A review of The Road to Missional, Michael Frost
Australian theologian Michael Frost has become an internationally-renowned commentator on the missional church, a concept of church which is focused on being sent out rather than attracting in. In the latest book he summarises some of the global developments, and looks at how the concept can be applied through the local church.
Actually, Frost spends two chapters defining what missional is, and quotes Thomas Torrance’s idea of mission as expressing the reality that: “In Jesus Christ the new order of the Kingdom of God’s love has intersected with the old order of the existence of the world, with a view to redeeming it and liberating it from the forces of disorder and darkness entrenched in it and renewing the whole created order.”
This is a much broader idea of what it means to be missional. Frost then goes on to helpfully summarise Bosch’s common historical positions of what it means to be missional:
1. Mission = evangelism = winning souls for eternity; therefore social involvement is a betrayal of mission
2. Mission = evangelism = soul winning; therefore social involvement is a distraction
3. Mission/evangelism = soul winning; therefore social action is important if it draws people to Christ
4. Mission/evangelism and social involvement are like seed and fruit; therefore evangelism is primary and social action is the result
5. Mission is evangelism + social action; therefore both parts are important but evangelism has priority
6. Evangelism and social are equally important but distinct aspects of mission; therefore no prioritising.
Frost sees the expression of missional that he embraces as closest to position 6. The metaphor he uses is that the church should function like a movie trailer, that is, it should be an expression of something that entices people to want to see the “movie”. It should be a taster for the life to come on the New Earth. He relates this back to Paul’s expression of the “firstfruits” in Romans 8.
He then goes on to describe what this might look like at a local church level with a series of indicators. There are three main indicators, and a series of expressions, which I will summarise briefly:
1. A mission-shaped church announces the reign of God through Christ, locally and globally. The following could be evidence:
• Opportunities to respond to the Gospel; and evangelistic projects
• Regular assessment of the spiritual needs of the local community
• Active consideration of church planting opportunities
• Commitment to prayer
2. A mission-shaped church demonstrates the reign of God through Christ, locally and globally. The following could be evidence:
• Fostering community life that models compassion, generosity, hospitality and justice
• Regular assessment of the physical and social needs of the local community
• An annual review of the budget to evaluate whether missional priorities are reflected in financial commitments
3. A mission-shaped church embodies mission in the way of Jesus. The following could be evidence:
• Teaching and modelling of the missional priorities, lifestyle and message of Jesus
• Opportunities for members to discern their own missional vocation
• Training and resourcing for authentic friendships with people outside the church
• Freeing up of staff from organising in-house events to engaging with unchurched people
Frost challenges individuals and church communities to creatively examine what it means to bring reconciliation, justice and beauty to a broken world. He quotes NT Wright:
We are called to be part of God’s new creation, called to be agents of that new creation here and now. We are called to model and display the new creation in symphonies and family life, in restorative justice and poetry in holiness and service to the poor, in politics and painting.
While many of Frost’s ideas sound prophetic, and there is a welcome challenge to the concept of a mega-church marketing Christ and church-life in ways that do not reflect the Jesus way, there are some clunky moments in the book. One example is a story meant to illustrate our role as ambassadors bringing hope to the hopeless, when aid workers used subterfuge, the mistaken assumption that one of their members was a US ambassador, to enable aid to get through to needy people.
However, overall this is a very helpful summary and challenge to reconsider what the church is meant to be, and how it fulfils Christ’s mission to the world.