Missional Ecclesiology: Problems and Pitfalls (Part 4)

In Part 1, we observed that to avoid rogue and/or rigid missional communities, church leaders must clearly answer three questions:

  • What is the role and function of the individual Christian?
  • What is the role and function of local church elders?
  • How do these roles and functions work together for the glory of God and the good of the body?

How These Roles Work Together for the Glory of God and the Good of His People

For a church to be healthy, for God’s mission to flourish, and for cities to be reached and transformed by the gospel, both individual Christians and local church elders must excel in their specific God-ordained roles. Failure by either group weakens the whole church.

If Christians do their job well – making disciples – but elders do not lead the mission and equip the saints, the church as a whole will not have a missional culture. People will grow increasingly frustrated with the church’s lack of clarity and direction. Effective disciplemakers will begin using their gifts outside the church, eventually aligning with parachurch ministries that welcome their gifts and abilities and that seem to be more committed to the disciplemaking task. The church as a whole will become stale and stagnant, full of faithful people who really want to be on mission with Jesus, but who lack adequate equipping and training. Furthermore, churches that lack good elder leadership usually tend toward a shallow, gospel-deficient theology that fails to stir people’s affections for God and his glory.

On the other hand, if the elders do their job well – defining and directing the mission and working hard to equip God’s people for ministry – but individual Christians and missional communities don’t take responsibility for making disciples, the church will plateau or decline as it reaches its leadership ceiling. With the pastors carrying the entire burden of discipleship, the church’s capacity for growth and multiplication will be severely restricted. New leaders will not be raised up and new churches will not be planted. Those currently leading will burn out as they feel the weight of ministry resting on them. The church will slowly develop a consumer culture as people continue to receive ministry and training from the pastors without passing it on to anyone else. And Christians will grow stagnant and comfortable as their lack of involvement in discipleship keeps them from having to depend on God, repent of sin, or take risks. In the end, God receives little glory in a church like this because the people in the church are protecting their idols of comfort, security, and control rather than abandoning their self-reliance and living in the joy and freedom of worshipful obedience.

The problem of rogue and/or rigid missional communities is really a problem of deficient theology. If a missional community is rogue, chances are that its members don’t have a proper regard for eldership. The MC is usurping the role of elders by trying to define and direct the mission. If a missional community is rigid, chances are that its members don’t rightly understand their personal responsibility for disciplemaking. The MC is expecting “someone else” to do the work of discipleship. A missional community that rightly understands the role of every Christian and the role of local church elders will avoid becoming either rogue or rigid. And more importantly, it will make disciples who make disciples.

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