Thursday, July 31, 2008

Word-Centered Missionalization

In the comments thread of Ed Stetzer's recent Movemental Christianity post Timmy Brister shared some really excellent thoughts on word-centeredness. I wanted to lift Brister's remarks and highlight them here, not only because I think he's right on, but because I think, in the context of Christian "movementalism," this sort of thinking reflects the possible disparate streams within the missional movement.

What I mean is, while communities self-identifying as missional all seem to share some very common theological and methodological values (which, as far as I can tell, immediately sets this movement apart from whatever the emerging church movement is/was), there is nevertheless at least one bifurcation within the missional movement on some fairly important matters of ecclesiology.
I think this bifurcation may be demonstrated by the relative ways those within the missional movement may resonate (or not resonate) with the following outline:
Should[n't] a movemental Christianity seek to have an undercurrent more grounded in biblical principles and eternal realities?

. . . What I find as movemental Christianity in Scripture is rooted and validated by the Word. You can find this, for instance in

* "those who received the word" (Acts 2:41) resulting in 3,000 added

* "many of those who heard the word believed" (Acts 4:4) resulting a totaling now 5,000

* "and the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem" (Acts 6:7)

* the first scattering from Jerusalem to Samaria is described as "those who were scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4)

* after the death of Herod, Luke writes that "the word of God increased and multiplied"

* in Antioch Pisidia, after Paul's preaching, it is said that the Gentiles "began rejoicing and glorying in the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region" (Acts 13:48-49)

* in Ephesus, after the sons of Sceva were run out and evil practices denounced, the Scripture says that "the the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily" (Acts 19:20)

. . . [W]hatever movement that is distinctively Christian must inherently and definitively be driven by the Word of God. Why else would Paul ask the Thessalonians, for example to pray that "the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you" (2 Thess. 3:1)?

I don't want to hash out all the flaws of [David] Garrison's paradigm, but I do want to positively emphasize what I believe Scripture underscores as movemental Christianity contoured and characterized by the Word of God moving in and through the people of God.

Stetzer of course concurred that the word must be central to any Christian movement.

I think what Brister is touching on is very important here, especially as the missional movement continues to attract Christians who for whatever reasons find the sharp edge of the gospel problematic in their otherwise biblical kingdom ideals.

Somewhat related:
5 Reasons for Sermon-Centric Worship
Further Thoughts on Sermon-Centric Worship

Both of those posts are on the place of preaching in worship gatherings, but I think the ideas are related to the place of "the word" in the life of the church. If you don't think is all that big a deal, check out this Brian Jones post, which maintains that Christians can study the Bible too much. (insert eyeroll here)


Alan Knox said...


I appreciate the emphasis on the "word of God". I'm wondering, though, are you limiting the meaning of "word of God" to "sermon"? For instance, in the Scripture passages quoted by Brister, preaching is not specifically mentioned neither is the church meeting specifically mentioned.

How, then, do we make a connection between these passages and "the place of preaching in worship gatherings"?


Jared said...

are you limiting the meaning of "word of God" to "sermon"?

No. That's why I said the sermon-centric worship posts were only somewhat related. But I think they're related in an important way.

I would say my main emphasis in this post (drawing from what I think is Brister's emphasis) is the portion of the popular Acts 2 description that says "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching."

I would say what word-centrism means devotion to Scripture in our communities and maintaining the fine point of the gospel (sin/grace) in our missional efforts.
The Scripture references given here demonstrate that preaching the proclamational gospel was key to gospel mission. That may sound like a no-brainer, but there is an influential contingent within the missional movement that would just as soon "help people" and not worry too much about preaching to them. The whole "deeds, not creeds" stuff.

How, then, do we make a connection between these passages and "the place of preaching in worship gatherings"?

Well, I guess the connection is that a community that is word-centered will value the place of preaching in its worship gathering.

Bill Blair said...


This is a good addition to your writings on the missional church. Although you seem to write the things I am thinking, I have been a little concerned with the label "missional" because such a label can take on a life of its own and grow apart from Scripture.

I think the things you describe as missional (which they are) are actually just biblical(to your credit). For example, I see Scripture calling us to gather for a purpose to spur each other on (biblical & missional). Also, I see a mandate that pastors are to equip the body to do ministry rather than just serve them (biblical & missional). Both of these things speak against the attractional/seeker model that you have been contrasting the missional model with.

I am sure I am not saying anything you don't already know, but I thought I would add my 1 or 2 cents. Keep up the good work.

Jared said...

Bill, helpful comment. I think you nailed it.