Review: Creating a Missional Culture

August 24, 2012

I spend a fair amount of energy thinking about reshaping and forming church communities, and Austin Mustard Seed in particular, for our ever changing culture. I also read a fair amount of books. But of late, that hasn’t meant I read a fair amount of books about reshaping and forming church communities for our ever changing culture.

(I imagine that paragraph was more fun for me to write than it will be for you to read.)

It’s not that I don’t find popular level books about leading churches in the early 21st century helpful. I do. But there have been a lot of them, enough that it could be a full-time job to read them. And as good as many of them are, there is a lot of overlap in the content, requiring the reader to discern the unique nuggets of thought that each author brings.

But occasionally, a book comes along that I thing brings a broad paint stroke of insight to this conversational canvas — a book that invites new directions for each church community to think about and explore. And while I recognize that I’m likely biased because JR Woodward is a friend, his new book, Creating a Missional Culture, offers the kind of new directions to explore that I’m talking about.

JR writes about two primary emphases within Creating a Missional Culture that work alongside each other:

  1. The importance of forming the proper culture within a congregation, and
  2. The value of a polycentric leadership structure, based on the five roles found in Ephesians 4:11-13, in shaping that culture.

JR writes well, drawing you and me into the conversation with him. Though he writes about a leadership structure that is outside the norm for most, one is not left with the impression that they must do it JR’s way or else. Instead, JR’s enthusiasm and passion feels like an invitation to come alongside and explore a new way (or perhaps a forgotten way) of doing things.

I hope JR’s book is read by many church leaders, whether they are in established congregations or newly forming communities. But, my greater hope, is that JRs thoughts will be adapted, challenged and improved as churches see how they work in their unique context.

As is my usual practice for book reviews, here are a few of my highlights that help capture the flavor of the book:

  • I’ve discovered that effective church planting requires thinking about the culture of the congregation.
  • If we want to develop a missional culture, we need to move from a theology of mission to a missional theology, understanding that Scripture is created by people on mission, for people on mission.
  • Paul sees each of these five equippers and the ministries they represent as the “very mechanism for achieving mission and ministry effectiveness as well as Christian maturity.” Paul seems to say that without a fivefold ministry pattern, we cannot mature and become the masterpiece that God intended.
  • The spatiality shift from rural living to urban living has created complexities that demand a team of leaders instead of solo leaders.
  • Part of our job as leaders is to consistently help people remember that we are under-shepherds who, like them, are seeking to follow the Shepherd of our souls, who is the Head of the church. Our approach to leadership should reflect this approach.
  • As we understand and reflect on the social Trinity and allow our understanding of the relational nature of God to shape our approach to leadership, we will become more interdependent, communal, relational, participatory, self-surrendering and self-giving.
  • the five equippers in Ephesians 4 are to be a community of leaders within the community, as priests equipping fellow priests.
  • Structures are theological statements. If our structures mirror “the way of the world,” they will shape us powerfully and unknowingly. Structures must be developed with the theological intent to be a sign of God’s coming kingdom.
  • Four questions will help us understand and shape the culture of the congregation we serve. Narrative—What is God’s calling for our church? Rituals—What are our core practices? Institution—How will we fulfill our calling? Ethics—What does it mean for us to be faithful and fruitful?
  • Thus, if equippers are going to create a missional culture, they need to help the discipleship communities develop communal rhythms of life that reshape our aims, loves and desires toward Christ.
  • Until the congregations we serve recognize that all believers are priests who have the Holy Spirit and the ability to equip others, the church will never reach her sacred potential in Christ.
  • Every church is called to make more and better disciples. When we do this well, we do it together, because disciple making is primarily a communal ministry.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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