This article is a compilation of ideas from others & myself. (2 Oct 2006)

In this article, the term “church” refers to the people of God, who are joined together as His body, with Christ as the head. It doesn’t refer to a building, denomination, physical location or weekly meeting. So when you read “church,” think of a community that you are part of, not that meeting or building you go to on Sunday.

There are many churches that call themselves missional. To be missional implies at least two theological and ecclesiological changes for most churches. On the one hand, missional hints at moving from church as a “club” for Christians, to church as Christ’s body, sent by God to reconcile the world to Himself. On the other hand, missional means moving from missions as an activity in which a few Christians are sent to foreign countries to convert unbelievers, to mission as God’s most basic purpose, intended for all believers.  Some churches verbally state a commitment to these, however I am convinced that if these changes are genuinely made, they should radically affect the whole ethos, purpose, values & structure of the church. The important questions changes from something like“how do we be an effective church, helping our people & reaching the community?” to “God has placed us here as an incarnational team of missionaries, so how do we obey Him?”

TWO DIFFERENT SETS OF VALUES:…before any discussion may be made on emerging and missional communities, I feel that it will be necessary to clarify what a missional community is and what it is not. Perhaps this will offer a guide for us to use that will inform us as to which set of values a particular emerging church may uphold. TWO DIFFERENT SETS OF VALUES: IMA and ADH



An incarnational community cooperatively goes into cultures that already exist, and become like them to reach them. They believe that God is already present in these cultures and therefore, their role as missionaries is not to bring God into that group, or take that group out of the culture into a sacred space, but they help others to see how God is already working in and around them in the ordinary as well as the miraculous.


A messianic community sees God’s hand in the ordinary situations of life. They are able to see and understand the prevenient grace of God at work in places that have not been reached by the church. Rather than relying on programs and services to proclaim the gospel, they are able to show the gospel lived out in their ordinary lives and in ordinary situations. People then see a spirituality that is wholistic, meaningful, and relevant to their yearnings for an almighty God that meets them where they are at and a church that meets them in the same way- where they are, as they are.


An apostolic community recognizes the responsibility that each believer has been given to play a role in the kingdom. Each member is a leader. As each member is living by the two-fold practice of LISTEN & OBEY, they are simultaneously learning how to feed themselves spiritually and be accountable and communal. They therefore, become less reliant on community for spiritual nourishment, while choosing to be involved in community out of obedience, love, accountability, friendship, worship, wisdom, and co-labourship. The apostolic community typically shares a common set of “missionary practices.” These are spiritual disciplines that provide common ground for the community as well as a means for the members of the community to LISTEN & OBEY. As the members of the community gather, these lifestyle disciplines provide an informal liturgy for the community, with much to share, and much reason to worship the Lord together.



An attractional community seeks to create a spiritually comfortable and sanctified place within a culture that can serve as the community’s hub. They then attempt to invite people into this space, with the hopes of extracting them out of their old community and transplanting them into the new christian community. The focus is on providing alternative 3rd places so that people can meet new friends, and find new clubs, and new activities to be involved with during the week. This type of community is also sometimes referred to as “EXTRACTIONAL.”


A dualistic community sees the world as divided between the sacred and the ordinary. Although God is in both places, we are expected to encounter him more fully and deeply in the sacred spaces than in the ordinary. This is because sacred spaces are designed for an encounter with God. Through the use of architecture, lighting, artwork, alters, ceremonies, music, etc… these spaces are also protected against unnecessary distractions or possible stumbling blocks that could hinder someone from making a connection with God or with another believer in fellowship.


A hierarchical community is a community that is characterized by the separation of clergy and laity. The laity entrust the work of the kingdom to the few qualified leaders, who then provide vision for the laity and the steps necessary to achieve that vision. The clergy (or staff) provide services to the laity which include: the sacred space to meet, a vision for the community’s role in the Kingdom, teaching (in the form of a Sunday message, and often classes offered during the week), small group coordination and management, mission trips, counseling, etc… I have noticed that a lot of churches are adopting wisdom and practices from missional communities while retaining the ADH identity. I think that this is wonderful, as long as we recognize it for what it is. Many ADH communities DO have mission activities and rich community and even lifestyle discipleship… this is wonderful. But I have heard people say that this makes them a missional community. I can only say that my definition of a missional community upholds the IMA principles.

