Those who take the time to examine the history of the Christian church over the last two thousand years recognize that the church has always been in the process of reinventing itself. Manifestations of the church that start out as fresh, creative approaches to impacting the surrounding culture ultimately become commonplace and stale as the world changes. This calls for renewal and reimagining the way that we “do church.”
Missional, Monastic, Mainline: A Guide to Starting Missional Micro-Communities in Historically MainlineTraditions by Elaine Heath and Larry Duggins is both a call to action and a guide for renewing the church by implementing a contemporary expression of a renewal methodology that is very familiar in the church—the monastic tradition.
The first part of the book deals with the rationale for this approach—the need, the theological basis, and possible concerns. Heath and Duggins are proponents of a missional ecclesiology, defining it as “the fundamental identity of the church being God’s sent out people.” They argue that this understanding of the church does not take anything away from mainline expressions of the church but provides expanded opportunities for mission and ministry.
Included in this section is a chapter on the role of theological education in this shift. They observe,
“A radical shift in how we prepare leaders is necessary and soon, or seminaries will not survive the cultural shift. Most of the way we prepared people for church leadership in the past 150 years is simply out of touch with political, economic, social, and religious realities of our culture.”
The authors are not antagonistic to theological education. Heath holds an endowed chair at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and Duggins is a seminary graduate. Both are ordained elders in the United Methodist Church. Rather, they are calling for reform, renewal, and reinvention as a means of furthering the mission of God’s people.
The second part of the book is a very practical guide to launching missional micro-communities that are connected with traditional, mainline churches. They draw not only from their experiences in creating such communities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area but the experiences of others such as Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. For those interested in the missional church movement, the book includes the most extensive bibliography I have seen on this topic. Prepared by Bret Wells, the bibliography covers the missional church from both academic and practitioner perspectives, the emerging church movement both contextually and theologically, resources related to the missional and intentional community movement, and leadership development in missional contexts.
Even if one has no interest in becoming part of an intentional community, this short volume provides both insight and testimony to the power of a potentially significant renewal movement in the church.