Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

God’s Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church


Van Engen is Professor of Biblical Theology of Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary.  He is a prolific author and was a missionary in Mexico in the area of theological education.  He served as President of the Reformed Church of America for a year and is involved in the American Society of Missiology.

Van Engen in God’s Missionary People contends that local congregations are in essence God’s missionary people, and as they understand their identity and purpose and are built up to “reach out in mission to the world” they will become what they already are by faith.


In part one, Van Engen goes to Ephesians and the history of the church to uncover the essence of the church.  He takes the four marks of the church and helps us to see them as “planetary orbits of the churches missionary life in the world.”  He identifies the essence of the church as one (unifying), holy (sanctifying), catholic (reconciling), apostolic (proclaiming) missionary church.  He also identifies some new words to describe the local church, which include being for the world, identification with the oppressed, mission, proclamation witness and yearning for numerical growth.  In part two, Van Engen looks at purpose of the local congregation: koinonia, keryma, diakonia, martyria, the relationship of the congregation to the kingdom of God and the role of the local congregation in the world – continuing Jesus’ roles as prophet, priest, king as well as healer and liberator.  In part three, he talks about how the local church becomes God’s missionary people with missionary goals (priorities, goals, plans), missionary members, missionary leaders (defining, indentifying and determining style) and a missional administration (spiritual activity and evaluating facilities).


I appreciated Van Engen sharing the historical development of missional ecclesiology and his basic movement from the essence of the church toward the practical way that the church lives out her missionary nature.  His turning the four marks of the church from adjectives into adverbs was brilliant!

I also appreciated his thoughts on the relation and distinction of the kingdom of God and the church.  In this section as well as most of the other chapters, he includes rich quotes.  For example, this last part of Hans Küng’s quote is helpful: [The Church] is not the bringer or the bearer of the reign of God which is to come and is at the same time already present, but its voice, its announcer, its herald.  God alone can bring his reign; the church is devoted entirely to its service” (111).  I have been thinking a lot about how to express the role of the church in light of the kingdom.  Sometimes I have used the expression “expanding the kingdom of God” yet if God is Lord of all, do we really expand his Kingdom?  Heralds of the kingdom or being agents of the kingdom seem more appropriate. Our choice of words is important, because it deals with understanding our role and God’s role.  I will be contemplating how to flesh out this idea better in my local context as well as with the book I am currently writing.

Figure 8 (128) will be a helpful diagram to go back and visit, as it summarizes the first two parts of the book quite well.  I appreciate the shared-ministry model (158), for I was looking for an organization chart that would best reflect shared leadership.  I plan to adjust ours accordingly.  I also deeply appreciate the servant-messiah concept of leadership, which I plan to use in a forth-coming church planters conference. Seeing lists of various styles of leadership was helpful (Ch. 11), though it is important to practice theology in order to keep from falling into pure pragmatism. This book is a rich read.      

One Response to God’s Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church

  1. Pingback: Dream Awakener » A Primer on Today’s Missional Church

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