alliance currently expresses their faith commitments in the Cambridge Document, which is linked in the “About Us” section of their website. An earlier articulation (no longer available) expressed their purpose:

The purpose of the Alliance’s existence is to call the Church, amidst a dying culture, to repent of its worldliness, to recover and confess the truth of God’s Word as did the reformers, and to see that truth embodied in doctrine, worship, and life. …Since 1994, the Alliance has been an association of evangelical pastors, teachers, leaders, and Christians committed to the great evangelical consensus arising from the protestant reformation, working together for the recovery of the biblical, apostolic witness of the Church. It fosters a collaborative movement of reformed evangelical Christians, to promote robust, biblical, historic, confessional Christianity through media, events, publications, networking, and more. It has encouraged the Church to evaluate its message and methods, according to Scripture. It has warned the Church against false doctrine. It has advocated for sound doctrine, warm piety, catechetical instruction, biblical worship, faithful cultural engagement, and scriptural methods of evangelism and church growth.

The Alliance still exists, and shares characteristics with The Gospel Coalition. The two organizations are not formally linked, and are different in some respects, with The Alliance being the more polemic of the two. But there are enough similarities that some authors identify with both groups. Neither of these two saw themselves as closely aligned with the missional movement, or had any affinity with the emergent conversation.

A second stream arose out of the research-based Effective Evangelism approach that while more substantive than the older church growth genre, operates on many of the same assumptions. Examples are Alvin Reid and Thom Rainer, Evangelism Handbook, as well as Rainer’s The Unchurched Next Door. A small number of these were academic overviews of the beliefs and practices of evangelism, such as Thomas P. Johnston, Charts for a Theology of Evangelism.

A third, and perhaps the largest group of this genre, were simply evangelical in the broad sense, such as the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship reflected in Will Metzger, Tell The Truth. Another volume edited by Scott Dawson, Complete Evangelism Guidebook, included authors ranging from campaign evangelist Luis Pulau to apologist Josh McDowell.

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Missionally Responsive – Eclectic ( Archive)

Many resources recommended on are not aligned with Emergent/Evaluating Emergent, Missional-Missio Dei, Resurgent Reformed, Missional-Convergent, or Conservative Evangelical. They are more eclectic and have a wider appeal. At the same time, these volumes are indeed missionally responsive, taking seriously the challenges of our current culture, offering reasonable critique of conventional approaches to ministry, and suggesting new and better paths for greater effectiveness.

These resources are not fundamentally theological in nature, and as such probably fall into Van Gelder and Zscheile’s categories of “discovering missional” or “utilizing missional” (see how they affirm the strengths but also offer helpful critique to these understandings, Missional Church in Perspective, 72-75, 83-84)

As examples, a group of began in the early 2000s, the Columbia Partnership, which published a very usuable series of books, The Columbia Partnership (TCP) Leadership Series, published by Chalice Press. The Senior Editor for this series was Dr. George Bullard, who was also Vice President and Strategic Coordinator of the organization.

Another batch of literature I would place in this category was that produced by the Alban Institute (now published by Rowman and Littlefield). and operating under the auspices of Duke Divinity School. They continue to produce research, training, and materials for the improvement of congregational life. While most of their literature addresses mainline Protestant settings with denominationally organized polity and liberal theological and social orientations, they write with sensitivity to all faith traditions, and contain valuable insights that translate well into other contexts. It is rare for me to conduct a class session or consultation in practical ministry without recommending one of their publications.

For more articles on missionally responsive resources, see the Related Areas below.

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Related Ministry Resources

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