Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, Alan Roxburgh (Baker) $16.99
For the last decade and a half, Alan J. Roxburgh has been a leading thinker in the missional church movement. In his new book, Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, Roxburgh attempts to reframe a conversation which has become muddied since the groundbreaking work of Darrell L. Guder’s Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Eerdmans, 1998).
In Missional, Alan seeks to take us beyond our talk about church success, to deeper conversations about the church’s mission. These conversations begin by coming to terms with a world that is going through radical changes, while learning how to ask the right questions about these changes and how they influence the role of the church in the world.
Rather than asking what God is up to in our churches, Roxburgh contends we must ask what is God up to in our neighborhoods and communities. In contrast, most of our conversations among church practitioners involve questions regarding how to make church better, such as creating more attractive programs for the outsider, instead of learning to listen to God’s Spirit moving around us beyond our church walls.
The book is divided into three sections. In the first section, “The Cul-de-sac of Old Questions: Why We Have to Stop Thinking about the Church”, Roxburgh provides compelling stories of cultural changes and the church’s inability to adapt. His “Parable of Three Friends” is a helpful tool to wrestle with the work of Leslie Newbigin, a key figure in missional thinking, while providing a brief overview of missional theology.
In the second section: “The Language House of Luke-Acts: A Narrative for Shaping Our Time of Missional Formation”, the author provides a different way of reading our stories. Many church leaders are so entrenched in modernist language about church growth they have a difficult time imagining another way of shaping new stories. Immersing ourselves in the biblical narrative, particularly the boundary-breaking work of God in the Luke-Acts story, is such a resource that can open us to a new language of story-telling for the world around us.
In the third section: “A New Language”, Roxburgh moves to pragmatics. This is important because one of the criticisms of the missional movement is its lack of practical application. The author has avoided this until this point, mostly for fear of Christian leader’s tendency to bypass careful theological reflection and cultural discernment, and jump to “what works.” The final chapter, “Beginning the Journey”, outlines a seven step process which is described in greater detail in his earlier books (see The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World with Fred Romanuk and Eddie Giibbs, Jossey-Bass, 2006).
In recent years Alan Roxburgh has expressed frustration with the way “missional” has been co-opted for church growth techniques. Missional is a helpful correction in this conversation, bringing readers back to the movement’s original intent. While readers familiar with the missional conversation will not find anything new here, the synthesis of information, good story-telling, scriptural reflections, are still helpful. I can see this book being particularly relevant for church boards and other leadership teams in Christian communities seeking to address the challenges facing the church in North America today.
Jeff Gang is a pastor at Crosswalk Church in Redlands, California, where he has been working for six years to shape a missional conversation in suburban Los Angeles. He is a devoted family man and a two-time Ironman triathlete.