To Be Or Not To Be Missional

August 27, 2010

Dave Harvey is an expert church planter and an astute observer of trends in church leadership.  At the Spring 2007 Leadership Conference of Sovereign Grace Ministries Harvey assessed the strengths and weakness of the missional movement in an address titled Watch Your Mission: To Be or Not to Be Missional.

One observation Harvey offers is that sometimes missional practitioners muddy the Cross-centered focus of the Church. 

Here is a sketch outline of Harvey’s message:

What are the Strengths of Missional Churches?

  • Missional Churches Have a Commendable Passion for Evangelism.
  • Missional Churches Have a Laudable Commitment to Engaging Culture.
  • Missional Churches Have a Profitable Impulse for Reexamining Church Tradition.
  • Missional Churches Possess an Admirable Devotion to Social Impact.

What are the Weaknesses of  [Some] Missional Churches?

  • Missional Churches Tend to Be Mission-Centered Rather Than Gospel-Centered.
  • Missional Churches Tend to Have a Reductionistic Ecclesiology.
  • Missional Churches Tend to Confuse Culture Engagement with Cultural Immersion.
  • Missional Churches Tend to Downplay the Institutional and Organizational Nature of the Church.
  • Missional Churches Tend to Have an Insufficient Understanding of Apostolic Ministry.

As one who desires to be both Gospel-centered and Misisonal, I take Harvey’s cautions seriously. I think he has a valid point. I would say that while being Missional does not inherently make one guilty of this, I would have to concede that many who are Missional are guilty of this. 

I suspect this results from an imbalance with the Prophet, Priest, and King tri-perspective. Too much emphasis is placed on the role and influence of the King.  This seems only to be natural since, afterall, one of the important principles recovered by the missional movement is that our mission matters; our mission is as much an expression of who we are as is our theology.

So what is the solution?  Uncompromising Tri-Perspectivalism.

Read Harvey’s full outline here; Download the mp3 for FREE and listen to the audio here.

Note: Thanks to Tony Reinke of Miscellanies for the links.

4 Responses to “To Be Or Not To Be Missional”

  1. David Alexander Says:

    Guess we all have opinions…I would like to see the data where these weaknesses are doumented in some way. (I need to read more I guess) You can certanily safely say “some” Missional Churches have there weaknesses (as do all Churches). Depending upon your definition of Missional, however It’s what we are Called to do as the Church ! The statement that “Missional Churches tend to be Mission centered than Gospel centered”…is just a bit weird. Especially if your Mission is the Gospel! The rest of the stated weaknesses seem just as weird to me. Guess it’s a bit easier to find fault even with being Missional, which I find a bit funny as being Missional is being Gospel Driven. !

    I think today it seems to be easy to find fault even in the little things, in how people think about concepts or ideas or if whatever doesn’t line up exactely how we think it should. What becomes dangerous is not the finer points and how things are articulated or noted in just the right language but that we become only like those that hear because we are blind to faith in practice. Maybe it’s what James may have meant in part when he said show me your faith by your works…And to think some a long time ago thought that James should not be part of the Bible….Wow..

    I’ll probably get in trouble for responding this way but I wish all Churches were Missional ! Our Planet would be a different place given by Missional we mean GOSPEL DRIVEN.

  2. Dennis Griffith Says:

    It sounds as if Dave Harvey touched a nerve. I am not sure why, though. I think his assessments are wholly on-target. He is clear to not taint all who consider themselves missional as posessing these weaknesses, yet he is correct that these weaknesses are common among those who desire to be missional.

    First, there is nothing weird about pointing out that some have prioritized mission above the Gospel. The fact is many churches, missional and otherwise, fail to be gospel-centered. Some churches, while in no way denying the gospel, make success, numbers, structures, systematic theology, and expressions of mission the center and goal of the ministry.

    Further, within the missional movement some of the best practitioners of the principles are among the most heterodox theologically – blatantly liberal; Emergent, etc. To point this out is not to denounce all, it is a reasonable warning. This is not something to take for granted. People tend to be drawn to what works; to the celebrity Christians and churches. They admire and mimick what they do, often with little critical thought. It is the difference between copy and benchmarking.

    To label Missional as Gospel-Driven is the same as saying Presbyterian means Theologically Sound. Sure many Presbyterians are theologically sound, but many, many are not, despite our tradition. To say Missional SHOULD BE Gospel-driven is another matter altogether – to which I would say AMEN”

  3. Dennis Griffith Says:

    Oh, by the way, Harvey is not putting down the missional movement, only offering some insights and observations. The context is the discussion of what Sovereign Grace Ministries could learn from this movement, positive and negative.

    In the message Harvey points to Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll as admirable missional practitioners who are also Gospel-centered. He cites Ed Stetzer positively.

    Sometimes we learn from our critics what we may not see clearly ourselves.

  4. David Alexander Says:

    Yep it struck a nerve no question there. Just think there is too much critical words & warnings being batted around these days on numerous topics, not only on being Missional.

    Seems to me that more progress (however you measure that) can be made by encouragement, working cooperatively, taking the good things from even Emergent Churches (they have done some really good things) and using the good to help us all be more Gospel centered in our approach to transforming people in Churches, our communities and God’s creation.

    I just think it becomes easy to take poks at verious movements and Churches and in my opnion we need to be diligent not to step on the bride of Christ. Not saying here that Harvey did that in any way just saying before we through out a blanket critical thought we should think about that…Applies to me as well.

    Too much talk these days thats all on issues we should be getting together on for the sake of the Gospel.

    We need warnings and critical thought no question, but there’s enough of that to feed everyone and on every side of every issue facing the Church and the Gospel.

    Not saying I wish we could all just get along, but I do wish we could all pull in the same direction without someone pointing out the short comings of a very good approach to reaching those that are blind and can’t see and those who are hurting and can’t get well or don’t know how…

    Yah it hit a nerve, sorry..pet peeve, well one anyway..


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