Ed Stetzer and David Putman’s Breaking the Missional Code gives church leaders the tools needed to become a missional presence in their community. In down-to-earth style, the authors take complex missiological concepts and translate them into achievable church practices. The book covers a lot of ground, addressing how to overcome the barriers to mission within existing models of church. I consider Stetzer and Putman’s work to be a valuable conversation partner in all things missional. I couldn’t be more pleased that so much contextualization material made it into a North American church- planting book.
Some of the ideas I appreciated were as follows. The authors begin by describing how the culture has changed significantly. They nuance modernity and postmodernity to demonstrate that we experience both these phenomena on a daily basis. They write a good bit about our identity as those who have been sent by Christ into the world. They provide a helpful chart on differences with modern and emerging preaching…
They offer a helpful summary of the shifts from church growth to church health to missional church, advocating missional church as the proper response to our context. This includes a missio Dei perspective on engaging, rather than relying solely on the Great Commission. Stetzer and Putnam then list some practical outworkings of missional church.
Many of their contributions are particularly insightful. They write
that discipleship begins before conversion, that one participates in
community before he or she converts, that people need this kind of experience with Christians before conversion. They also add the
missiological insight that Christians do not bring the gospel into a
context, but that God is already at work with those outside the faith
and asks us to join Him where He leads. Quite rightly, they write that church planters must learn from the context they serve in. They are to go into all the world: into people
groups, population segments, and cultural environments. They are to
learn from others without copying them. They form networks with other
I will share a few of the concerns I had reading the book. Throughout
the work, the authors use a typology of churched and unchurched. I don’t believe churched/unchurched is a helpful way to frame reality. It
seems to imply that church is inherently good and unchurched is
correspondingly bad. Instead of an ecclesiological rubric, however, I
think a missiological paradigm might be more helpful. Paul Hiebert,
missiologist, writes about centered and bounded sets. What matters is not whether we are in or out (churched or unchurched), but instead it is our direction that matters – are we moving closer to the King (or Kingdom) or moving further away?
Why is that important? Well, given our knowledge of history, we see that some churches do not exhibit kingdom aspects -- they do not manifest the fruits of the spirit, nor do they stand for justice in the world. Using Hiebert’s rubric, these churches would be moving away from the center. Conversely, some unchurched people serve the poor (among many other good things) and are moving in God’s direction. Again, we measure what we value, and church, apart from kingdom activities, becomes a club, a lifestyle enclave, a meaningless endeavor. Indeed, the church is dependent on its mission for its very identity. So, kingdom and movement are better markers of faithfulness to the gospel than are churched and unchurched.
In many parts of the book, I find myself agreeing with the headings but
not always the details. For example, in Chapter Two, the authors have
as a subtitle “Exegeting the Community”. As a missiologist, my heart
leaps when I see those words. However, the only example they offer is
Rick Warren’s door-to- door efforts asking if people go to church in the
area, and what they would want out of a church, etc. This is not
exegeting the culture -- it is church marketing. If the church is
penultimate and the reign of God ultimate (as the authors state later
in the book), then church marketing questions are the wrong questions
to ask to get at underlying realities. For our mission to be driven
missiologically as opposed to ecclesiologically, our questions must shift. In the door-to-door scenario just listed, the questions might
become: what would it look like if God came to town? Where is there injustice or conflict in our community, and how do the poor fare? What are our most acute problems as a community? Do you think it might be possible that God wants you to solve those problems? Would you like to join a group of neighbors that will seek to resolve that problem (work for justice)? These questions move away from ‘church as club’ to ‘church in service of the coming reign of God.’ In this scenario, participation in the reign of God gives the church its true identity.
I realize I have a bit more to say – I’ll look to conclude tomorrow with Part II.