An engagement of 4 parts.
Culture is a massive topic.
The Christian book world has seemingly been saturated with all things ‘missional.’
Bringing these two topics together within the same cover is an ambitious undertaking. Yet, it is a very important discussion to explore what kind of culture we have in our communities of faith which are founded on a different, divine reality than the dominant culture around us. But this title pushes us beyond the mere examination of a church culture and the culture wherein it finds itself. The book explores the ‘in’s and out’s’ of creating a church culture which seeks to engage the world around it with the full thrust of the redemptive gospel. At its heart, this is the overall purpose of “Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World.”
JR makes some very good connections which form the basis of his argument. Grounded in Ephesians chapter 4, JR argues that an intentional and communal based polycentric leadership facilitates a missional culture which will help the church navigate what missionality looks like within the North American context. A polycentric leadership assumes many centers of leadership within a community. Not just one. This is significant for the argument in part 1 of the book as a hierarchical approach to leadership is common within North American Church communities. The polycentric approach to leadership in connection to Ephesians 4 seeks to empower the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to be leadership centers, and as such culture creators in church communities. The assumption is that these centers will interrelate.
While navigating this tension, JR offers the reader a mirror to work on building up a reflection of what their own church culture looks like by asking a ton of questions. He also offers us questions that help the reader understand where there community may be missing the point on facilitating a missional community.
I thought this was brilliant.
Peter Block in his important work “Community: The Structure of Belonging”says that “questions create the space for something new to emerge.” JR’s questions throughout this section, and entire book, offer us the opportunity to explore how our church culture is indeed shaped, examine the implications and for some, explore new realities. This is particularly important because churches need to know what it is that shapes her. The questions invite churches and leaders alike to explore the culture in which their church communities operate. In the big picture of the missional conversation, these questions prove to be timely. Many people are throwing around the word missional in vision statements, websites and book titles whilst not giving full justice to the theology behind the word itself. It’s almost as if, in these questions JR is himself asking the question, “Are you missional like you may think you are?” For this time in the theological landscape of North America, it is a very important question to ask and even more important to dare ourselves to answer.
One of the main points in my reading of Ephesians 4 is unity. Anyone in who works within an egalitarian or polycentric leadership community knows that unity is essential and that unity is not people holding hands singing Kumbya. This is part of the value of Ephesians 4 in our time. JR does well to communicate that community is important. But I would have appreciated a deeper engagement on why unity is important within a missional culture particularly in part 1 of the work. JR does give us a couple pages seemingly in passing on unity, maturity and again writes about it while exploring the culture of a welcoming environment. But it is another dynamic to operate within the diversity of those of which a community welcomes. If part 1 is grounded in Ephesians 4, explores ‘ what is a missional culture’ and why is it important it would have been helpful to examine more explicitly the concept of unity and its operative dynamic within culture similar to his engagement of polycentric leadership. Unity amidst diversity is a gift of the church, and often misunderstood in our churches and consequentially communicates some strange things to a watching world. There is a deep relationship between the two and moving forward it may have been helpful to outline this more intentionally.
JR as a missional practitioner has ample experience and nitty gritty wisdom to fill the pages. Particularly given the wide birth of content any book on culture could engage, he offers a pointed discussion on the topic and it’s collision with the church. The questions he asks are terribly important for church seeking to be ‘missional.’ For the case of his argument it would have been helpful for a deeper engagement on if or why unity within the complexity of a polycentric community culture is important. Part 1 set a solid foundation moving forward.
Stay tuned for Part 2.
Also, check out friend Len Hjalmarson’s review and take on part 1 HERE. We are reading through this book together.