And as long as an ADH church desires to emerge into the 21st century with dynamic new postmodern ideals, it will still be an ADH church at its core unless it is willing to fully embrace an IMA paradigm. That’s not to discredit the advances that are being made within the ADH churches, but I would also hope that we not discredit the distinction of “mission” and “missional.” I hope that this serves to clarify some of the issues surrounding the dialogue between traditional church, emerging church, and missional community.

My intensions for clarity are not to judge which of these communities is better or worse, and I hope that my personal biases are not overly evident here. I merely intend to clarify the values of these different communities in the hopes that any dialogue that requires a comparison of emerging and missional communities will have a clear set of values to reference. I pray that these distinctions serve to educate all who may find the grace of respect for those communities that we may have found differences with. We should all strive to accept one another in love, while holding firmly to our convictions with clarity, unwavering fortitude, gentleness, respect, and most of all- humility toward those who do not share our personal convictions, but trust that the Lord is sovereign and no one, no matter how wrong they might be, has ever been able to change the Lord’s plans. He is sovereign and that gives me great peace.

Common Deviations from Missional
To further clarify what a missional church is, we can describe a number of common alternative models.

Missionary churches. Some churches are described as “missionary churches.” They are noted for sending a lot of missionaries to foreign countries, raising funds for missionaries, holding missions conferences, and featuring missionaries prominently in the Sunday services when they are in town. In this perspective, however, the missionaries are a subset of the congregation.

In a missional church, every believer is regarded as a missionary and church life is oriented around the implications of that view. Thus, missional churches significantly “raise the bar” in terms of mission. Also, since the term missionary carries such strong mental images, some of them not very positive, an alternative to saying that every believer is a missionary is to say that every believer is to live missionally.

Church growth.

One might think that churches that are focused on growth in numbers have evangelism as their mission. While this may be true for some churches subscribing to the church growth philosophy and practices, there are some aspects of the church growth school that run contrary to missional church philosophies and practices. For one, Missional churches focus on kingdom growth rather than church growth. They are more likely to focus on planting new churches than in enlarging themselves (though they do not shun numerical growth as a by-product of being missional), and to measure growth by “the ability to release rather than retain.”

Kingdom growth often means collaborating with other churches. Church growth, however, often occurs at the expense of other churches and creates competition rather than cooperation. The church growth school promotes “the homogenous unit principle” which says that people want to become part of a group of people like themselves. This principle is thought by many to be counter to the biblical mandate for cross-cultural unity. In addition, one study has shown that multi-ethnic churches grow faster than mono-ethnic churches.

Finally, a church that is remaining stable in size while also releasing people to other and new churches is growing in a sense. It has to be bringing in new people all the time to compensate for those who are leaving.

Maintenance churches.

Minatrea refers to these as conventional churches. McNeal describes them as churches with a “club” mentality. They are churches that have made themselves their purpose. Their priorities include maintaining established programs and practices, in large part because they are established, and keeping people coming to the church in order to maintain the programs. The church building (enlarging and maintaining it) is often a key goal or priority.

At the risk of overstating the nature of maintenance churches, I would place in this category churches that have a self-absorbed spirituality. That is, churches focused on orthodoxy, tradition, or health and wealth messages. (This is not to say that more traditional churches cannot be missional.) A related category of spirituality is what I would call “knowledge-centered.” This is a church that elevates analysis and knowledge of the Bible but does not exhort and practically enable people to an active Christian life-style. Information is seen as a necessary and sufficient witness, and believing it brings salvation and the Holy Spirit, leading in turn to a transformed life. My own church has had dual tendencies, both a knowledge orientation and radical discipleship. One of the changes we’ve been experiencing in recent years is a shift to a more activist, missional church life.

As we commit to becoming missional churches, we should expect some bumps. Becoming more missional will require “organized abandonment” of some policies and programs that do not align with our mission. There will always be tenacious advocates of any program we either abandon or radically change, and people who will take issue with every dollar diverted in another direction.

Eight patterns of missional faithfulness

Pattern 1. Missional Vocation. 

The congregation is discovering together the missional vocation of the community. It is beginning to redefine “success” and “vitality” in terms of faithfulness to God’s calling and sending. It is seeking to discern God’s specific missional vocation (“charisms” – gifts) for the entire community and for all of its members.

Pattern 2. Biblical Formation and Discipleship. 

The missional church is a community in which all members are involved in learning what it means to be disciples of Jesus. The bible is normative in this church’s life. Biblical formation and discipling are essential for the congregation.

Pattern 3. Taking Risks as a Contrast Community. 

