The Missional Church in Practice – An Overview and Assessment It is not the Church of God that has a mission, it is the

God of mission that has a Church1 Introduction My location with regard to ‘the missional church in practice’ is as a church planter for the past 13 years, on the south-west edge of London. I am part of a church-planting movement2 that on the one hand predates the ‘missional church’ movement discussion, but on the other sits within the penumbra of this ecclesial phenomena.3 I have, personally and consciously, been situated in both theory and practice as a church planter within the ‘missional’ church matrix. The ‘missional church’, often subsumed within ‘emerging church’, is the subject of an ongoing 10to 12-year-old public discussion.4 In 2008 the emerging/missional church movement was announced by some to have already passed its expiry date.5 Yet some 12 years since the publication of one of the earliest ‘missional church’ works,6 the missional church movement is today able to garner interest and energy for this conference and the publication of new ‘missional church’ works, including the latest eponymous work, Introducing the Missional Church.7 Then we have just seen the third Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization take place, with 4,000 leaders from 198 countries, at which the topic of missional church was high on the agenda.8 At an Anglican event coterminous to Lausanne, Christopher Wright, author of The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative, suggested that the word missional for Church was redundant. He recounted a friend who told him that saying "missional church" is like saying "female woman".9 The title of this paper, and the concern of this missional movement, begs the question: what is and was the missional church? Indeed, this question is one with which the emerging/missional movement has been almost self-obsessed, as can be seen in its production of multifarious taxonomies and critiques.10 Regarding mappings, which I fear often reveal more about the people making them than of the movement itself, I will highlight in this paper some of the more helpful ones. I also offer my own mapping, created from within the movement as a church planter and through my experience of travelling and viewing something of the emerging/missional environment. I offer a typology of its key forms and models, and therein run the risk of adding my obsessions to the emerging/missional church preoccupation of self-classification and ethnographic eisegesis.


Attributed to Rowan Williams, General Synod, 2004 The Association of Vineyard Churches, 3 Vineyard Churches began as a movement in 1982; (accessed 23 August 2010). 4 A claim to the age of the use of this term is made at (accessed 23 August 2010). 5 (accessed 23 August 2010). 6 Darrell L. Guder, ed., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (The Gospel and Our Culture Series) (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998). 7 Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren, Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, why it matters, and how to become one (Baker Books, 2009). 8 (accessed 5th November 2010). 9 (accessed 5th November 2010) 10 A simple Google search of ‘what is the emerging/missional church?’ immediately surfaces some of the almost canonical mappings and overviews of this movement.

Jason Clark

I then suggest an alternative way to understand these models, from my research, situated within the methodological hopes for this conference. I hope that this will stimulate the move from practice to theory, the integration of academic research with on-the-ground experience, for concrete and prophetically inspired missional action (even if that is through the rejection of my diagnosis). I conclude with some staging and signposting of where missional church may need to head in light of my diagnosis. Mapping Missional Church: Whose Typology? Which Archaeology? For my starting point, I have decided not to seek to explicate what a missional church is, or what the nature of the missional church movement may be. Many examples of this are already available, and I have chosen instead to provide a short survey of missional ecclesiologies. I hope this will orient readers to the concrete world of the missional church, whilst also drawing attention to the theories and influences that underlie those manifestations. Some of the taxonomies and typologies of emerging/missional church have become canonized through a Darwinian process of Google Ranking and blog repostings. In the self-referencing online world in which many of these surveys have made their mark, blog time is different from academic time. Referencing an article dated 2007 runs the risk of appearing to draw attention to a book from 1907. However, several articles from inside and outside the missional/emerging community are generally accepted as providing helpful descriptions.11 A quick google will bring you the more apocalyptic and sensational conspiracy-theory critiques. In the present paper I have also run the risk of conflating the terms ‘missional’ and ‘emerging’. These terms are often used synonymously, or rather, missional church is often observed as a subset within the larger emerging-church phenomenon.12 Within the various analyses of emerging/missional church, most seem irreconcilable, and various diagnoses abound.13 Questions have been raised, such as whether the movement is Christian at all, whether it is antithetical to truth and Gospel, a revolution in ecclesiology, a replaying of liberal ecclesial sentiments, a break with the church completely, a turn back to the Great Tradition, the sole hope and future of the church, or the genetic dead-end and logical telos of a bourgeois middle-class Evangelicalism. Many of these critiques marshal arguments that are framed theologically, philosophically, historically, and sociologically. Some are made with care and others with complete abandon for any of those methods, preferring simple polemic. The academic world has produced a surfeit of postgraduate theses with regard to the missional/emerging phenomenon14 and a concomitant flood of related popular books.15 These various mappings require a mapping of their own. In an attempt at this, I suggest that there is a ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ emerging/missional church. There are those who consciously lay claim to be the progenitors of this movement and thereby exclude others and the larger church by their claims. On the other hand, many church groups are clearly concerned with the questions and issues within the missional/emerging milieu. These latter groups are perhaps more ‘unconscious’ in
For instance, Scott McKnight, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church”,, 2007; John S. Hammett, “An Ecclesiological Assessment of the Emergent Church”,; Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique”, 12 See “What Makes a Missional Church?”, 13 As is most likely common to all changes in ecclesiology throughout history. 14 Perhaps started by Pete Ward of Kings College with his thesis in Pete Ward, Liquid Church (Hendrickson Publishers, 2002). 15 One of the most well-known being Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Communities in Postmodern Cultures (SPCK, 2006).


