In a review in the current issue of Christian Century, Anthony Robinson discusses the application of missional church theology to denominational structures. As Robinson reminds us, it is not the church that has a mission but God who has a mission of which the church is a part.

In applying this concept to judicatories, Robinson writes, “Because missional church theology consistently emphasizes the missio Dei – God’s mission, in which the church participates – this venture might be summarized as an attempt to rearrange denominational life so that God is at the center.”

This is a significant insight. Denominations consciously or unconsciously choose their focus. In my denominational experience as a Baptist in the south, we usually talked about the church being at the center of our work. This was, of course, the ideal, but the emphasis on the church reminded us of local church autonomy (although we often wanted churches to fall in line with the latest program handed down from denominational headquarters). The idea we pursued was the local congregation as the nexus of God’s work. This is a good start, but it only goes so far, and certainly falls short of the missio Dei.

Denominations have been organized around other concepts as well. They have often been centered on mission endeavors. In this context, “mission” meant missionary-sending structures in which the resources of individuals and churches were mobilized to put people on the mission field. This may be part of, but does not totally encompass, what we mean when we use the term “missional church.”

In other contexts, denominational structures have centered on regulation, doctrinal orthodoxy and simply survival! Our denominations have often been more concerned about promoting success than faithfulness.

What if we reconsidered denominational life with the missio Dei at the center? How would this impact our priorities, structures and personnel? This is an idea worth considering.

Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.

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