God’s Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church
by Charles Van Engen | Available Here
Charles Van Engen’s God’s Missionary People helped launch today’s missional discussion, and still has much to tell our local church. Before coming to Fuller, Van Engen was a missionary and theological teacher in Mexico. He has taught at other seminaries and served as president of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America. He continues his work in Mexico through his organization Latin American Christian Ministries. At Fuller, he teaches various classes in the school of Intercultural Studies and provides mentoring from Doctoral students.
The thesis of the book is captured in this introduction:
“Local Congregations the world over will gain new life and vitality only as they understand the missiological purpose for which they alone exist, the unique culture, people and needs of their context, and the missionary action through which they alone will discover their own nature as God’s people in the world” (20).
Part 1-Local Churches: God’s Missionary People
The book begins with Van Engen’s explanation for the need for the Church to revisit its ecclesiology in the light of missiology. He bases this on the historical self-understanding of the church (drawing from both the Apostle’s Creed and the marks of the Church), as well as developments in globalism and ecumenicism. His argument is that the church should restate its self-understanding in terms of being a missionary people.
Part 2 Local Churches: A New Vision of God’s Missionary People
In seeking to identify the purpose of the church, Van Engen focuses on four tasks: “koinonia,” “kerygma,” “diakonia,” and “martyria.” The result of such a group of people is the Covenant Community of the King.
Part 3 Local Churches: Becoming God’s Missionary People
The final section of the book deals with the practical side of structuring a missional Church. It wrestles with the understanding of laity and leadership. It also deals with the practical aspects of managing an organization.
This is a book that I wish I had come across years ago. One idea I found invaluable was placing the missional church in historical perspective. By dealing with the historical self-understanding of the church, as well as the tasks early church, the idea of being missional is taken out of its current trendiness and placed well within scripture and tradition.
Some of the most valuable takeaways for me were the four tasks of the church from Part 2. What would it look like if my church and my life, were judged by these four tasks?
- Koinonia is probably what we do best. We love to eat together and play together. But we still have a ways to go when it comes to simply doing life together.
- Kerygma is something that my church is learning. We could benefit from a deep study of the question “what does it look like to make Jesus “Lord”?
- Diakonia has always been a strength of our community. We have many who are social workers and counselors. But maintaining and growing it to non-professionals will take some concentrated effort to maintain.
- Martyria is another growth area. For some of us, the idea of clearly articulating our faith, and maybe even suffer for doing so, is something that may feel too “churchy.”
As much as I like this book, my only complaint is that it may already be dated. I would love to see Van Engen update this book, and reflect on how the developments in the missional movements have embraced his ideas, and how he might have missed the mark.