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Ten Characteristics of a Church on Mission - Part 4

Blog: Ten 4

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.
  • Part Three is here and examines the fourth and fifth characteristics.
  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). 
  5. Boldly & intentionally promotes the gospel through making disciples and church planting globally through collaborative expressions of mercy and generosity.
  6. A missional church is dependent upon the Holy Spirit to empower and lead believers as agents for evangelizing and making disciples (Acts 1:8; Luke 4:1, 14, 18).

The life of Jesus was empowered, led and directed by the Holy Spirit. To be dependant upon the Holy Spirit means to live like Jesus as opposed to some strange mystical experience. Jesus gave the Great Commission, as we commonly know it, and He included the prerequisite of Spirit-empowerment to accomplish it. In Luke’s gospel, for example, Jesus explains the gospel to His disciples and tells them that as witnesses of His resurrection, they are to proclaim it to others. But He told them to stay in the city until they were clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). Jesus promised that He would empower the church through His Holy Spirit as they make disciples (cf. Acts 1:8). “The promise of God’s presence often accompanied his call to service in the Old Testament (e.g. Ex. 3:12; Josh. 1:5); it is not so much a cozy reassurance as a necessary equipment for mission.” [1]

The Great Comforter

The Great Commission comes equipped with the Great Comforter. This promise is fulfilled by the provision of the Holy Spirit—the missionary Spirit sent to witness to the coming of the Kingdom of God (John 13-17; Acts 2:17). Lesslie Newbigin again offers some succinct instruction for us here. “Mission first of all belongs to the Spirit who is sent by Jesus and the church is taken up into that work…Mission flows in the following way: the Father sends the Son; the Son sends the Church and equips it with the Spirit to enable it to carry out its mission…God does not cease to participate in the missionary enterprise with the sending of Jesus. He does not initiate mission with the sending of Jesus and then leave the missionary work to be carried on by a human institution that followed the pattern of Christ without the help of the Spirit.”[2] Newbigin continues, “The active agent of mission is a power that rules, guides, and goes before the church: the free, sovereign, living power of the Spirit of God. Mission is not just something that the church does; it is something that is done by the Spirit, who is himself the witness.”[3]

A missional church can effectively reflect the power of the gospel (Romans 1:6) as it depends on the Spirit of God to empower the body for evangelism, discipleship and gospel proclamation rather than depending on big events or buildings or programs or methods utilized elsewhere to draw unbelievers to an event. The Apostle Paul explained to the church situated in the pagan, sinful city of Thessalonica that this “gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thes. 1:5; cf. 1 Peter 1:12). Paul was saying, “I did the speaking but it was not I. I was used by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work He intended.”[4]

Some churches put their emphasis on the studying of the Word. While important that we feed our souls, these are typically the intellectual theologians that spend great hours reading and studying in often arguing the finer points of doctrine resulting in pride of knowledge but rarely conversions. Other churches put a majority of their emphasis on the Holy Spirit and are often more interested in an experience than the authoritative Word. The Holy Spirit uses the Word and the Spirit of truth for understanding. A missional church proclaims the truth with boldness through dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:29-33).

[1] The Gospel According to Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (TNTC; IVP; Eerdmans, 1985).
[2] Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: Sketches for a Missionary Theology (London: SPCK, 1978), p. 56.
[3] Lesslie Newbigin, _A Word in Season: Perspectives on Christian World Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 21 ff.
[4] Martyn Lloyd Jones, Courageous Christianity (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2001), p. 191.