Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the sake of the world
by J.R. Woodward
I have come across a book at just the right time in my life, that says just what I needed a book to say about what it might mean to be a pastor in the next generation of the church. This is important for me, because despite all of my doubts, and despite all of my past inclination, that’s what I will be. So long as God wills and a church will hire me, it has become incredibly clear that my next big step in life is to serve the church for the sake of the Kingdom.
The problem is, I’ve never seen myself as a senior pastor. I’ve never felt I’m gifted in the ways senior pastors are typically gifted, and I also have serious doubts about the validity of the position all together. But after what I’ve seen God do in the life of one person, it became abundantly clear that my life is now meant to be spent for the service of the full breadth of the church. This is exactly why J.R. Woodward’s Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the sake of the world has come at just the right time. In the pages of this book I have found that there are ways to understand the church that fit more powerfully inside of the gospel than what we tend to see in many churches today, as well as an expression of the church into which I can fit as a server and an equipper for the wider body.
The Big Gospel Soil
To begin with, Woodward’s ecclesiology grows out of the heart of what I have begun to refer to as the “big gospel.” I have been working for the past three years to find an expression of the gospel that is bigger than the four spiritual laws, or the buddy Jesus gospel that seems to be offered by so many Christians today as the gospel in its entirety. It is my contention that in the coming generation, a simplistic understanding of the gospel, one that does not adequately take into account human suffering and pain, or that simply baptizes certain people in power and chastises others, will not be a message that is good news to anyone.
Woodward, however, expresses a big gospel throughout the book. It is an understanding of the gospel that comes from his understanding of God’s mission to renew all of creation through Jesus, and from believing that God actually calls his people to be a part of his mission to bring this renewal to creation today. When this is our starting point for thinking about the church, we find that much of the old ways of even talking about the church become obsolete. When all Christians are called to be on mission with God, then labeling certain people “volunteers” seems hollow. When all the church can partner with God in his mission, then certain people making all the decisions and holding all the power seems almost silly. But if this big gospel understanding so radically alters our understanding of the church, then how does the church function? How does the church, “get stuff done”?
Polycentric Leadership: Flattening the Church for everyone’s sake
At least in part, the answer to that question changes from place to place, because what God is doing in any given situation is different. The ways that God fulfills his mission in urban Los Angeles is vastly different than the way he does it in rural Indiana. This being the case, then the what each congregation is doing to join the mission ought to be different as well. This idea should force churches to ask, “Why are we doing anything we are doing? It is serving God’s mission where we are?”
According to Woodward, however any congregation answers these questions, they will do so by helping the people of the church find their place in the mission of God, and it is the role of the equippers to help people identify the fullness of the God’s mission and their roles in it. One of the more radical moves of the book, and maybe the move in which I find the most hope, is to take seriously the five roles listed in Ephesians 4:11–13 as the means by which God will equip his church.
I find great hope in this because I have always had difficulty with what has become of the role of “pastor” in the church. It seems that in many cases, we have simply smashed all the equipper roles and all the gifts available to the church into one person and asked them to be some sort of “super-Christian” for the church. No one person can do that, nor do I believe any one person is supposed to be expected to. Woodward’s proposal is that these five roles, apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are to be taken up by multiple people who exhibit these gifts so that they can serve the body together. It challenges the traditional idea that every organization needs one leader where the “buck stops,” so to speak, but it’s time that idea is questioned anyways. Moving forward into whatever the future culture of the West looks like, that single, concentrated person in which all power and giftedness is found won’t fly.
re-Imagining the roles
Critical in understanding how this works is to understand the five equippers, and I love what Woodward does here. Words like apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and even teacher have all but lost their meaning in the church. Whatever it is that people think they mean, these roles simply get lost in the shuffle. At best we start with the word pastor, expect that man or woman to also be a teacher, and maybe an evangelist if it means more people in the pews. Without going into all the details (I mean I do want you to go read this book after all) here are the five equippers as Woodward recasts them:
- apostle: Dream Awakener
- prophet: Heart Revealer
- evangelist: Story Teller
- pastor: Soul Healer
- teacher: Light Giver
I love these titles because they are descriptive—you can begin to imagine what someone who is a “story teller” might be doing in the life of the church, and they move past the older wooden understanding of some of these roles. It’s a wonderful, imaginative move that seems to catch people off-guard and make them rethink why these five offices exist in the church and why we could have ever thought one person could do them all.
My One Big Question
As I have said, I am drawn straight to everything Woodward is doing in Creating a Missional Church. It brings together my search to find a bigger understanding of the gospel with my own journey that has brought me to the place that I am seeking a senior pastor position in a church. This of course leads me to my own “one big question.” How do you cultivate this sort of culture in the life of a church that already exists in the modern model? One of the ways Woodward has brought this all to life is through church planting, and I have great respect for people who plant churches, but it’s simply not my calling. I feel, in no uncertain terms, that people like myself need to be able to be involved in helping congregations that already exist understand how to become congregations that can speak into the world that is ahead without tearing everything down and starting over. How do I go about doing that? I guess that’s what I’ll find out. And I guess that my one big question makes sense, given that I was identified as a “Heart Revealer” first and a “Dream Awakener” second when I took the online equipper assessment. And while that shocked me, my wife’s laughter confirmed that it might just be pretty close to the mark.
 I have been a youth pastor for almost a decade, and I do not slight that time or service in the least. It is critical and it is valuable and I love the students I’ve been blessed to serve, but the message God has for me to speak simply must find an audience in the wider church. ↑