Missional-Church-in-PerspectiveVan Gelder, Craig, and Dwight J. Zscheile. The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation The Missional Network. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011.

The Authors

Craig Van Gelder

van_gelder_craig“At age 15, Craig Van Gelder made a personal profession of faith. Three years later as a freshman in college, he answered a call to Christian ministry. Since then he has focused on helping the church participate fully in God’s mission to bring salvation to all of life.

Following college, Van Gelder worked with The Navigators for 10 years in campus and discipleship ministries throughout the South. Then he changed focus and spent a decade working as a consultant to congregations, helping with strategic planning, organizational development and needs assessment.

An ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church, Van Gelder holds Ph.D. degrees in both missiology and urban affairs. He came to Luther Seminary from Calvin Theological Seminary where he spent 10 years as Professor of Domestic Missiology.

He describes his current role as “bringing congregations into a conversation with theological education.” One way he does this is through “Reading the Audiences,” a course rooted deeply in congregational practices. He leads students to think holistically about the essentials of ministry: learning the story, interpreting and confessing the message, and leading in mission.

Van Gelder also administers a major seminary initiative, “Learning Congregational Leadership in Context.” Funded by a grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., the project aims to increase the involvement of students with congregations. Faculty and pastors will help students reflect theologically about congregational life. Participants will examine Scripture, church history or other course material from the perspective of the congregation.

“We want to shape students’ theological imagination and their self-image as vision leaders,” Van Gelder says. “We want them to grasp the essence of who we are — the body of Christ, the communion of saints — and to understand that in this culture the church is the only institution that has both the mandate and the power to be a reconciling force in society. The church has to be on the mission’s edge — it’s part of our very nature.”[1]

Dwight Zscheile

ZscheileDwight Zscheile joined the Luther Seminary faculty in 2008 as assistant professor of Congregational Mission and Leadership, after serving as an adjunct instructor in church leadership at Luther Seminary in 2007 and 2008. Zscheile received a Bachelor of Arts degree with distinction from Stanford University, Calif., in 1995, having also attended Oxford University, and a Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Conn., in 1998. He completed the Doctor of Philosophy degree at Luther Seminary with a focus on congregational mission and leadership in 2008.

Zscheile’s thesis, “Reframing Mission,” focused on a large-scale action-research intervention into a mainline denominational judicatory that mobilized grassroots members to address challenges of decline, crisis, and renewal. Zscheile was ordained in The Episcopal Church in 2005 and has served on mission and leadership task forces in the Dioceses of Minnesota and Virginia.

Before coming to Luther, Zscheile served as executive pastor at St. David’s Episcopal Church, Ashburn, Va. He currently serves part-time as associate priest at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul, alongside his wife, Blair Pogue, the rector. Zscheile has been involved in leadership roles in congregations in Connecticut, Virginia, and Minnesota.

Zscheile is the author of People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity (Morehouse Publishing, 2012) and The Missional Church in Perspective (with Craig Van Gelder; Baker Academic, 2011). He is the editor of Cultivating Sent Communities: Missional Spiritual Formation (Eerdmans 2012). His essays and articles include “A More True ‘Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’: Toward a Missional Polity for the Episcopal Church” in The Missional Church and Denominations (Eerdmans 2008), “The Trinity, Leadership, and Power” (Journal of Religious Leadership 6, no. 2 (Fall 2007)), “Beyond Benevolence: Toward a Reframing of Mission in the Episcopal Church” (Journal of Anglican Studies 8, no. 1, 2010), and “Social Networking and Church Systems,” Word and World Summer 2010. He has also contributed to WorkingPreacher.org and Leading Ideas, an online publication of Wesley Theological Seminary.

Zscheile was named a Marquand Scholar at Yale Divinity School (1995-8), a Lewis Fellow at Wesley Theological Seminary (2005-6) and was awarded the David and Martha Tiede Fellowship from Luther Seminary (2006-7).[2]

Majors themes of the missional church:

  1. God is a missionary God who sends the church into the world. This understanding shifts the agency of mission from the church to God. It is God’s mission that has a church rather than a church that has a mission.
  2. God’s mission in the world is related to the reign (kingdom) of God. This understanding makes the work of God in the world larger than the mission of the church, although the church is directly involved in the reign (kingdom) of God.
  3. The missional church is an incarnational (versus an attractional) ministry sent to engage a postmodern, post-Christendom, globalized context. This understanding requires every congregation to take on a missionary posture for engaging its local context, with this missionary engagement shaping everything a congregation does.
  4. The internal life of the missional church focuses on every believer living as a disciple engaging in mission. This understanding makes every member a minister, with the spiritual growth of every disciple becoming the primary focus as the body is built up to participate more fully in God’s mission int he world.[3]

Key Concepts that Influenced Missional Church:

  1. Church and missions/mission: We must overcome the historical dichotomy of church and missions/mission by connecting ecclesiology and missiology.
  2. Trinitarian missiology: We must start with the Trinity in order to understand mission, for Trinity introduces us to a sending God who is a missionary God.
  3. Missio Dei: The emergence of this conception of the mission of God reframes our understanding of mission from being church-centric to becoming theocentric, a view articulated especially by Newbigin.
  4. Reign (kingdom) of God: The message of Jesus is centered on the reign of God, which must be understood as both already and not yet.
  5. Church’s missionary nature: God is a missionary God, and God’s mission involves a church sent into the world to represent the reign (kingdom) of God. Thus the church is missionary by nature.
  6. Missional hermeneutic: It is necessary to use a missional hermeneutic to read Scripture in order to understand the full intent of God’s mission.

