Thank God for Ed Stetzer. As a missiologist with NAMB he has an evangelical, cooperative spirit reflected both within and outside of our Convention, and he understands what it means to be missional. I believe his work and writing will prove to be one of the good things God is doing in the SBC to bring about the health so many of us pray for.
Ed and David Putman have written Breaking the Missional Code as a practical look at how our churches can effectively engage their communities as the sent people of God. They argue that the key to reaching your church's community with the Gospel is to break the "missional code," or to understand your cultural context and the biblical principles that will most effectively impact the people.
You cannot grow a biblically faithful church without loving people and preaching the Gospel. But loving people means understanding and communicating with them. Preaching the Gospel means to proclaim a gospel about the Word becoming flesh - and proclaiming that the body of Christ needs to become incarnate in every cultural expression.
The book is built upon the missional principle that each church must function as a missionary people exegeting their culture in order to better present the Gospel. Our sending agencies understand this well, but our North American churches often presume both that they understand the culture and that what they have always done is the best way of presenting the Kingdom of God to their community. But as Ed points out in Chapter One, The Emerging Glocal Context, the culture has changed, and is changing and our understanding of our context will impact the way we communicate Jesus. He is not arguing that the modern era has completely passed, or that there is one formula for the church to follow. This is not a book for postmodern ministry. It all comes down to where you live, the soil your church has been planted in.
The issue is that you have to decide where you are living. Are you in a community firmly entrenched in the worldview of modernity? If you seek to lead your church to reach postmoderns, you will first need to convert people to postmodernism and then to Christ. Is that really our mission?
Maybe you are in an area of the continent more comfortable with traditional approaches and churches. Great! Become missional in that context, not a trendy community somewhere far away. For too many, they love their preferences and their strategies more than they love the people God has called them to reach.
(pp. 6, 7)
Though they do a good job of explaining the basic concept of what "missional" means, the book spends most of its pages applying the missional principle in practical ways. This is the aim of the book. It is not heavy academic or theological work, but wants to be a helpful tool for churches who are beginning to sense that they are speaking a different language than the people God has sent them to reach.
Though some of it is semantics, I was uncomfortable with the way some things were expressed. It is possible to import too much meaning to the words people use, but those looking for doctrinal precision may have raised eyebrows in some areas. One area I plan on addressing in a later post is that of worship. It is not that I disagree with the authors, but I would say it differently.
Some may come away with the idea that large successful churches are missional, and smaller churches are not. Stetzer and Putman do not make this point, but it can read that way in a couple of places. The authors are also very generous in deeming differing churches "missional" and "incarnational." Maybe too generous.
In the end the book is worth reading, especially for pastors. It is a helpful tool for those who want to evaluate their church in the area of missional engagement and find some solid direction (especially in the latter part of the book). But in terms of understanding the whole missional conversation it is not the place to start. I would encourage you to read Darrell Guder's, Missional Church and Craig Van Gelder's The Essence of the Church. These books spend more time establishing the biblical/theological foundation of the missional church.