What in the World Is an Anglican Missional Ecclesiology?


If you aren’t 100% sure what the words Missional Ecclesiology mean, you’re not alone!

A Google search of the phrase missional church yields 2.1 million hits in .55 seconds! There have been dozens of books written on the topic in the last 20 years since the publishing of the landmark book: Missional Church—A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America


To break it down:

  • “Missional” essentially means adopting a missionary lifestyle.
  • “Ecclesiology” means the study of the nature and structure of the Church.

Thus, Missional Ecclesiology is a way of understanding the Church.

The church is not a building or an institution but a community of witness, called into being and equipped by God, and sent into the world to proclaim the gospel for the sake of others. The mission of God creates the church.

[bctt tweet=”The mission of God creates the church. ~ @BpToddHunter” username=”anglican_pastor”]

Let me try to clear up a few common misconceptions I’ve heard about the topic of Missional Ecclesiology.

Missional Ecclesiology is not…

…the same thing as the church growth movement.

The church growth movement was designed primarily to increase church attendance. I don’t mean that as a slam, because the movement also assumed lots of good spiritual growth would happen once people got to church.

Nevertheless, a well-constructed understanding of Missional Ecclesiology has a more profound starting point and telos or “end” than did the church growth movement.

…a reaction to declining Christendom or fading American civil religion.

Christendom describes the period of history in which the church was established as a central player sitting at various tables of power in culture. Trying to get the church back into those chairs of power is not the point of a proper Missional Ecclesiology.

Missional Ecclesiology is…

Although they cannot be reduced to these characteristics, important as good practices for mission are. Characteristics must be grown from the right Trinitarian soil and be oriented to and aimed at the correct telos.

…properly rooted in relational love(think of the persons of the Trinity) and sentness (or otherliness).

Love for the sake of the other is core to the persons and activities of the Holy Trinity—and thus to Missional Ecclesiology.

The Role of Missional Ecclesiology in Our Lives and Ministry

A solid missional ecclesiology alerts us to the notion that we are both recipients of the mission of God (sending of the Son and the Spirit) and participants in it—our sending for the sake of others.

It could be said that without the calling and sending activity of God we would have no knowledge of him, that the mission of God is a prime source of revelation.

Developing our understanding of Missional Ecclesiology is helpful if we want to pursue becoming the kinds of persons and churches who can lead and participate in missional churches. To do so, we have to engage in “a journey inward and a journey outward” (thanks to Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. and Elizabeth O’Conner for that lovely phrase).

The journey inward implies becoming the kind of persons who would and could live into God’s purposes for his people. You might think of it as The Great Command as the basis for The Great Commission.

Missional Ecclesiology is much helped by the thinking of Ray Anderson (famous Fuller professor, who is now in heaven): The church tends to distinguish itself by its religious, separate nature. But the Kingdom of God—its rule and reign—is a reality always connected to, and in solidarity with the broken world.

We see this in:

  • “Adam, where are you?” as well as in
  • the calling and sending of Abraham;
  • the pivotal person and work of John the Baptist;
  • the incarnation of Jesus;
  • the calling and sending of the Twelve; and
  • the sending of the Spirit which in turn fills, empowers, engifts and sends the whole historic, catholic church.

Missional Ecclesiology helps us become deeply conscious of being apprentices of Jesus who seek to live constant lives of creative goodness, through the power of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of others. Everything about a Missional Ecclesiology has to be played out in the real lives of churches—their clergy and laity, and their programs and practices.

Miroslav Volf has helped shape my sense of Missional Ecclesiology: “No church without the reign of God…No reign of God without the church.”

The church is sign and foretaste of the consummation to come. In the meantime, we embody, announce and demonstrate the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. I think this is at the heart of a workable Missional Ecclesiology.

[bctt tweet=”The church is sign and foretaste of the consummation to come. In the meantime, we embody, announce and demonstrate the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. ~ @BpToddHunter” username=”anglican_pastor”]

An Anglican Missional Ecclesiology

A specifically Anglican missional ecclesiology might start by asking: God, what is our unique charism? Lord Jesus, in what way did you see the Last Supper moving the Church into your sort of life and death—your broken body and shed blood?

In Paul we see some hints of Eucharistic-based mission:

I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3).

I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! (1 Corinthians 9, MSG).

There are loads of practical things here that beg to be said (and we will do so at the Telos Collective’s upcoming 2019 Intersection Conference).

These days, Paul, with his Eucharistic grounding and passionate desire in imitation of Jesus to love and serve others, gives me a robust imagination for an Anglican missional ecclesiology.

Want to Continue the Conversation?

Come to the 2019 Intersection Conference!

I’m hoping I have sparked your curiosity around this topic, hopefully encouraging you to participate this year in the Telos Collective and attend the 2019 Intersection Conference, which focuses on the theme of an Anglican Missional Ecclesiology. We’ll have 8 leading evangelical and sacramental voices exploring what it means to be the church on mission.

Get $30 off registration until March 31. I’d love to see you there!

If you’d like to dig deeper into this topic, I commend to you missiologists Lesslie Newbigin and Roland Allen. They write from an Anglican point of view and help us move to actionable ideas.

For further reflection on Newbigin and Allen, consider Michael Goheen’s upcoming book: The Church and Its Vocation: Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology and Steven Rutt’s work on Allen: Roland Allen: A Theology of Mission.

If you come from the evangelical world (as do I), engage with some Anglo-Catholic missional ecclesiology (as I presently am). You might start with a contemporary book like: Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology by Eugene R. Schlesinger. He presents a robust case for mission from a Trinitarian, ontological point of view.

Published on

March 28, 2019


Todd Hunter

The Right Rev. Todd Hunter is the founding bishop of The Diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others, a diocese of the Anglican Church in North America.

View more from Todd Hunter


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