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Ten Characteristics of a Church on Mission - Part 3

Blog: Ten 3

By Pastor Scott Thomas, President Acts 29 Network

We are examining the characteristics of a missional church.

Part 1 is found here where characteristics 1 and 2 are discussed. Part Two is found here and examines the third characteristic.

  1. 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).
  2. The missional church is committed to the authoritative, infallible, inerrant, inspired Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:14-17; Acts 2:42).
  3. Gatherings are characterized by God-centered worship, preaching of the gospel, prayer, Lord’s Supper by penitent souls and baptism as a response to the gospel (John 4:23-24). 
  4. A missional church understands it has been sent by God as missionaries in their own culture (Mt. 4:19; John 20:21; Acts 16:20; 17:6) to make disciples of all peoples (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). 

The missional church is more than a gathering of people with a missions program (or one that considers itself “mission’s minded”), or has a financial commitment to mission works or a mission’s committee. The missional church is vested in God’s mission to a specific place, people and a particular time in history (Acts 17:15). Mark Driscoll said, “If the gospel is the seed of God’s powerful work in our lives and world, then the culture is the soil into which it is planted.” He further adds, “Understanding the soil helps the missional church know which weeds of moral sin and theological error will need to be pulled up so as not to choke out the growth of the gospel and church.”[1]

The Challenge of Gospel Contextualization

Missionary to India, Lesslie Newbigin stated that contextualization has been discussed among those involved in foreign missions for years as a necessary means to proclaiming the gospel into the language and culture in a way to “make sense” to those whom the gospel is being addressed.[2] Newbigin’s point is that we now face the same challenge of contextualization in our post-Christian western world—our neighbors, friends, co-workers and even family. The irony is that our older churches that applauded the non-compromised contextualization of the gospel by the foreign missionaries that they sent with prayers and money are the same churches that now struggle with that missionary approach in our Western culture with peoples from diverse ethnicities, languages, religions, socio-economic backgrounds and ages.

We redemptively engage peoples and cultures, by sharing, showing, and embodying Christ in our context. This includes evangelism, cultural engagement, counseling, empathy, and celebration. It’s bringing the renewing power of the whole gospel into the whole city through the whole church. It is not realigning our Bible to the culture, but by God’s grace realigning the culture to the Bible.

Mission is a characteristic of God.

Mission is a characteristic of God. He’s a sending God. He sends his Son and sends his Spirit to renew the world. The Son sends His believers by the authority of God as He was sent. So, mission doesn’t start and end with us. It starts and ends with God.

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:14-19).

5. Boldly & intentionally promotes the gospel through making disciples and church planting globally through collaborative expressions of mercy and generosity.

A missional church is not simply focused on the growth of neither the single local church nor its continued physical presence in the community. Its goal is to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). When a church focuses on its own promotion, it has a tendency to use disciples to build a church, resulting in resentment. Conversely, a church that focuses on making disciples will use the corporate church to promote the gospel to as many people as possible—both local and global or as Dr Bob Roberts refers as glocal transformation. A missional church sees church planting as the outworking of mission in a community. Its mission work is the establishing of churches glocally. When our mission mindset is to promote the building of churches in multiple contexts, we are more prone to collaborative work with other churches and with a heart of generosity for the advancement of the gospel in all nations.

[1] Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Church (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2008), pp. 223-224.

[2] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1989), pp. 141-142.