Missional Ecclesiology - Biblical and Theological Foundations
Missional ecclesiology is not a new way of looking at the mission work the church performs. Instead it is a different way of looking at the church. The American church model, which thrived in the post-World War II United States, was built upon the idea that churches would be built and the people of the community would come to the church. The church existed to be the centerpoint of all activities within the community. When church events were planned, community events were not. It would have been unheard of to hold an event outside of the church on Sunday morning.
A shift has occurred. In recent years the church is not being seen by the community as the center-point of community activities. This is evident in the way membership trends in mainline denomination congregations has been on the decline. There has been a shift not only in mission but also in the church in general.
The biblical foundation of missional ecclesiology can be found in Luke chapter 9. The sending of the disciples to go and proclaim the reign of God was the initiating action that began the mission work of the church. According to Stanley Skreslet, the next event that propelled the mission of the church was the Pentecost event. The descension of the Holy Spirit empowered those gathered to take the message of Christ far beyond the territorial boundaries of Israel. Because the power of the Holy Spirit was placed in those apostles gathered at Pentecost, the mission of the church was set: proclaim the gospel, being filled with the Spirit of God. In everything the followers of Christ did and said, the reign and Kingdom of God was to be spoken.
The theological framework and foundation for Christian mission must be set in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To ignore one of the these three criteria would be to dismiss a portion of Jesus Christ’s mission here on earth. To have an orientation for the direction of Christian mission founded in the life of Jesus Christ it is critical to understand the context and circumstances of His life. He was born into a poor-Jewish family, in Israel, at a time when the Roman Empire’s occupation was in full-swing. This is the backdrop for the life of Jesus. His message of a new kingdom poses a direct political threat against not only the established Roman occupation but also against the established Jewish authority.
While it may be difficult to understand the socio-political ramifications of Jesus’ ministry in a Roman state for those of us living in the United States during the twenty-first century, David Bosch notes that, “where the socio-cultural gap between today’s communities and those of the first Christians is narrow, it is there, and it should be respected.” It can be difficult understand where the community the Jesus lived in mirrors our own world, but the same struggles between rich and poor, as well as the powerful and disenfranchised exist today.
It can become easy for Christians who are actively involved in mission work to ignore the life of Christ and focus solely on His death, and maybe consider the resurrection from time-to-time. But doing this only dilutes the gospel and ignores that Christ’s earthly ministry and resurrection are part of the entire story. To drawn again from David Bosch, “mission may be described as relating the always-relevant Jesus event of twenty centuries ago to the future of God’s promise”.