their claim to and use of the term ‘mission’, but they are nonetheless deeply engaged in the epiphenomenon of emerging/missional church. The issues of concern to which these groups attend would include, but by no means be limited to, missional contexts of post-modernity, globalization, secularism, late-capitalist markets, postcolonialism, pluralism, social justice, political engagement, the nature of atonement and the Gospel, and various challenges of post-Christian contexts to discipleship. I propose that it is these elements of concern that cluster together to give the emerging/missional movement its direction, impetus, and texture and are the modus operandi for all things missional. I remember when in 1999, some two years after planting a church, I came into contact with many of these ingredients and challenges and realized that I was no longer a church planter in a country hospitable to Christianity. Instead, I had become a missionary to a post-Christian society. I did not need to travel abroad for mission, because where I was, ‘mission’ had become the context for ministry and church planting. The Missional Church Texture: Streams and Manifestations As various groups have explored this missional context and surrounding issues, many concrete forms have taken shape in response. I highlight a few here as key current ‘streams’ and trajectories of the missional church movement. Many of these streams are interrelated and are not clear delineations between groups, some of which will undoubtedly and understandably take issue with my crude categorizations. a) Social Justice: There has been an emphasis and rediscovery of the mission of the church as ‘social justice’. We perhaps see this within Jim Wallace and the Sojourners Community in the US,16 New Wine/Soul Survivor in Shepton Mallet with fair trade and Tearfund stands, Steve Chalke and Oasis pioneering housing, healthcare, education and youth activities for over 20 years,17 and new foodbank schemes run by local churches throughout the UK.18 David Bebbington described in 1989 how a premillennial Evangelicalism in the UK led to an inability to engage in social justice but a shift in the 1970s from Keswick and others to an amillennial view allowed a pent-up desire for social justice to be released (unlike in the US with its ongoing focus on sin as the target of social action and despite Jim Wallace’s influence at the time). I suggest that there has been a retrieval of social justice within a rethinking of the Gospel for many Evangelicals. Missional: Then perhaps more eponymously, we have the ‘missional’ missional church. Here we find often find practitioners of missional church who lay claim to this term as their raison d’être. In missional groups the work of David Bosch in Transforming Mission19 is often cited with the claim that all of Christianity is to be understood as missiology. Closer to home, the ‘missional’ church takes its impetus from Leslie Newbigin, who on his return from missions, discerned how far the UK had moved away from Christianity, and saw the need for the church to understand itself as missional in response to this change.20


David Bebbington highlights the work of Jim Wallace in the 1970s and its future influence in David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Routledge, 1989), 264. 17 (accessed 22 October 2010). 18 (accessed 22 October 2010). 19 David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Orbis Books, 1991). 20 For a history of that impetus and ongoing resources, see The Gospel and Culture Network, (accessed 22 October 2010).

