Missional Church Planting Model? Which One?

I have read a number of critiques of the “missional” church planting model. An upcoming conference this month hopefully will shed some light on defining and critiquing this model. I haven't seen "the" missional model. Neither has anyone else. There are multiple understandings and practical outworkings of missional. My concern is that this might be an academic exercise from a monochromatic perspective. It’s interesting to me how different missional looks between practitioners and academicians. I would hope there would be a fair treatment of the subject, not just this is bad and we need to expose it and avoid it.


What I often see is the critique of "a" missional model. A recent blogger was  “stunned by the glib way that missional proponents use John 20:21 as their guiding text.” Oh really? Guiding text? I'm stunned at his assertion. John 20:21 may be part of dealing with the missional idea but calling it a “guiding text” is a stretch.  It's far too easy to find excesses, which certainly exist, and make fatuous comparisons as the blog in reference did, that “the church is not making substitutionary atonement” so the church cannot be sent in the same way Jesus was sent. It’s like saying that we can’t really imitate Paul although he says “Be imitators of me” since we haven’t been beaten or gone to prison.


I hope the DBTS conference will be more substantive than raising up straw men to thrash and that the quoted blog is not a foretaste of things to come. There may be curious resemblances between Sheldon and missional proponents as the above-mentioned blogger pointed out. There are resemblances between men and monkeys but we aren’t arguing for making them cousins. Or are we? There may be much to criticize in some missional articulations but the accusation of glib use of proof texts sounds like a substitute for presenting a credible alternative.

8 Responses to “Missional Church Planting Model? Which One?”

  1. Steve, ran across your post via google alerts. Conference sounds interesting, I would like to hear what is shared, wonder if it will be recorded? Also read the "stunned" link. I do not believe his thoughts are very well informed. I would never say it is a "guiding text" but I do believe it is a small portion of a much larger "sending language" in Scripture. I wrote a document on just that here:
    Also, I just finished McKnight's "Community Called Atonement." Excellent treatment on how a broader, more wholistic (but not leaving out penal sub) theory of the atonement speaks wonderfully well to missional efforts.
    Blessings, Brad

  2. Brad, Great to hear to from you. I will jump over to read your document. I do think the conference will record the sessions. There seems to be a reaction by some to anything "missional" or it's dismissed as trendy. Or we are warned that it leads to the social gospel. I don't buy it and don't see it among guys planting churches. They are typically sound on the gospel and passionate about making Christ known. I recently read the first chapter from Tim Keller's book "Generous Justice." The first chapter was outstanding on social justice from an OT ethic, particularly Micah 6:8.

    Blessings, Steve

  3. Dr. Davis,
    Two thoughts: First, you seem to make it more or less impossible to critique anything missional by claiming that there is no such thing as "the" missional model. By claiming that, you then make it possible to simply dismiss any critique as simply being of "a" missional model. But if there is no such thing as "the" missional model, then why even claim to be missional? Surely it means something! What you're doing seems similar to the tactic of many fundamentalists who claim that any critique of fundamentalism is merely a critique of some fundamentalists, but "not the fundamentalism I know!" It must be possible to define more or less what missional means and then offer a critique of it. If not, then it's pointless to use the terminology since it has no meaning–anyone coud claim to be missional, e.g. "We're missional because we have a missions budget." and "We're missional because we burn Korans." If it's possible to say those things either are or aren't missional, it's possible to have "the" missional model (or perhaps philosophy/paradigm) and it's possible to critique it.
    Second: your comparison of being sent as Jesus not including substitutionary atonement and being imitators of Paul not included beatings and imprisonment is a faulty comparison. Jesus' substitutionary atonement was, at least, a central part of his mission–if not the central part of his mission. Whereas Paul's beatings and imprisonments were a result of his fulfilling his mission, not the purpose. We can imitate Paul even if we have not been beaten or imprisoned b/c that wasn't what Paul's mission was about. Your reference to Paul would work if someone were claiming we couldn't be sent like Jesus because we never had our family call us crazy.
    A better comparison would be if someone said we could imitate Paul if we never preached the gospel. But at that point in time, I think it would be fair to say we can't imitate Paul if we never preach the gospel.

  4. "I would hope there would be a fair treatment of the subject, not just this is bad and we need to expose it and avoid it."
    That's funny.  But not in a good sort of way.  It is a sad funny.  Unfortunatley Steve, you know as well as I do being missional is dangerous.  It is not safe.  It is not easy nor is it comfortable.  However, sitting on our hands in a safe and clean environment is. 
    The reason why it is "bad" is the same reason it was "bad" in Jesus' day…He was sitting and eating with sinners.  The Pharisees had the same attitude many of our churches have today…being missional = defilement. As we go out in our communities and make Jesus known through eating with "them', sitting with "them", weeping with "them" we somehow become defiled and unlcean.  We are dangerous.  We are wreckless.  We are not faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have become messagengers for the social gospel.
    What is 'funny' is, at one time or another our church has been labeled all of the above.  Call me a pessimist, but I some how doubt there will be a fair and balanced view on the 'missional model'…whatever that is…at the conference but I will be happy to be proven wrong.

  5. Ross:

    I don’t know how you can read or listen to guys like Tim Keller on the missional church and not be challenged to more faithful ministry and loving engagement with the lost. Is there stuff to criticize? Sure. But there is much to emulate as well. And much that is missing in churches which are inwardly focused and have forgotten the Mission. They are ready to serve their members but not their community. Strange!


    Hi Ben:

    Thanks for your observations. I don't think "missional" as explained and practiced by some is above criticism. None of us are above criticism. What I'm saying is that the word, like many others, can be used widely. It's relatively easy to find some things associated with missional to criticize. There are missional models, not one model. And disagreement with missional concepts is fine. I'm looking for missional to be given a fair hearing. From critics it tends to be mostly negative. I almost laugh when I hear missional associated with the social gospel bogeyman. Most of the people I know that would describe their churches as missional (mostly newer church plants) are actively engaged in proclamation. But they are not waiting for people to visit their nice church building (the may not have one) or be entertained by their great church programs (they don’t offer them). Missional churches are going out into the community as the sent people of God and looking to engage their communities in order to gain a hearing for the Gospel.

    As for the comparison I made, it may not be the best. My point is that one cannot press the details in what it means to be sent like Jesus. He was sent to "seek and to save" the lost. So are we. The problem is that many established churches easily fall into a maintenance mode and maintain the trellis (see the book, The Trellis and the Vine).

    Thanks again for your comments,


  7. strange indeed.  I haven't been able to read as much of Keller as I would like, but from what I understand, much of his stuff is spot on.

  8. Keller is coming out with a new book next month "Generous Justice."  Here's a link to chapter one. Pretty convicting. I think I'll post the link on a blog as well.


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