The missional church is learning to take risks for the sake of the gospel. It understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death and resurrection of its Lord. It is raising questions, often threatening ones, about the church’s cultural captivity, and it is grappling with the ethical and structural implications of its missional vocation. It is learning to deal with internal and external resistance.

Pattern 4. Practices That Demonstrate God’s Intent for the World. 

The pattern of the church’s life as community is a demonstration of what God intends for the life of the whole world. The practices of the church embody mutual care, reconciliation, loving accountability, and hospitality. A missional church is indicated by how Christians behave toward one another.

Pattern 5. Worship as Public Witness. 

Worship is the central act by which the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future. Flowing out of its worship, the community has a vital public witness.

Pattern 6. Dependence on the Holy Spirit. 

The missional community confesses its dependence upon the Holy Spirit, shown in particular in its practices of corporate prayer.

Pattern 7. Pointing Toward the Reign of God. 

The missional church understands its calling as witness to the gospel of the in-breaking reign of God, and strives to be an instrument, agent, and sign of that reign. As it makes its witness through its identity, activity, and communication, it is keenly aware of the provisional character of all that it is and does. It points towards the reign of God that God will certainly bring about, but knows that its own response is incomplete, and that its own conversion is a continuing necessity.

Pattern 8. Missional Authority. 

The Holy Spirit gives the missional church a community a community of persons who, in a variety of ways and with a diversity of functional roles and titles, together practice the missional authority that cultivates within the community the discernment of missional vocation and is intentional about the practices that embed that vocation in the community’s life.

Source: “Treasure in Clay Jars – Patterns in Missional Faithfulness” from the Gospel and Our Culture Network (Eerdmans, 2004):

What is a Missional Community Definition
So what is a missional community? How is it different from church as we know it in modern Evangelicalism? Probably the best place to begin is with a general definition.A missional community is a group of Jesus’ apprentices who so trust his brilliance and mastery of life, that they learn from him how to be like him for the sake of the world. Through this apprentice/master relationship, the community journeys together to become the fullness of God and thereby become a finite earthly expression of the infinite Tri-Community just as Jesus was in his earthly life. A missionalcommunity is about becoming by grace what Christ is by nature.  As the community experiences this, wherever the community members live their daily lives, they are learning how to easily, naturally, and routinely embody, demonstrate and announce God’s life and reign for the sake of the world around them.Theological Differences
According to this definition, aren’t all churches missional? Yes. Any valid Christian church has a missional aspect.  But when one examines a missional church more closely, one discovers a significant difference between a church that does mission and a missional church. That difference begins at the theological foundation and ultimately finds expression in practice and organization.The theological difference begins at what theologians call ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is simply one’s understanding of what the church is. Every church has a built-in ecclesiology, whether it has been thought through or not. And believe it or not, there are a lot of different ways of understanding the church. Veli-Matti Karkkainen, in his book, An Introduction to Ecclesiology, summarizes twenty-one different Christianecclesiologies that exist today! Each of them is biblically founded.A missional ecclesiology is rooted in God’s character and purpose as a sending or missionary God.  Therefore, it’s starting point is the missional nature of The Trinity. God the Father sent the Son.  God the Father and the Son sends the Spirit. God the Father, the Son and the Spirit sends the Church (Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:21; Acts 1:8).  The church is God’s sent missional people.  So just as Jesus was the fullness of God incarnated and embodied in a human being, the missional church follows Jesus’ model, learning from him how to embody the fullness of God as a new way of being human for the sake of the world. That is it’s very identity and essence.Or to use a biblical metaphor, as Jesus is the head, now the church is his body – the continuation of who he is and what he does.  Paul states in Ephesians 1:23, that the church “is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” As his body, the missional church continues the presence of Jesus in and to the world by participating in his unique incarnation as an extension of God’s presence in the world.With this view, “mission” shifts from naming a function of the church to describing its essential nature.[1]  In a missional church, the church IS mission rather than does mission as a program or activity of the larger life of the church. The church’s nature is to show the world what it looks like when a community of people live under the reign of God in every aspect of daily life. As Robert Webber states in The Younger Evangelicals, the church “is an alternative culture that points to the kingdom of God and the reality of the new heavens and the new earth.”[2]

Practical Differences
Now this theological difference finds expression in practical ways through our common ideas, language and practices about church. For example, church is typically defined in one of several ways.

Church as a place: For many people, church is a place you go. It is a facility, a campus or a building.  The common phrase, “I’m going to church” summarizes this view.  When a person is at the building or facility, they are at church. The implication is that when they are not at the building, they are not at church.