Jason Clark

Whilst there is a large variety of concrete manifestations within this stream, there is a common desire for the reconfiguration of church structure in line with new understandings of church within post-Christian contexts, along with the need for new leadership paradigms around those understandings. In this regard, the multiple manifestations of missional church is concomitant with the multiple missional context within which the church finds itself. We see a range of missional churches, from Dan Kimball’s large missional church in Santa Cruz,21 in Waterloo, London,22 organic house churches in UK council estates and city suburbs, to the many Fresh Expressions23 of the Anglican and Methodist churches. New/Urban Monasticism: Another configuration of missional church has been the new/urban monastic movement. Within an exploration of the resourcement and renewal of monastic habits and practices, ‘intentional’ communities have taken shape in many homes and neighbourhoods.24 These communities range from the deeply engaging, with high levels of commitment in terms of social justice and political action,25 to facile talk shops where people declare themselves abbots and abbesses. Mega Church: Not often mentioned in missional church plans, I propose that the rise of the mega church represents a concomitant response to the missional church environment. Whether it involves Rick Warren adopting whole villages in Africa for social justice,26 or Joel Olsteen’s personal development megaplex,27 the mega church contains further diversity. Then there is the rise of large churches within cities in the UK, such as Holy Trinity Brompton 28 in London and the Trent Vineyard in Nottingham.29 At the Trent Vineyard, a church of over 1,500 people, extensive activity for mission and social justice is fully integrated within a large church model. Churchless Faith: A post-congregational and post-church movement is a response by many Christians turning away from the Church completely. Alan Jamieson’s work Churchless Faith and James Thwaites’ book Church Beyond The Congregation set the tone for a generation who appropriated their research as a manifesto for a form of church that was ‘outside’ existing churches. Neo-Reformed & New Calvinists: A new strident and confident form of church has taken shape with a riff on a neo-Calvinist theme. This is seen most infamously with John Piper and Mark Driscoll and in the shift by some charismatic Evangelical groups in the UK towards a version of reformed theology.30 (accessed 22 October 2010). (accessed 22 October 2010). 23 (accessed 22 October 2010). 24 For examples and resources on this stream see Scott A. Bessenecker, The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World’s Poor (IVP Books, 2006) and School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism (Cascade Books, 2005) and Dennis Okhom, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants (Brazos Press, 2007). 25 Probably quintessentially represented by Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006). 26 (accessed 22 October 2010) and (accessed 22 October 2010). 27 (accessed 22 October 2010). 28 (accessed 22 October 2010). 29 (accessed 22 October 2010). 30 See Scott McKnight, “Who are the NeoReformed?”, (accessed 22 October 2010) and (accessed 22 October 2010); also see the neo-Reformed theological position papers of New Frontiers, ogical_Papers.aspx (accessed 22 October 2010).
21 22







Et al: Many other interrelated and interconnected multiple expressions within traditional churches subsist alongside and outside existing churches. Evaluating Missional Church Ecclesiologies One way to understand this emerging/missional texture is with regard to political, economic, and social developments. Many emerging/missional responses focus on these for their actions and selfunderstanding. For example, Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost argue for a radical sociological reorientation of church that requires no particular new theological enterprise amidst the maintenance of a conservative theological agenda. Indeed, at the end of their work The Shaping of Things To Come, they present a seemingly complete de-ecclesial mode of church.31 They assert that there is a ‘non-negotiable’ movement of Christology-determining mission around which Church takes almost any form that it wants to. Indeed, they go as far as to claim that to connect the church directly to Christology would mistakenly be ‘allowing our notions of the church’ to determine the mission and purpose of the church, with the result that ‘we can never be disciples of Jesus, and we will never be authentically missional’.32 I suggest that it is this uncoupling of the church from Christology has been the root cause of Evangelical churches’ inability to be authentically missional. Pete Ward’s Liquid Church argues for a correlation of ecclesiology to consumer culture, in which the beliefs that underpin church mission need little change or consideration.33 Perhaps as a juxtaposition and contrast regarding an exploration of beliefs and practices is one from a philosophical and sociological angle, as seen in the popularized work of Pete Rollins34 and Phyllis Tickle.35 In their work, key beliefs of the Protestant Evangelical Church seem to be discarded wholesale. Sola scriptura is deemed unnecessary,36 and the resurrection of Jesus is no longer required as a real epistemological and ontological event for Christian faith and mission.37 Moreover, between these domains of expression there are a variety of other influences. James Thwaites’ book Church Beyond The Congregation38 was adopted almost wholesale by a UK church denomination. For the church to be missional it needed to abandon its Sunday service orientation, or rather the neo-Thwaitians deemed it as necessary. A very senior leader from this church network told me that this agenda had led to the collapse of many of their churches. Most of the people freed from Sunday services either left church life altogether or migrated to other Christian communities. In short, this ‘radical’ agenda for a new missional ecclesiology has often led to very little measurable missional activity and the collapse of Christian practices into the socio-logic of consumer culture.
Hirsch and Frost, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church (Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), 209. 32 Hirsch and Frost, Things to Come, 208–209. 33 An explicit claim made by Pete Ward who says, “The Theology and values of the Church are not up for grabs.” in Ward, Liquid Church, 65. 34 Pete Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God (SPCK Publishing, 2006) and The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief (Paraclete Press, 2008). 35 Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Baker Books, 2008). 36 At the Great Emergence Conference 2008, Tickle spoke of 44 examples of the church turning away from sola scriptura and that it was not a matter of if but when the church rejects this doctrine ( 37 For Pete Rollins it seems that the resurrection does not have to be a real event; rather, he locates from his philosophical context that ‘we’, you and I as the church, are the resurrection as embodied practices and a metaphysical construction. For example see (accessed 22 October 2010). 38 James Thwaites, The Church Beyond The Congregation (Paternoster, 2000).

