A little over a week ago, my cousin-in-law Josh, asked how one might go about transitioning traditional churches into “something more missional at its core.” Since I have banged my head against this wall for years in several different churches, my response will be a mixture of, “here’s where I failed,” and “here’s what I think is most helpful.”

I should say a few things at the beginning to help frame my thoughts.

1) This is a wine skins issue (Mt. 9:17). Anyone considering this topic who thinks (whether they realize it or not) that this is basically about getting new wine into old wine skins is destined for frustration and failure – I speak from experience!  Missional churches represent brand new wine skins, not just new wine.

2) This takes a long time. The most experienced people will tell you 8-10 years minimum.  When we are talking about changing the core identity of, not just a person, but a community, we have to expect a long hard road. An apt analogy – God got Israel out of Egypt in pretty short order, but it took another 40 years to get Egypt out of Israel.

3) No one person is capable of maneuvering this transition.  Solo pastors are dead in the water in this regard.  And this isn’t to say that the better way is having a team of top-down leaders – this will end up being damaging as well.  One of the keys to instilling missional DNA in a church community is inspiring and encouraging new imagination from the bottom.

Those things being said, what does it take?  What might the process look like?

My short answer is,

A Spirit-guided intermingling of communal practices, teaching, and prayerful reflection.

Here’s my slightly-longer expansion on those three things.

I take for granted that fundamental to the distinctions of “traditional” and “missional” is a vision of what it means to be the church in Post-Christendom vs. Christendom.  My personal opinion (others may disagree) is that there is no point in talking about what it means to be a missional church until Christendom has been rejected as a cultural value. Thus, transitioning traditional churches to missional ones is a non-linear process of deconstruction and reconstruction.  Communal practices, teaching, and reflection are the tools which assist in this ongoing task.  It would be a (classically modern) mistake to think of this as a mainly intellectual enterprise.  Instead, in the integration of these things, deconstruction and reconstruction happen alongside one another.

Since there is no universal model to apply to this topic, we are better served by asking general questions that need to be answered in specific contexts.  Here are some questions which I think would serve us well in maneuvering this sort of transition.

– In both small numbers as well as large, what are the practices we can engage in as a community that will shape us into people and “a people” who think and act like Jesus?

– As we try to be honest with ourselves, what things are we doing as a community that don’t seem to be contributing to our spiritual formation?

– How do we incorporate space in our times together (in homes, in meetings, in gatherings) to intentionally reflect on and respond to what we sense God is speaking and doing in our community?

– Who are those in our community who seem most gifted to teach (identified by the fruit of their teaching helping people become more like Jesus)? How can we encourage these people to engage with authors and speakers who are dealing with the subject of missional ecclesiology on our behalf?

– How do we make incremental yet strategic changes in the percentage of money that goes to those things which ensure our security as opposed to those things which necessitate faith in the midst of great risk?

Over and above questions like these, I would also suggest these sort of biblical principles for those who shoulder the responsibility for a transition like this:

– Find people of peace who can be trusted and are willing to commit to the journey. Ask for their help.

– Demonstrate servant leadership by being open, transparent, and broken.

– Commit to structures of biblical conflict resolution.  Entrust to God’s care those who choose to leave (there will be many and this is not necessarily a sign of poor leadership).

OK, there’s some initial thoughts.  I’m sure I’ll have more so I hope to continue the discussion by way of comments.


JR Rozko is an Adjunct Instructor of Church and Contemporary Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary and works in communication and program development at Northern Seminary in Chicago, IL.  He is currently part of a D.Miss. cohort focused on Anabaptist Perspectives in Missional Ecclesiology.  This post originally appeared on JR’s personal Blog: lifeasmission.com.

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