The Ministry of the Missional Church (Baker Books, 2007) by Craig Van Gelder is not leadership in search of theological rationale. It is a theology of the church in search of the leadership practices intrinsic to the nature and mission of the church. And church leaders who have the patience to read through the theology to get to the practice will be amply rewarded.
One doesn’t invent or channel a Spirit-led church; one finds oneself in it, reads what’s unfolding, and then one cooperates.
Three groups of church leaders will be especially helped by Craig Van Gelder’s book. To those discouraged by the lack of fruit from their labors Van Gelder offers a robust picture of a Spirit-led church. He summons the full witness of the Bible to unfold the various ways the Spirit sustains, animates, and nudges the church. One doesn’t invent or channel a Spirit-led church; one finds oneself in it, reads what’s unfolding, and then one cooperates.
The book will also help those struggling to lead their congregations from an established mentality to a missional mentality. Van Gelder is realistic: most mainline churches are still trying to recapture the glory days of their denominational history rather than seek a new identity. But he is also hopeful: there has been a remarkable convergence of trinitarian approaches to mission in recent decades that is only now saturating the practices of ecumenical, evangelical, and Roman Catholic churches alike. The tide is with the pastor who directs the congregation’s attention to what God is doing in the world: mission Dei.
Finally, church leaders looking for congregational discernment tools will find help. The book lists four disciplines of study that must inform discernment: Scripture, the congregation’s setting, the congregation’s practices, and contemporary theories about truth through dialogue. These studies provide the material for the “five phases of the discernment process,” which may or may not occur in this sequence: attending, asserting, agreeing, acting, and assessing.
The Ministry of the Missional Church is a hope-filled book that nudges leaders and their congregations to notice the larger gifts of the Spirit, gifts often left unopened but so full of promise.