Jason Clark

This post-congregational idealization of missional church is alive and well in that it is still esteemed for many emerging/missional groups. Yet it seems to find little traction in the real world in terms of mobilizing others for missional activity, and instead relies on the institutional church to resource its activities.39 As all these groups both consciously and unconsciously engage in ‘missional church’ activities, we may better understand those responses as oppositional/reactive or as constructive. However, it appears that the constructive responses are rare. For example, Luke Bretherton points out that many emerging/missional groups (after the bracketing out of political, economical, and social developments) have a number of in-house concerns and manifestations that show these groups to be predominately a reactive subculture to the Evangelical Pentecostal Charismatic movement.40 This is despite the claims of many emerging/missional groups to be radical departures or denouements. Towards A New Missional Mapping? My short introductory critique may appear rather brusque and dismissive of the missional church movement thus far. Yet I remain convinced of the need for ‘missional church’ if the church is to have a vibrant and prophetic future. John Milbank and William Connolly have suggested that Evangelicalism is merely a manifestation and product of capitalist markets,41 whilst others within the missional church movement have criticized their own churches of origin as having been focused on ‘dispensing religious goods and services’.42 Then we have the juxtaposed and contrasting proposal of the normality and essential need to further embed Christianity in the logic of capitalist markets by Pete Ward. Pete ward says ‘I believe that commodification is essential for evangelism’.43 I propose that it is this relationship of the church to modern consumerist and capitalist markets that presently requires the most ‘missional attention’. For whilst many of the preceding missional forms of church have questioned the influence of capitalist markets, they have ultimately fallen prey to its formational forces. By this I mean that, whilst missional churches have attempted to take new and progressive forms, they have largely remained captive to the socio-logic and nature of capitalist markets. If the beginnings of Evangelicalism can be found in the early 18th century, 44 we can see that it made the most astonishing response to a changing world, with new forms of church and awareness of issues of mission, social justice, and political engagement. The Evangelical Church can be viewed as the birth or recovery of a missional mode of church. In order to respond to a world of a people
For example, see Pete Rollins, “Biting the Hand that Feeds”, and Martyn Percy, “Old Dogs for New Tricks? A Critique of Fresh Expressions”, in Evaluating Fresh Expressions: Explorations in Emerging Church: Responses to the Changing Face of Ecclesiology in the Church of England, ed. Louise Nelstrop and Martin Percy (Canterbury Press, 2009). 40 Luke Bretherton, “Beyond the Emerging Church?”, in Remembering Our Future (Deep Church) (Paternoster Press, 2007). 41 John Milbank, “Stale Expressions: The Managerialist-Shaped Church. A Call for the Parishes of England to Rise up against the Powerful Usurpers of Their Canonic and Constitutional Authority”, in Society for the Study of Christian Ethics: The Ideology of Managerialism in Church, Politics and Society (Oxford: Wycliffe Hall, 2007), 1, and William Connolly, Capitalism and Christianity, American Style (Duke University Press, 2008). 42 Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 95. 43 Pete Ward, Liquid Church, 65.

