The Missional Church

Sometimes folks have said they’d like to listen in as I talk with customers about books. Well, actually, not too many folks have said that, but I imagine they might.
Thought you might like to see a list I compiled for a friend, an administrator in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The leadership of the Synod he serves has been thinking a lot about
The Missional Church by Darrell L. Gruder and other similar books in the “Books and Our Culture network.” See here or here for some info about that movement, and here for some articles to download. He asked me to offer a list of other titles that might be more accessible and useful for ordinary pastors and other congregational leaders. As you can see, I spent a couple hours putting together my response.
There are books that are important to Gruder’s project—one immediately thinks of Leslie Newbigin (anything of his, really) and his spectacularly influential and wise book
The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society and the important work of George Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder. And there are plenty of other really good books on the church of various sorts, some that I wish I had space to tell about, even if they aren’t a part of that gang. But here, I am, remember, answering a specific question, for a certain customer, serving in a certain context. Pray for customers of ours like this, and other church leaders, that they might get good resources and inspire their pastors to read more deeply and start book discussions and reading clubs if they haven’t already. I am convinced that paying attention to these kind of books can make a difference. Maybe you might copy this or forward it to somebody you know who might find it interesting. Am I foolish to think that a simple bibliography can make a difference??
Anybody care to comment on any of these? On
The Missional Church that started the whole question? Wanna order anything?
So here is my reply. Hope you enjoy eavesdropping…
Dear friend,
Thanks again for asking for some book ideas. It is a real honor to suggest some things for denominational leadership like yourself and I hope that a couple of these books might prove fruitful. There are oodles of books IÕm excited about at any given time, so your question helps me focus on a special few. Let me know if you want to talk further about any of these.
So, to your question:
Treasure In Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness Lois Barrett et al (Eerdmans) $18.00 This is the latest in the Ã’Gospel and Our Culture networkÓ books and it is by far their most accessible. I like all of those, by the way—Confident Witness, Changing World is especially useful since it is a collection of essays. A congregation study group could pick and choose the chapters that they found most useful.
What is so great about Treasure in Clay Jars is that is focuses on nine congregations, showing what a missional church looks like. The foundational work is Gruder and the missional church vision, but each of these congregations are living it out in their own unique setting and context. This examination of what makes these churches tick is informed by solid theological reflection but the case study approach makes it very practical in nature. Nicely done.
By the way, the ÒGospel in Our Culture networkÓ book that was released last year, Storm Front: The Good News of God by James Brownson et al is shorter than the others and a touch feisty. It really does make the claim for GodÕs reign being the fundamental context of our contextualized ministry. It isnÕt quite like Resident Aliens or, the one I liked better, Where Resident Aliens Live but it does highlight the uniqueness of a commitment to the gospel in a pagan culture. It, too, would make a good, accessible study to get the over-all framework and vision of this kind of thinking.
Shaped By GodÕs Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches Milfred Minatrea (Jossey-Bass) $23.95 Gruder himself as a hefty quote on the back of this, but perhaps Carol Davis says it most clearly: ÒMinatrea has distilled the essence of what it means to be a missional church. The insightful summarization and articulation of distinctive practices can be the launch pad for every courageous church leader who wants to bring Kingdom impact to their world both locally and globally.Ó A wonderful invitation to an outward focused pilgrimage.
The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church Diana Butler Bass (Alban Institute) $17.00 I have reviewed DianaÕs great memoir, Strength for the Journey, at our website when it came out a few years ago and raved about her way of telling her own faith journey in light of her experiences in the parishes of which she was a part. Here, she teaches about the new configurationsÑespecially rejecting the old and unhelpful Ã’liberal vs conservativeÓ dichotomy—in creative congregations that dare to root themselves in the tradition and yet be innovative and culturally savvy. An excellent book, especially for those of us working for renewal within the mainline traditions.
By the way, if you want missional, IÕd encourage you to struggle with the powerful little book she wrote a hear ago called Broken We Kneel which is an extended essay on church/state stuff, pacifism, patriotism and being responsible civic citizens who are firstly loyal to Jesus. The narrative drive of this little book is from her experience after 9-11, when she worked as a spiritual director at a Northern Virginia Episcopalian church, and, after much dialogue, discussion, pain and discernment, felt she had to leave over the issue of flags in the sanctuary. I reviewed it in my monthly book review column when it came out a year ago . That certainly raises one of the big missional kinds of questions, doesnÕt it? Highly recommended.
Diana is not only a good writer, but a clear communicator and she will be at the State PastorÕs conference this November so get folks talking about Bass and help push her lectures at that Harrisburg conference. We never have enough Presbyterians at that, anywayÉ
By the way, there will be a bit of a theme of the emergent congregation movement, too, this year, as they tap into younger (post) evangelical, postmoderns doing hipster ministry in new forms. (The new congregation that Pittsburgh Presbytery sponsors, pastored by a team including my good friend B.J. Woodworth, is one of those Ã’new kind of ChristianÓ kind of projectsÉ) In that whole arena there are plenty of great new books, but perhaps the most useful for thinking about change in the local congregation is Brian McLarenÕs The Church On The Other Side. A new book from England, Emergingchurch.intro by Michael Moynaugh (who wrote Changing World, Changing Church) may be the best starter book on that movement—and that emergent conversation is always citing Newbigin, Guder, using the language of missional churches, etc. MoynaughÕs may be really useful for congregations of all sortsÉ
Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence & Power Graham Standish (Alban Institute) $18.00 I suppose you kow Graham (from Zelionople) and his several other books. He is known as a powerful organizer and a good spiritual director and here he combines in good fashion a variety of streams, helping congregations become balanced, passionate and full of vision. This has very, very good endorsements and will become highly regarded, I’m sure. Very nice.
The Community of the King Howard Snyder (IVP) $17.00 There may be other books like this, but I so like this new revision of a classic. What is really good about this Wesleyan author is how his work resonates with a Reformed vision, too. He maintains that GodÕs work in the world can be understood most fundamentally as the reign of Christ over His worldÑthe Kingdom of God. The church is centralÑliterallyÑto that vast, healing work, but the church is not quite the same as the Kingdom. The Kingdom is God’s shalom breaking out through Christ in every zone of life, so it entails laypeople being equipped to live out their faith in work, citizenship, service, neighborhoods, whatever. The community of faith is nurtured by intentional relationship and God-centered, Kingdom-oriented liturgy, so the church becomes the launching pad, if you will, for whole-life discipleship of a Kingdom sort. It emphasizes the missional character of the local church, the need for renewal that is more organic and less institutionally structured, and calls for Kingdom-centered congregations. I love this book!
A conservative PCA guy (Reformed Heritage Presbyterian Church) who uses the historic-redemptive approach to the unfolding of the Biblical drama in a way that leads him to this same, similar vision is Peter Leithart, who wrote The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church. (Presbyterian & Reformed) $11.99 He makes an important case for a significant understanding of worship and sacraments, too, and this might be helpful especially for our more conservative or theologically serious congregations.
Truly The Community: Romans 12 and How to Be Church Marva Dawn (Eerdmans) $16.00 This is a hefty, mature book that would make a fabulous study for a serious group. She unpacks the Scriptures wonderfully, offers good stories and testimonial, and offers us the call into communityÑfor the worldÕs sake. Some of MarvaÕs chapters in her collection of essays on worship, A Royal Waste of Time are similarly missional and highly, highly recommended. (One of those chapters, by the way, was first delivered at the aforementioned PA State Pastor’s Confernece, and it is wonderful to see it in this collection.) We’ve got to get our people reading more of her stuff, I’d say. She once told me that she thought her most radical was Is It a Lost Cause? Having the Heart of God for the Church’s Children.
Road Runner: The Body in Motion Thomas Bandy (Abingdon) $12.00 A lot of folks know Bandy (and his partner Easum) for their gonzo congregational change stuff. This is a solid, reasonable, visionary, serious-but-fun call to get busy in mission, joining Christ Òon the roadÓ as we move out into action. This is wise, challenging, and yet pleasant, making it very useful for small groups. A great choice.
Doing Evangelism JesusÕ Way: How Christian Demonstrate the Good News Ronald J. Sider (Evangel Publishing House) 13.00 These were once preached as sermons, and, as always with Ron, it is visionary and practical, combining deep piety with serious passion for social change. These insist that we must preach and live the good news, show and tell, rejecting all dualisms between word and deed, saving the person or reforming the society. Under the Lordship of Christ, we are to become communities who nurture faithful outreach that lives out faith in practical ways. Lovely and challenging.
Seeing Beyond Church Walls: Action Plans for Touching Your Community Steve Sjogren, editor (Group) $19.99 Each chapter is clear, motivational, concrete and very inspiring. With new paradigms of ministry and new visions for the importance of culturally-relevant contextualized outreach, this book gives several great avenues of transforming the church to transform the world. Very practical, not too academic.
Building a Contagious Church: Revolutionizing the Way We View and Do Evangelism Mark Mittelberg (Zondervan) $14.99 Not long ago we spent a weekend selling books at an event where Mark was one of the main speakersÑand love him. What a fun and funny guy. This is a very thorough study of how congregations can be more effective in evangelism training and holding up an ethos which values outreach.
Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God Greg Ogden (Zondervan) $16.99 An earlier version of this was entitled The New Reformation and it is a vigorous and systematic study of how churches can equip the laity, raise up agents of outreach, and move from Òmaintenance to mission.Ó A major contribution that, while thorough, is very readable.
Healing Spiritual Amnesia: Remembering What it Means To Be the Church Paul Nixon (Abingdon) $15.00 With a passionate forward by Tony Campolo, this is an upbeat call to return to Òfirst thingsÓ which certainly includes a robust sense of mission, outreach, purpose and passion for GodÕs work in the world.
The Small Church At Large: Thinking Local in a Global Church Robin Trebilcock (Abingdon) $17.00 We stock a pretty good selection of books about smaller churchesÑwee kirks. This is the best on missional thinking for small church leaders. Exciting!
For All GodÕs Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church N.T. Wright (Eerdmans) $12.00 This little study, if taken seriously, could have an incredible impact in our vision and work. The first half are a few good chapters on worship, the significant second half are about the implications of our worship for our life in the world. This is a powerful call to become cruciform-shaped community that is sent to live out ChristÕs Lordship over history, in daily and practical ways. Very highly recommended.

4 thoughts on “The Missional Church

  1. It was great eavesdropping! These sound like great recommendations. Thanks, Byron.Michele

  2. Byron– phenomenal list, and helpful comments. Thanks for the time you put into this (for your friend)– and thanks for sharing it with us.I linked this list on my blog!If I’m ever in Dallastown, I’ll be at your shop.Kevincawleyblog

  3. Hey Byron I did not know you had entered the 21st Century of blogging as well. Good list. One of the things we have been starting to scratch the surface of is how the missional/emergent movement in North America is paralelling, being inspired by and needing to be learned from by the global people movememnt stuff in the Southern Hemisphere. If you want an amzing book on the GLOBAL missional church check out Mission in Acts by Gallagher and Hertig who are the Editors, Orbis Press. Amazing journey through the book of Acts. Our (as you described)hipster, post-evengelical, postmodern missional community called the Open Door ( has been working through acts this summer and it has transformed our community.Good to hear from ya!Shalom!

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