Book Review: The Missional Quest, by Lance Ford & Brad Brisco
Lance Ford and Brad Brisco, The Missional Quest: Becoming A Church of the Long Run. IVP Books, 2013. 208 pp. $17.00.
The Missional Quest wants us to know that being “missional” derives directly from who God is. The evidence of “sending language” in the Bible, they assert, “not only emphasizes the missionary nature of God, but it also stresses the importance of understanding the church as a sent, missionary body” (26). This produces an “alternative vision of the church,” rooted in the sending-ness of God, that will change how we understand the nature of the church. The church changes from being a cul de sac of consumers saying “gimme,” to a hub of community-engaging missionaries seeking to serve the world. “The church still gathers, but the difference is that we gather not for our [members’] own sake but for the sake of others.” I simply want to reply—well, kinda.
What seemed immediately clear to me was the fundamental disagreement I had with the authors concerning the institutional church as it relates to both its nature and function. It seemed hard at times to understand what the authors were actually trying to say the mission of the church was. In their establishing pages, the authors seemed to be issuing a corrective to two different perspectives. The first view is “the Reformation perspective,” which defines a true church as one that rightly bears “the marks”—the Word rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered, and church discipline rightly practiced. The second view promotes church as a “place where . . . members are viewed as customers for whom religious goods and services are produced” (28).
The authors insist that the problem with these two views is that “the church is seen as an institution that exists for the benefit of its members” (28). There’s only one problem with this: it does! To be sure, the church doesn’t only exist for this reason, but certainly a main objective of the church is, in fact, to benefit its members.
The authors continue to correct such a view by saying that to “nurture its members” is “not the essence of the church. In fact it is the exact opposite!” Now, while this surely does pack a punch, I fear it sounds more striking than biblically true. William McAlpine may be correct to say, “Rather than seeing ourselves primarily as a sending body, we must see ourselves as a body that is sent.” But to make the sending aspect of the church her essence is reductionistic. Just as God’s character is more complex than any one attribute, so with the church. She is an institution with governance. She is a community of love. She is a missionary agent charged with stewarding and commending the gospel. She is the household of God and a pillar and buttress of the truth. She is a temple made of living stones. She is the display of the glory of God to the cosmos. Yet none of these realities should be said to be more central to her essence than the others, and by doing so we get a lop-sided witness and a distorted image of the glory of God.
This is especially crucial when trying to understand the church’s mission. Too easily we exaggerate one aspect and neglect another when attempting to encourage faithfulness in a particular area of concern. But faithfulness calls us to hold the church’s attributes in tandem, as they are in Scripture, without putting at odds what God has made one.
This is an issue in the book because the authors want us to push our churches toward the “missional quest.” Yet inherent in their encouragement is an undergirding philosophy that sees the church’s mission almost exclusively as outward-focused. Certainly there were many gems in this book about practical ways to love your neighbor. The portions on hospitality in chapters 4 and 5 were golden. And I was especially grateful for the calls for greater dependence on the Holy Spirit as we try to live out our mission. However, as a whole, I am honestly less enthusiastic about the book.
Being “on mission” is a popular phrase these days, but I have come to the point where I am pretty confused by what people mean when they say it. Even in this book, we are referred to as the “missionary people of God” several times. But can’t we be a little more careful with the “missionary” word? Based on this book, it seems that “being on mission” is being in a community and for the community—doing good to our neighbors in Christ’s name, seeing everything as mission. Yet this can’t be the mission. Surely it should be a dimension of it,but the mission isn’t just everyone living life and doing good to others in Christ’s name, seeking to serve them every day.
The mission, as I would understand it from the Bible, is intrinsically wrapped up in a message, a message that must be shared and believed. So, building relationships with people is fine, but our “mission” is to build a certain type of relationship with those people. Our mission is not to be friends with our neighbors (though praise God for that); our mission is to make disciples of all nations.
I actually don’t think we need more “movements,” catchy phrases, or “missional quests.” It is precisely in calling for these that books like this become unhelpful. They’re trying to reinvent the wheel, but the wheel we have in Scripture cannot be improved. We simply need to be faithful to what is in there. Who knows, maybe the Lord will give us revival? We should certainly pray for it. But our marching orders for the church are very clear. Our mission is not just engaging our neighbors but evangelizing them. And after they believe, we teach them to obey all Christ has commanded.
Our authors suggest that if there were a “silver-bullet” to get churches moving in the missional direction, it would be “the formation of every church member into a missionary” (79). I think what they mean by getting Christians to see themselves as missionaries is quite simply getting Christians to see themselves as Christians.