I want to explain to my viewers, that for a few months I want to become much more thematic in these blogs, and for a reason. Let me explain: I identify myself as a missional ecclesiologist on my calling cards. That confuses most people, but it defines my identity. Ecclesiology is the study of the nature of the church, while missiology is the study of the mission of the church. So, a missional ecclesiologist would be one who seeks to engage in a study, and in the integrity and praxis, of the church and its missional nature.

This identity has become more compelling in me because of sixty-plus years of engagement in church leadership. When I was thrust (somewhat against my will) into a role in church leadership as our denomination’s staff person in the field of evangelism, and thus into engagement with the larger church in multiple conferences, retreats, study courses, etc., I discovered that so many of the persons I was conversing with had no adequate understanding of the gospel itself. It was that discovery that prompted me to engage in writing on the essence of the gospel. The church was, in many ways, un-evangelized itself.

But, then, along the way I became increasingly aware that, in addition to this blank spot in their understanding, was the even more disturbing realization that they also did not understand what the divine purpose and design of the church was either. So, then, if one does not comprehend what the dynamic reality of the gospel is, nor understands the dynamic purpose of the church in God’s eternal design, … then, what you get is an ostensible church that is far removed from whatever it was that Jesus told his disciples he was going to build and against which the gates of hell would not be able to prevail.

Along the way, I was influenced by a couple of significant scholars. One was the South African missiologist David Bosch, who wrote Transforming Mission. In that seminal work, he traces the history of the church’s mission from the apostolic period right down into our present post-Christian era. He notes, toward the end of the book, that missiologists are always “gadflies” in the arena of ecclesiology. So, that in these forthcoming blogs, be forewarned, I am engaging in my gadfly role. The other work was: The Subversion of Christianity by sociologist-theologian Jacques Ellul, in which he spends time speaking of the huge shift of understanding that defined the church (and it leadership) as something quite different from what it was designed to be in the purpose of God.

For the last ten years of my public role in church leadership I was engaged in a ministry of mentoring, or encouragement, to students and faculty in about fifteen different theological seminaries. I found the same blank spots there among those engaged, ostensibly, in equipping for church leadership. In many of these institutions, there were almost no courses in ecclesiology, and missiology was only beginning to emerge as a required discipline. Many of the faculty shared in this blank spot. They were good academicians, but often had been practitioners in church leadership, or pastoral ministry. The notion of a missional ecclesiology was hardly formative in their thinking (confirming Ellul’s charge of the subversion of Christianity).

So, stand by and let me chip away at this concept, and attempt to give you some insights that will, hopefully, be provocative in your own formation and your engagement with the church and its mission. And, be it known that your feedback will help me to accomplish my purpose.

Have a thankful Thanksgiving.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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