Church as an event or spiritual activities: For others, church is something that happens. Church is defined by worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings or other ministries. Again the implication is that when one is not engaged in one of these events or activities, they are no longer doing or having church.

Church as associated with a person: For others, church is an organization associated with a pastor or Christian leader. For example, people often say things like, “I go to Chuck Smith’s church” or “I attend JackHayford’s church.”

Church as offering programs or services: For others, church is determined by what the organization offers to meet needs such as youth programs, music programs, marriage groups, fellowship, discipleship, mission opportunities, etc.

However, in a missional community, the church is God’s sent people. That means when everything is stripped away – the building, the events, the activities, the leaders, and other identifying markers for the church – the people are the church and church is the people.  Therefore, wherever God’s people are corporately or individually, there is the church. Church is at home, in the car, in the restaurant, the beach – wherever God’s people find themselves in their daily lives.

Another practical difference can be seen in the practices of the general American Christian populace.  American Christians cannot be distinguished in any significant way from secular culture. Christian lifestyles and time-styles, although slightly Christianized, are virtually the same as the culture around them.There are also no noticeable differences between Christians and their secular counterparts in areas of morality and ethics. Dawn Haglund states that the church has completely adopted American culture. She writes:

Marketing, promotion, advertising, consumerism, selfish materialism. I’m not sure the church is much different than the American culture. I find that sad, disappointing, and disturbing.  Church has become a place of consumerism. People come to get their needs met. The church is about giving people what they want – making them comfortable. Maybe we’ve reached more people, but I’m skeptical if we’ve participated in transforming lives.[3]

Rather than embodying, demonstrating and announcing a new way of being human under God’s reign, the modern church, in general, has been domesticated by American culture. The task of the missionalcommunity is to explore and rediscover God’s countercultural call to represent the reign of God in our emerging post-modern society.

The Exploration – Four Questions
As a missional community explores God’s call to be his sent people, four significant questions need to be addressed.[4]  First, What does it mean to be an authentic apprentice of Christ?  In other words, what does it really mean when we call Jesus “Lord?”  I like how Brian McLaren describes this in The Story We Find Ourselves In. By calling Jesus Lord or Teacher, we are recognizing that he is a “master,” someone to whom we apprentice ourselves to in order to learn everything he knows and does. He’s similar to a master craftsman or a violin master.  McLaren states:

A violin master is someone who can take an instrument of wood and wire and horsehair and play it so it yields music more beautiful than anyone else can play.  And for the disciples to call Jesus ‘master’ would mean that no one else could take the raw materials of life – skin and bone and blood and space and time and words and deeds and waking and sleeping and eating and walking – and elicit from them a beautiful song of truth and goodness, as Jesus did.[5]

Therefore, an apprentice of Jesus is restructuring and reorganizing his or her life in order to spend time with him to learn from him how to be like him.  It’s making every serious intention to become holy love as God is. This requires a lifestyle of constant engagement with the transforming grace of God.

Fortunately, God has provided such a lifestyle throughout biblical and church history called spiritual disciplines. Simply put, walking in the Spirit means to live in synchronization with the Spirit of God. Spiritual disciplines, when practiced properly, create the environment for God’s transformation. They do this by training us in small mundane ways, in coordination with God’s grace, to die to ourselves and engage God’s real life (Titus 2:11-12).

The second question that must be addressed is What does it mean to be authentically spiritual?  In other words, how does one truly measure transformation and maturity?  If walking in the Spirit is living in synchronization with the Spirit of God, who is holy love, then the fruit or byproduct of such a life would be the embodiment of God’s fullness – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, compassion, humility, hope, faith, etc.

If that is the case, then what do we do with “boundary markers?” Boundary markers are external measurements that determine whether a person is in or out. For example, does attending church regularly mean a person is spiritual or mature? Most of us would say “No.”  But let’s flip it around. Does not attending church regularly mean a person is unspiritual or immature?  Hmmm… John Ortberg, in The Life You’ve Always Wanted provides another example from his early church experience:

The senior pastor could have been consumed with pride or resentment, but as long as his preaching was orthodox and the church was growing, his job would probably not be in jeopardy. But if some Sunday morning he had been smoking a cigarette while greeting people after the service, he would not have been around for the evening service. Why? No one at the church would have said that smoking a single Camel was a worse sin than life consumed by pride or resentment. But for us, cigarette-smoking became an identity marker. It was one of the ways we were able to tell the sheep from the goats.[6]

The third question that must be addressed is What does it mean to be God’s people? What does it mean to be a community of Jesus’ apprentices who are pursuing true spiritual maturity as defined by the first two questions? How do we live as community so that every member becomes filled with the fullness of God for the sake of the world? Are there things we are currently doing that actually hinder us from embracing God’s call as his sent people?

