There have only been a handful of books that I have really, really anticipated the release of in the last few years. While there are always new books on the publishing horizon, there are only a select few that I eagerly await for their arrival. “The Missional Quest: Becoming a Church for the Long Run” (2013) by Lance Ford and Brad Brisco was one such book. I had it “saved for later” in my Amazon shopping cart since the day it became available for pre-order online. However, thanks to my friends at InterVarsity Press, I was provided a complimentary review copy in exchange for this honest critique.
While I know that at the time of this writing we are already more than halfway through 2014, I still contend that “The Missional Quest” is not only one of the best new books available for understanding the missional church, but is also one of the best books to date, as an introduction to the theological implications of the subject. Scripturally sound and full of practical advice, I recommend “The Missional Quest” as essential reading on the topic. But don’t just read the book, live its’ message, as echoed from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: Here I am, SEND ME!
Divided into two parts –Section One: Fostering a Missional Mindset (How Should My Church Be Thinking?) and Section Two: Fostering a Missional Posture (What Steps are Necessary?), Lance and Brad spend nine chapters fleshing out what it means for a church to think with missional orthodoxy and live with missional orthpraxy. With back and forth chapters written by each author, Lance and Brad cover relevant themes such as the theology of the missio Dei (chapter one) “Rhythms of Inner Formation” (chapter two), and the missional opportunities presented by post-Christendom (chapter three). It is in these beginning chapters that the authors lay the foundation of a gathered and scattered church, explain the spectrum that exists between attractional-extractional and missional-incarnational, and promote a dependency on the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps my favorite segment of the book is chapters four through seven. Each of these chapters focuses on building authentic relationships and being intentional about incarnational mission. Starting with chapter four “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the authors look at Jesus’ greatest commandment of showing love by creating vibrant communities, ministering to those next door, seeking the welfare of the city, and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Chapter five presents a biblically radical case for hospitality and offers tangible insights to making it happen. Chapter six discusses the value of what are called “third places”, a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his seminal book “The Great Good Place” (1989). Building on Oldenburg’s definition, the authors describe third places as “a public setting that hosts regular, voluntary and informal gatherings of people. It is a place to relax. It is a place where people enjoy visiting. Third places provide the opportunity to know and be known. They are places where people like to ‘hang out’ (p.136). Lance and Brad then cover the eight key characteristics of the conventional third place as defined by Oldenburg and essentially synthesis his work with that of Robert Putnam’s bestselling title “Bowling Alone” (2000) and Peter Block’s “Abundant Community” (2010). While these books are more sociological than missiological in study, with their acumens combined, Lance and Brad do an incredible job at highlighting the church’s opportunity for mission, our culture’s desperation for community, and the pitfalls of individualism that has undergirded our increasing postmodern society.
However, it was chapter seven, subtitled “Small Groups Becoming Missional Communities” that really grabbed my attention during my initial scan of the table of contents. Missional Communities seem to be all the rave right now. And while there have been whole books written on the subject matter (see for example “Missional Communities” by Reggie McNeal, and “Leading Missional Communities” by Mike Breen), there is still some confusion as to how a church can “launch” missional communities out of a preexisting small group structure. In a short and clear definition, Lance and Brad explain that “Misisonal Communities are groups of people who commit to living their lives with devotion of heart, mind, soul, and strength in the three spheres of relationship with the Lord” (p. 153). These three spheres, described by founder of the Vineyard movement, John Wimber as Father, family, field, or perhaps more commonly known as “up, in, and out”, courtesy of 3dm, are basically the Christian’s relationship to God, the Church, and the world. As Mike Breen has noted elsewhere, missional communities are not the end goal in and of themselves. But rather they operate as a vehicle to take people to the desired outcome of “oikos”, a Greek word meaning “household” or in this context, a spiritual family on mission. While Brad and Lance do not use the term oikos in their chapter, they do mention the Greek word “koinonia”, translated as fellowship or more accurately, partnership. They state that “It is a mistake to think of missional communities as groups that do mission together. We prefer to think of them as groups of missionaries” (p. 155). Therefore, they suggest building community around the mission, and providing opportunities for everyone to join in.
After outlining the principles of mutual commitment, accountability, and devotion, found in Acts 2:42-46, they then unpack several of the “one another” passages in Scripture and present the acronym “LIGHT” to help memorize and embody five missional habits. The letters in LIGHT stand for Listen to the Holy Spirit, Invite others to share a meal, Give a blessing, Hear from the Gospels, and Take inventory of the day. Similar to Mike Frost’s “BELLS” and Dave Ferguson’s “BLESS”, Lance and Brad describe how living by the acrostic LIGHT, taken from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16), “becomes the outline for the sharing portion of the group time” (p. 165).
Chapter eight tackles developing leaders, or servant followers, through the discipleship process, raising up and sending out the priesthood of believers, and equipping each and every church member in his or her fivefold ministry of Ephesians four. Finally, chapter nine addresses how to create a new scorecard for “success” in the local church by ultimately asking a series of self-diagnostic questions that measure the missional effectiveness of activity outside of the four walls of the church. Celebrating stories to create a “tipping point” for mission, embracing risk, and prayerfully discerning what God is already doing, are all also parts of “Having a Great Trip”, the heading of chapter nine. Finally, an appendix of the “Sending Passages” in the Gospel of John is included for personal or corporate reflection.
Lance and Brad are thinking practitioners and participant observers who provide an immense amount of wisdom. Through their ministry as authors, church planters, consultants, and co-founders of the Sentralized Conference in Kansas City, I am thankful for the voice and influence of these two in the continuing conversation of the missional church.
In closing I would like to take a moment to recommend all of the other books in the Forge InterVarsity series, especially, “Incarnate” (2014) by Michael Frost and “Sentness” (2014) by Kim Hammond and Darren Crownshaw.