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What is Missional Church?

The Beginning and Development of Missional Church Discussion

How did the interest in missional church begin? It is theologians and pastors in the North Atlantic who have initiated and developed the discussion on missional church in a new historical context that the western Christianity was in decline and ushered into the new era of post-Christendom. In addition, from a missional point of view, Western churches have no choice but to seek the new mission and missions of the church in the post-Christendom era as the old western missions in the Western Christendom seemed to be no more convincing. So, there have been continuous reflection about the problems of the western missions in the past and simultaneously efforts to find out the new way of mission of the church in the post-Christendom era. And in this search for a new mission, they discovered the answer in Lesslie Newbigin’s theology of mission. They have been convinced that Newbigin’s theology of mission, particularly the mission of the church should provide them with a direction for the new mission of the church.

The influence of Newbigin on the Missional Church Movement

Probably there is no talking about the missional church movement except for the story of Lesslie Newbigin. As an ordained pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, he was sent to India as a missionary and served there until his retirement. In the Western Christian world, particularly in the North Atlantic, there has been a steady interest in Newbigin’s theology in a variety of ways. This interest, which began in the late 1980s, led to the creation of The Gospel and Culture Network (GOCN), a network of theologians and pastors interested in the discussion of Newbigin theology and missional church. And this GOCN network has been significantly leading the discussion of missional church, first by publishing its first book, The Church Between Gospel and Culture (Gospel & Our Culture) in 1996 and then Missional Church in 1998. In recent years, the network has expanded its research scope and are publishing a new series of books related to missional church discussion. Furthermore, there has been growing interest in Newbigin’s missional theology and missional church in many countries beyond the North Atlantic. For example, in Korea most of Newbigin’s books have been translated into Korean, so that Newbigin is no longer strange to the Korean theologians and pastors. Moreover, such an interest in Newbigin’s theology and missional church has contributed to the development of theological discussion about the public nature of the church as well. As a result, there have been very active discussion about these two themes in the churches: “missional church” and “public theology.”

Missional churches discussed in non-Western churches

How should we discuss the missional church in the non-western churches? Let us talk about the Korean church as an example. First of all, the Korean church started as a mission field led by the western churches. The Korean church was implanted in a pluralistic society in all aspects. But in such pluralistic society, the Korean church phenomenally grew up with its remarkable revival and growth in its size and membership, particularly since the Pyongyang Revival in 1907 before the annexation of Korea to the Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. And although Korea was liberated from the colonial rule of Japan, Korea was soon plunged into the Korean War in 1950 and the Korean church had to go through this tragic war between the North and the South Korea. However, in the post-war reconstruction period and for all political, economic, and social upheavals in the Korean society, the Korean church miraculously continued to grow just like the Korean economy. As its result, in the early twenty-first century, the Korean church has greatly influenced the Korean society in many aspects, so that some Korean Christians comes to have the vision that the Korean society would become a “Christian society” like western Christendom. At this time, you could find the world’s largest churches and theological seminaries in its numbers in Korea. And Korea was one of the countries which were sending more overseas missionaries than any of the countries in the old western Christendom except a few countries like the US. On top of these, there were many good signs that the Korean society was apparently entering the Christian society. For example, Korean Christians began to be publicly involved in the civil movements by forming civic groups such as the Korea Association for Christian Scholarship (KACS) and the Citizen’s Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ), one of the oldest Christian NGO.
But, it is really disappointing to see that the Korean churches have been greatly in decline and losing its influence upon the Korean society and people since the beginning of this century. Unfortunately, post-Christian social phenomena that appear in the Western Christian society began to appear in the Korean churches too early. The Korean church could have become the first case that the Christian churches in the non-western mission field succeeded in transforming a pluralistic society into a Christian society in history. But regrettably it failed to achieve such dream. On the contrary, the Korean church is rapidly declining due to various internal ills such as secularization, Mammonism, and ministries that focused on church growth. Then, what does “missional church” mean in this new context of the Korean church? Here, we should keep in mind that it is the most important to explore how the church has lived as the hermeneutic of the gospel in its local context, when we start the missional church discussion in the non-Western regions. After this historical research through the understanding and analysis of the current situation of the church in a particular region, it is necessary to examine how the local church should go as a missional church there.

Missional Church Discussion in Mission Field
How can the newly planted and growing church in the mission field have a proper understanding of the missional church from the beginning? First of all, an understanding of the history, culture, language, religion, and customs of the mission field should be preceded. And if it is a region where the people heard the gospel from western missionaries long time ago, it would be necessary to examine what really happened when the gospel was spread to them. It is because we should know how Christianity was accepted among its people in the past. If some of the people in that region are still suffering from bad memories about the western mission and evangelism, there should be honest confession about the sins and the hurt toward, followed by true repentance as the Christian churches about the wrong doings in missions and evangelism. Only then will we be able to properly understand how to spread and teach the gospel again in that region. In addition, it should be remembered that there is something in common between the mission fields and the post- christian western society today, in the sense that both are now pluralist in its nature and diversified in many respects. Thus, it is necessary to study how to preach the gospel and establish a church as a missional church in this diversified societies.

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