Ultimately, the church is a community made up of people who are reconciled to God, with one another and creation. It is an organic community where the members live in reconciled relationship, active fellowship and in interdependence with one another. In being this, the church is a community that reflects the social reality of the Trinity.

The fourth question is What does Christian leadership in this new community look like? The modern American church has embraced hierarchical modes of leadership from business management and military models. Many of the principles inherent in these models provide effective leadership for organizations. However, Ken Blanchard, the author of the popular management book, The One Minute Manager, stated “the popular model of pastor as CEO is brain dead…This philosophy will only hurt the church in the long run.”[7]

John Piper, in his book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, makes this passionate plea:

We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet.  It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry.  The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1).[8]

A missional community is organic and living. And an organic community looks and operates differently than an organizational community. Dallas Willard offers a beautiful picture of how such a community operates.  He says:

Among those who live as Jesus’ apprentices there are no relationship that omit the presence and action of Jesus. We never go “one on one;” all relationships are mediated through him. I never think simply of what I am going to do with you, to you, or for you. I think of what we, Jesus and I, are going to do with you, to you, and for you. Likewise, I never think of what you are going to do with me, to me, and for me, but of what will be done by you and Jesus with me, to me, and for me.[9]

This vision is a demonstration of the social reality of the Trinity, which is love. So what kind of leadership will contribute to this kind of community?

Todd Hunter has been wrestling with the question of leadership for a long time. He asks, “What does it mean to function as a leader in a group of people who are supposed to be following some else (God the Holy Spirit) and someone else’s (God’s) vision to have a redeemed, covenant people who would be his cooperative friends (not for merit, but of grace and “Spirit-strength”) leading constant lives of creative goodness on behalf of the whole world…even up to and including, the new heaven and new earth?”[10]  His hypothesis is that Christian leadership in this context requires serving, coordinating and empowering the sovereignly given activities of the Holy Spirit in a group of people.

This requires leadership from within the community rather than from above it. This requires leadership that is servant-oriented. This requires leadership that truly believes Christ dwells in every believer to teach and minister and demonstrates that belief by yielding to community members as Christ ministers through them. This requires leadership that is team-based as the team seeks Christ’s direction together and then serves and yields to each other in love.

Conclusion – A Journey Of Formation
The missional community is exploring and rediscovering what it means to be God’s sent people as our identity and vocation in the world. It is the extension of the Trinity’s love and missionary activity as embodied by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is a group of Jesus’ apprentices who are learning how to be sent as he was sent – in the fullness of God in all aspects of daily life. Such a community is a journey of exploration, discovery, nurture and formation.  Stanley Grenz beautifully describes this formational journey:

The church is a people who covenant together to belong to God – that is, to be holy, to be set apart from the world for God’s special use. As this holy people, we are to proclaim in word and action the principles of the kingdom, showing others what it means to live under the divine reign. But more importantly, as Christ’s people we are to show forth the divine reality – to be the image of God. To be the people in covenant with God who serve as the sign of the kingdom means to reflect the very character of God. The church reflects God’s character in that it lives as a genuine community – lives in love – for as the community of love, the church shows the nature of the triune God. En route to the consummation of his purpose, therefore, God calls the church to mirror as far as possible in the midst of the brokenness of the present that eschatological ideal community of love that derives its meaning from the divine essence.[11]

[1] Craig van Gelder, The Essence of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 31
[2] Robert Webber, The Younger Evangelicals (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 133.
[3] Webber, 135.
[4] I first heard these four questions posed by Todd Hunter, the former director of the Association of Vineyard Churches, USA
[5] Brian McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 121
[6] John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1997), 36
[7] Webber, 149.
[8] John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 1-2.
[9] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1998), 236
[10] Todd Hunter’s web log at
[11] Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 483.

Michael Frost, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. (July 2006)
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church. (November 2003)
Darrell Guder (Editor), Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. (1998)
Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches. (2006)
Ed Stetzer and David Putman, Breaking the Missional Code. (2006) **
Reggie McNeal, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. (2003)
Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit. (2000)
Milfred Minatrea, Shaped By God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. (2004)
Lois Barrett (Editor), Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness. (2004)
George R. Hunsberger (Editor), Craig Van Gelder (Editor), The Church Between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America. (1996)
Alan Roxburgh, Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World.  (2006)