Brief Reviews, VOLUME 3

Review: Missional Map-Making by Alan Roxburgh [Vol. 3, #9]

“Getting us Back to the Basics
in a Generative, Transformational Way”

A Review of

Missional Map-Making:
Skills For Leading In Times Of Transition
Alan J. Roxburgh.

Hardback: Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Enstad.

“The times they are a-changin’,”  goes the old song.  Societies experience periods of great displacement and uncertainty all the time.  It is easy to fall into the trap that the current economic distress being felt by nearly everyone in this country is a unique thing but that would not be the case.  When times like these do happen it is always good to have people like Alan Roxburgh on hand to put some kind of frame around it and then help lead the leaders into new territory.

Roxburgh’s new book, Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition, is just such a book.  Using the image of a map, Roxburgh sets the stage for building an apparatus for leadership in the church when it seems that things are happening much too fast and one’s sense of hope can easily be discouraged.

The maps that we were used to in this country are no longer valid and what is required are new map-makers.  Leaders are required who can lead in this “in-between” time to a new way of being the church.  Those who insist that the old maps will work again aren’t going to find a lot for them in this book but those who are thirsty for some traction will read it and share it among their own congregational leadership and other church leaders as well.

Roxburgh’s main assertion is that strategic planning won’t work in this time because it is impossible to know what the next five years are bringing for our country.  In fact, strategic planning may never have worked in the first place but did serve the purpose of getting a vision in front of a people and then working in common for that mission.

No, what is necessary are leaders and institutions that are adaptive and that can handle multiple directions of change.  In this time, Roxburgh writes, “Leaders don’t need to have the answer but they do need to know how to make maps.”

He follows this thesis with a remarkably practical process for getting down to drawing new maps.  Using the themes of assessment, focus, and creation he draws leaders into a world where a church does not need to be in a place where it reacts to culture but instead can be a part of a parallel culture that each individual community has created for itself.  Not surprisingly he roots this parallel culture in the ancient practices, or core marks, of the church: the offices, hospitality, receiving the poor and learning.  He then connects these more internal experiences to one of outreach and partnership with other institutions in the community seeking to do the same thing from another direction.

I’m thankful for people like Roxburgh who can lay out the case for the core tenets of the church.  Many congregations hitched their stars to the economic and cultural realities of life of the last three decades and are now finding themselves adrift.  Roxburgh’s book gets us back to the basics but in a generative, transformational way that leaders from all sizes, shapes, and colors of church will appreciate.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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One Comment

  1. I heard about this book when I was on holidays and visiting a church. The pastor was sharing its impact and challenging people to read it if they were interested in being relavent in reaching and meeting the needs of our communities. Now I’m interested in checking it out. Thanks for your review.