As claimed by David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Routledge, 1989), and Mark Noll, Rise Of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitfield and the Wesleys (InterVarsity Press, 2004).


turned upside down by the Industrial Revolution and economic migration with the emergence of capitalist markets, Evangelicals were willing to relax their forms of church to reach missionally to the people.45 A more recent analogue and continuation of the relationship of Evangelicalism to capitalist markets can be seen in the growth of Pentecostalism in the developing world. David Martin has traced and analysed this growth both in Latin America46 and more recently within a global framework.47 Martin reveals how Christians, under new economic migrations and emerging conditions of capitalist markets, have seen Pentecostalism as a cohesive force able to provide ‘islands of social care’ within the ravages and dislocations of capitalism.
It takes those marooned and confined in the secular reality by fate and fortune, and offers them a protected enclave in which to explore the gifts of the Spirit, such as perseverance, peaceableness, discipline, trustworthiness, and mutual acceptance among the Brethren and in the family.48

Christians used the resources and opportunities of capitalism whilst offering a simultaneous countermove that sought to limit the effects of the markets and reinsert the social in the face of commodification and the dissolution of agency and identity. Yet too often when Christians find themselves more established within changed capitalist contexts, they turn for their identity to the values and aspirations of those markets rather than to a life of lived faith and mutual mission. For ultimately, whilst Evangelicals want to be ‘in the world but not of it’ and ‘in the church’ but not too much in the Church, they ultimately often fall captive to the organizing relationships and logic of capitalist markets.49 For the Church found itself, as it still too readily does, as something that provides support and additional ‘goods and services’ for the construction of a way of life that lies within the imagination of consumer dreams. For if our mode of missional church is made by the relaxing of ecclesial social relationships, we fail to understand that the markets themselves offer ways of ordering our social relationships in response. Or, to borrow the term from Charles Taylor, the ‘social imaginary’ for much of the Christian life still seems to be dictated by the markets and by consumer aspirations than informed by a biblical and missional imagining. To put it more crudely, too often non-Christians may turn to Oprah Winfrey to guide and resource them in achieving the life they want, whilst Christians have Jesus and the church to achieve the same life goals, where Jesus trumps Oprah. I suggest that one way to read much of the missional movement thus far is as a repeat of this process and problem. A correct diagnosis may have been made that church has failed to respond to the new pressures on people of a rapidly changing world. Moreover, the responses offered have sought to provide ‘islands of social care’ in the new online and economic worlds in which Christians find themselves. Yet those responses have perpetuated an old and ongoing problem. Too often they take the resources of the Christian life and dispense them to people to help them achieve a way of life that is remarkably oriented around the same telos and goals of ‘the good life’. I have already proposed that the reason for this ongoing problem is the relaxation of ecclesiology around mission. For unless we can reconnect ecclesiology to Christology, and do so around a missional imagination where the goal of life is to ‘seek the welfare of the city’ (as is the aim of this conference) in the form of ecclesial relationships, missional church will remain largely ineffective and reactive. Without this, we risk mistaking further conversations about ‘missional church’, and
For example, George Whitfield moves his preaching into the open air, with non-Anglicans, and is taken to task for his move in bringing the resources of Christianity to where people are; see Noll, Rise Of Evangelicalism, 11. 46 David Martin, Tongues of Fire: The Explosion of Protestantism in Latin America (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990). 47 David Martin, Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002). 48 Ibid., 71. 49 For an example see David Nord, “Benevolent Capital: Financing Evangelical Book Publishing in Early Nineteenthcentury America”, in Mark A. Noll, God and Mammon: Protestants, Money, and the Market, 1790–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 149.

Jason Clark

books, conferences, and aspirations for missional church, as demonstrating missional church in practice. I make a further modest proposal that, unless we can find ways in which our investment in relationships, where we live, and what we do for our work are given over to a communal life seeking the welfare of people where we already are, we will fail to be missional at all. Like the household codes in the New Testament, can we find ways of living within a missional order in our emerging late capitalist world? Do we have something to offer those crushed by the pressures of a consumer society demanding their time, energy, and money in the construction of a way of life that does not merely support that process – or can we offer them one that provides a lived alternative as ‘missional church’?