Key Image



Part One: The History and Development of the Missional Conversation

Chapter One: Concepts Influencing the Missional Church Conversation

Chapter Two: Revisiting the Seminal Work Missional Church

Chapter Three: Mapping the Missional Conversation

Part Two: Perspectives That Extend the Missional Conversation

Chapter Four: Expanding and Enriching the Theological Frameworks

A postcolonial missional ecclesiology must be grounded in the cruciform mission of the Triune God. Some churches in the West still (often unintentionally) cling to patterns of imperial authority, social privilege, and assumed centrality. Yet the era of Christendom is over, even as forms of economic and  cultural imperialism persist amid globalization. Churches that have inherited the legacy of Christendom and colonialism must adopt a different posture in today’s polycentric world. Difference is newly omnipresent in many communities. Conflicts erupt daily in our world along national, ethnic, economic, religious, and cultural lines. The need for reconciliation in our world—and within the church itself—is profound.

At the heart of God’s missional response to this reality is the cross. The cross calls us to decenter our identities so that in Christ we might be reconciled with the neighbor. In the space opened up by the cross, God acts to overcome the enmity, hostility, division, and violence of human sin. We find our calling as ambassadors in this reconciliation in which we are freed to view ourselves and our neighbors as participants in a new humanity in Christ: (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)[4]

The retrieval of the social Trinity invites us to a renewed understanding of humanity. Here, an understanding of “person” concerns relationality or communal embeddedness more so than it concerns conceiving of individuals as being isolated or apart from community. For Stanley Grenz, as for others such as Gunton and Zizioulas who develop this theme, “the image of God does not lie in the individual per se but in the relationality of persons in community.” The image of God is not a static set of individual attributes or a fixed nature, but rather an eschatological reality that shapes the church’s identity and mission. “In short, the indwelling Spirit leads and empowers the church to fulfill its divinely mandated calling to be a sacrament of trinitarian communion, a temporal, visible sign of the eternal, dynamic life of the triune God.” The church represents through its way of being community together a limited and provisional but powerful glimpse of what it means to be human in God’s image. In this manner, the church as a communion of persons sharing and interdependent, reciprocal life of mutuality, reconciled in Christ and united by the Spirit, shows forth something of God’s own nature to the world.[5]

Chapter Five: Missional Engagement with Culture in a Globalized World

Chapter Six: Missional Practices of Church Life and Leadership

Missional Imagination

Missional Practices of Discipleship

Discipleship is following Christ into participation in God’s mission in the world in the power of the Spirit. This means that it lies at the heart of the missional turn. Since missional church is fundamentally about identity—about being the church—developing and deepening the Christian identity of every disciple must be at the forefront of the church’s focus.[6]

There is no model for what a missional church looks like. Rather, missional church needs to be defined by the church’s dynamic participation in the Triune God’s movement in the world. There is  thus no how-to list or set of defining characteristics for the missional church, and approach often pursued in some of the curerent literature as noted in chapter 3. It takes on different expressions at different times and places. Missional church is a habit of mind and heart, a posture of openness and discernment, and a faithful attentiveness both to the Spirit’s presence and to the world that God so loves. Recognizing and seeking the leadership of the Spirit in the churhc’s communal life and practice is the key.[7]

Dwelling in the Word

Missional Discernment

Missional Worship

Mission in Daily Life

Discovering Missional Identity through Practice

Participatory Missional Leadership

Reframing Church Organization for Mission

Missional Church Planting

Renewing Congregations for Mission

The key is for ordinary church members to develop their capacity to listen to God’s Word in community, to listen to the Spirit, and to listen to their neighbors in love.[8]


[1] http://www.luthersem.edu/faculty/fac_profile.aspx?contact_id=cvangeld (accessed June 7, 2013)

[2] http://www.luthersem.edu/faculty/fac_bio.aspx?contact_id=dzscheile001 (accessed August 1, 2013)

[3] Craig Van Gelder and Dwight J. Zscheile, The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation, The Missional Network (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 4.

[4] Ibid.,  116-117.

[5] Ibid.,  121.

[6] Ibid.,  148.

[7] Ibid.,  149.

[8] Ibid.,  165.

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