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Ten Characteristics of a Church on Mission - Part 1

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By Pastor Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29 Network

The Tension to be on Mission

The church in every generation is called to bring the good news of the kingdom into a spiritual encounter with the aspirations and challenges of that culture where it resides. Simply, believers are on a mission from God in their respective communities. To engage today's culture with the gospel requires the formation of a gospel community - the church of Jesus Christ - to be a visible representation, witness and engaging instrument of the sovereign outreaching hand of God in our culture. In many churches this may require a new vision, new ways of thinking, and new patterns of behavior (Matt. 9:16-17). This means pre-believers are encouraged to be included in the context of all of the church functions as they make small steps toward Christ (Luke 19:10).

Since we are in Christ, we have a missionary identity. We are adopted into a missionary family. We serve a missionary God. Mission becomes part of our identity, because our Father is a missionary God and we resemble Him as a child of God. So, the church is a missionary church, with missionary people, that do missionary things. It is who we are and it is also what we do. Mission is not something we tack on to the list of options as a Christian. To be Christian is to be on mission. It’s who we are and it is what we do.

Ten Characteristics of a Missional Church

1.     The missional church is committed to the authoritative, infallible, inerrant, inspired Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:14-17; Acts 2:42).

    The authority of all missionary work is founded in the truth that God has a clear word to communicate to the world. The Bible’s authoritative word—not just the casual observance and even religious obeisance—guides the missional church toward understanding the person and work of Jesus throughout all of Scripture (Luke 24:44).

    Although this is admittedly a unique description of missional, it cannot be an assumed reality. I think the distinguishing difference between emergent and emerging is the view of the Bible. I no longer use the words but to clarify, a missional (emerging) church is motivated by the words of God to proclaim the timeless gospel in a timely method. David Garrison said the one thing that keeps the reproduction of churches from fragmenting into a thousand heresies like a crack splintering across a car windshield is the authority of God’s word. Garrison believes this is one of the characteristics of every church planting movement.[1]

    2.     Understands the centrality of the gospel expressed in all aspects of a person’s life (1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2:2; Gal. 6:14).

      In Galatians 2:14, Paul deals with Peter’s racial pride and cowardice by saying their “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” The Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life—spiritual, psychological, corporate, social—by thinking, hoping, and living out the implications of the gospel. The gospel is to be applied to every area of thinking, feeling, relating, working, and behaving. The missional church is not dependant on programs or methods, but rather by the transforming power of the gospel. GOCN began with the indicator of a missional church as one that proclaims the gospel audibly and visibly. [2]  “Being gospel-centered means being both word-centered and mission-centered,” says Steve Timmis, Director of Acts 29 Western Europe. [3]  The gospel is not separated from the authority and effectiveness of the Word and is not devoid of practicing the gospel through mission living. It was Newbigin who described the local congregation as ‘the hermeneutic of the gospel’.[4] Newbigin’s idea is very simple: people understand the gospel by looking at the people of God. It is the church in time and space - the local church - that expresses the gospel and interprets it within its own cultural setting. 

      Through the gospel, He rescues us from a life of self-serving mission to participate in a life of God-serving, Christ-glorifying mission. We are remade into missional people by the redeeming work of the Spirit and the Son.



      [1] David Garrison, Church Planting Movements (Midlothian, VA: WIGTake Resources, 2003), p. 182.

      [2] Empirical Indicators of a Missional Church, Gospel and Our Culture Newsletter ( http://www.gocn.org/resources/newsletters/1998/08/vol-10-no-3-september-1998 (accessed 10-18-09)

      [3] Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2008), p. 33.

      [4] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1989)

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