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Reading Good Missiology


Church planters often know the “latest book to read.” We reference pragmatic books constantly. But are we reading the right books?

Reading Indigestion

As a church planter, it can be difficult to read the books we need to read. We are often overwhelmed with emergency reading—reading in areas of the church where we are deficient (e.g. children’s ministry, church discipline, missional church, counseling, best practices). We scour blogs and books for practical insight, inevitably digesting half-baked ideas and practices.

If we aren’t careful, we can get indigestion by consuming this stuff. Our diet devolves. We get bogged down in best practices instead of diving deeply into the Bible and our culture. What we need is good theology and missiology. For sure, there’s a place for winsome dialog about church planting best practices, church methods, and philosophy of ministry. My Tools for Missional Church is an attempt to contribute to these practical resources.

Reading Integratively

The danger, however, is reading practically apart from grounding our practice in theology. Snapping up the latest best practices, whether they are missional communities or multi-site video venues, should never be done haphazardly. As elders we are to watch our life and doctrine closely to make sure that theology and practice are closely intertwined, both for ourselves and for our flock (1 Tim 4:16). We should read and lead integratively.

I find that my church passion, insight and practice are helped by reading deeply—taking in good information and reflecting on its application. Cultivating good reading is a disciplined process that is learned over time. Fortunately, I’ve had a great missiological mentor to help me along the way, Dr. Timothy Tennent. Tennent now serves as the President of Asbury Seminary and studied under Dr. Andrew Walls, “the most important person you don’t know”.

Fortunately, Tennent is a great model of theology and practice. He is both a theologian and a practicioner—tithing a third of his life to church planting and theological education in India. Tennent advocates a missiology done in “space and time,” meaning theology should be done in dialog with church history and contextualization. This has a way of keeping our best practices honest, squaring them with theological history and our cultural context.

As theologian-missionaries, we should all strive to cultivate and practice a theology that is missiologically oriented and a missiology that is theologically grounded. Not all missiologists follow this difficult, interdisciplinary path. Sometimes the integration of theology and missiology is up to us, the practitioners. We possess the high calling of shepherding the church in truth, wisdom, and love. And a little help can go a long way.

Reading Intentionally

To offer a little help, I’d like to recommend some good missiology. Missiology is the great integrating theological discipline, bringing biblical exegesis, systematic, biblical, and practical theology together for the sake of gospel advancement.

In no particular order, here are some missiologists I have found particularly helpful. Some are more theologically reflective than others. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is an honest one. I have read multiple books by most of these authors. I certainly don’t agree with everything they teach, but that’s why I like them so much. Sometimes they change my mind for the good. Other times they strengthen my position. Here’s a key work by each author:

No doubt I’ve left some good ones out, especially the newer missiologists like Ed Stetzer, Darrel Guder, Alan Hirsch, and so on. One advantage of the above list is that it is international (though representation from the Majority Church is scarce). After all, the newer missiologists have all read these older missiologists anyway. Just check their footnotes and follow them to deeper reading. Strive to do theology in “space and time” by reading integratively. Avoid reading indigestion by making your practice theological and, in turn, make your theology practical.