The Missional Quest: Becoming a Church of the Long Run
Lance Ford and Brad Brisco
Paperback: IVP Books, 2013
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Reviewed by Scott Emery
There is a movement afoot. It has been brewing within many circles of the American church and has recently come to a tipping point that can no longer be ignored. It is due largely to a story I have heard over and over again from both local pastors and from ones across the country. Things within their church have either stalled out, radically declined, or have been discontinued altogether. The Siamese twin to these predicaments is the utter confusion, bitterness, and/or personal exhaustion found by many along this journey. Unfortunately for some, it has been too overwhelming, which results in the dismemberment of many local churches around the country.
Stirrings typically begin as whispers between friends over coffee wondering what might be next. Potential solutions to these ecclesiological problems bounce around as similar stories are shared and commonalities come out from the dark. Within these conversations, authors, books, and conferences get thrown around as leaders and laity alike begin to push into the unknown future of the church. Quite a bit has changed, yet one thing seems to remain the same: our preoccupation with ideas with little to no actual action.
The Missional Quest thus enters the foray seeking to be a uniquely written book for church leaders investigating the practical “how to” of the missional movement. To quote Brisco and Ford, “We have written the book to provide very simple – but not always easy – steps to move an existing congregation in a missional direction.” (10) Directing their attention to existing congregations and pastors, they begin their book with intentionality in mind. The first section sets out to establish how the church should think. Theological foundations are set up as the moorings from which the rest of the book will be anchored. This leads us to the second section aptly named “Fostering a Missional Posture: What Steps are Necessary?” The majority of the book is found here as Brisco and Ford pause in an effort to give the proper thoroughness needed to missional “principles and practices.” Theological assumptions are challenged in part one and this challenge is mirrored in part two as the authors call us to relearn the actual practices of this new theological paradigm. They emphasize that real learning is birthed in both the intellect and body as they work together.
Additional help is given in the form of “Steps on the Quest.” According to Ford and Brisco, “Here we provide to church leaders practical suggestions for both communicating missional values and instilling core practices in the local congregation.” (13) These are not the panacea to the church’s ills; rather they are ideas to shift the current trajectory your church may be on.
Part One: Fostering a Missional Mindset: How Should My Church Be Thinking?
This section is a chapter focusing on the theology underlying and undergirding what a missional church might look like. It gives the narrative from which the action emerges. As one might assume, for Brisco and Ford, it all begins with mission.
“Missional” as a term has taken on an amorphous quality. Everything has been deemed missional, much to the chagrin of the authors and, for what it’s worth, I believe they are correct in their annoyance. In an effort to recalibrate the word and its connotations, the authors give us a biblical narrative rooting the prime attribute of God in mission. God is a sending God in his essence. As such, it naturally makes sense to identify the church as a sending church. The church at its core is missional. Against other views of the church, Brisco and Ford give us the following definition: “The alternative vision of the church is to see it as a people called and sent by God to participate in his redemptive mission for the world.” (25) Our God is a missionary God; his church is a missionary church.