I’ve been on a missional reading journey for a number of years now, and I thought it was time that I share some of my favorites with you all.
The Forgotten Ways By Alan Hirsch
It all started for me here, and this book changed my life forever! After 25 years of serving in what Hirsch calls the “attractional evangelism church growth” model, I began to question nearly everything I thought I had learned about what church “should” be. Hirsch starts with two examples from church history: the explosive growth of both the early church, and the Chinese underground church movement. And all this without any of the trimmings and trappings of the modern/post-modern, church growth movement! Then he goes on to critique the consumer oriented approach that I had spent most of my life supporting. Finally he proposes a better, missional way. If you’re wanting to look into missional thought and praxis, start here! I read the original version. You can get His revised edition here.
The New Parish by Sparks, Soerens and Friesen
The authors here reintroduce us to the idea of Parish – the neighborhood church. Remember when the church was the center of life in the neighborhood, serving as a community center, even a place for civic meetings? You’ll find plenty here on the theology of place (place matters, folks). Do you live where you worship, or do you drive 30 or even 45 minutes to “go to church”? How can you serve your community if it’s nowhere near where your faith community gathers? How can you be involved in deep, meaningful relationships with others in your ecclesial family if you commute an hour to church? This book will cause you to rethink what it means to “be the church.” The subtitle says it all: “How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community.” I highly recommend it as part of your missional reading journey.
Slow Church by Smith & Pattison
Once again, the subtitle makes things clear: “Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus.” The authors introduced me to a new term, that I love – “McChurch!” We want everything bigger, faster, including church. Hmm, what’s wrong with this picture? They talk about the effects of Industrialization on our approach to church (Hint: More efficient may not always be the best thing). As Phil Strout likes to say, ‘It’s a slow kingdom coming, folks.’ Discipleship takes years of life-on life relationship – its not a six-week week course of instruction (i.e. Sunday School, Bible Study). It did get a little weird, kinda hippy-ish for me with all its talk of ecology, etc. But I still recommend you make this one part of your missional journey.
Church Refugees by Packard and Hope
This isn’t really a book on missional theology or praxis. Josh Packard is a PhD sociologist, and this is purely a work of sociology. Through in-depth interviews with those who’ve left the church, and compiling and analysis of that data, they identify trends. And the results are fascinating! Packard doesn’t have an axe to grind here (he’s a scientist), and he really doesn’t criticize the church. He is primarily reporting the data he sees on why the “Dones” are leaving the church (but not their faith), what they are looking for (and not finding in the church). If you are asking questions about why do we do church they way we do, or have left the church, or are considering leaving traditional forms of church in search of more authentic, relational, fulfilling spirituality, you may find yourself in this book (or at least find out that you’re not entirely crazy). Well worth the read.
Church 3.0 by Neil Cole
Cole calls for a revolution in the Church. Church 1.0 was the early church. Church 2.0 was the reformation (using something of a computer operating system analogy). For Cole, Church 3.0 is the ‘upgrade’ needed in the church today as we move into the future. Though not my favorite in this list, it’s a good book. If you’re looking for a “How To” manual on Cole’s model of Organic Church you’ll want to read his book Organic Church instead (or in addition to 3.0). For me, I’ve found that if the church is Organic without being missional, we’ve missed the mark (and simply created a smaller version of the internally focused Institutional Church form). We must be both missional and organic! Read more of my thoughts on that here. Don’t get me wrong. Cole is an important voice in missional-organic conversation. And he is all about making disciples (not just “house churches”). Read the book!
The Church as Movement by Woodward & White
If you think Forgotten Ways as the big picture work on missional, then this book is the “rubber meets the road,” “how to” for “Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities” (again the subtitle of the book). In fact, this book is the textbook for the V3 Movement‘s Church Planting Cohort. I’m not quite done reading this one yet, but I really love this book! It really gets down to the nitty gritty of “how do I actually go about making disciples” and forming missional communities? In the chapter on Ecclesial Architecture they talk about four spaces of belonging (p. 155 f.): Intimate (2-3 people), personal space (5-12 ~ what they call a “discipleship core”), social space (20-50, i.e. the Missional Community), and public space (70+ ~ what I call “Corporate gathering” of the ekklesia). My only regret with this book is that it really isn’t meant to be read as a book (in isolation). It is meant to be read in community (in your planting cohort, with your discipleship core, and/or missional community) – plenty of discussion question here (and praxis to be worked out) that you just can’t discuss by yourself. Get this book!!
The Missional Journey by Bob Logan: this is next on my list. I haven’t read it yet so don’t have much to say about it, other than the fact that Dr. Bob Logan is a veteran church planter, missiologist, missional thinker & practitioner, and master disciple maker. So you should get it, read it, and then… let’s talk!
Reimagining Church by Frank Viola – While I agree with most of his critiques of the church [e.g. why do we sit like we’re in a theater or a lecture hall, instead of facing each other as if we’re actually in relationship with one another? And why do we even have a “stage” in our churches, or use language like “green room” if we’re “a family.” And then there’s hierarchical-ism, the clergy-laity distinction, spiritual elitism, etc. I could go on…). Viola is just too much of an Anti-Institutional Church conspiracy theorist (I talk about this more here) for my taste. One might walk away from this book convinced that everyone in vocational ministry is just a charlatan out to fleece the flock. As much as I have concerns about these issues, I just can’t go there. I believe that there are plenty of sincere, and well meaning folks in traditional church leadership roles, trying to serve God to the best of their ability, caring for His flock, even if there are many blinders that can be hard to see past. I just couldn’t finish it. I gave up at p. 108.
I hope this list has been helpful, and that you will consider embarking on you own missional journey. Or if you’re already on your way, add a couple of these books to your reading list for 2021! What are some of your favorite books on Missional thought and practice, and why? How have they influenced you? Let me know in the comments below…