Book Review: Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and Dave Putman

I find that I often think about Christianity, church leadership, and church growth in terms that are a bit different than my own traditions and background. So does Ed Stetzer and so does Dave Putman. It’s rare that I’m able to really articulate well my own feelings about what it means to live a redemptive lifestyle in a fallen culture.

One great example of this is that I often feel just a bit guilty when people ask why we don’t have an organized visitation program or an evangelism training program along the lines of Evangelism Explosion or FAITH. I had to dog-ear Ed’s thoughts about this:

…evangelism should be less programmatic and more process-oriented… less propositional and more relational… we have resisted any formal types of evangelism training. We have spoken very little in public about direct evangelism. We seldom if ever do any kind of servant evangelism. We have done some, and we talk about it on occasion…

People are no longer starting their spiritual journey near the cross or even facing the cross. The way we engage people in a meaningful way is radically different. It is a shift to journey.

This assumes some very important things, such as:

  • Trusting God to be at work in the lives of lost people.
  • Building relationships with all kinds of people and valuing who they are.
  • Listening and learning where God is already at work in their lives.
  • Praying that God will reveal to you and give you words to share with others on their journey.
  • Helping them connect the dots between their story and Jesus’ story.
  • Being a third testament by becoming a “living epistle.”

Simply put, evangelism needs to be returned to an ecclesiological (church) focus – the focus of evangelism is people coming to faith in Christ through God’s chosen missional instrument, the church. Conversion is part of discipleship. As God works in the lives of men and women, they have already begun their spiritual journey, and conversion is one step, albeit the most important of all.

Over the last decade of leading churches in a pastoral role, this has been absolutely true! People come to faith in Christ as part of a process. The most evangelistic people in our culture are not seasoned Christians, but those who are either newly born again, or who are on the verge… on the journey there.

If there’s another section of the book that I think demands to be studied by modern church leaders, it’s the section where Ed and Dave define what it is to be missional. Missions happens overseas and evangelism here at home, right? On the contrary, we have to come to think of “mission” as being what happens as we break through the various cultural, intellectual, physical, racial, and linguistic barriers right here at home. Living a missional life means having a sturdy Christology (a sense of whom Jesus is and what He has sent us to do), a working missiology (a developed strategy for going about our missional task), and the right ecclesiology (a right view of what the church should look like in our own context).

We can no longer rely on tradition to spread our message for us. Neither can we become shallow and merely entertaining without really engaging people. We need to be missional – on mission, always going about, embodying Jesus as we journey, and willing to communicate the gospel in our own context in a way that lost people will understand and begin their own journey as well.

I think this has been one of the more important books I’ve read as a church leader and simply as a believer in Christ. It has challenged me to pursue the missional life. It’s practical, but theologically grounded. The book is usable, dobable, and ready to apply yet refuses to be reduced to any kind of simple formula for success. I think it ought to be on the shelf of every leader and the nighttable of every Christian.

Want to join God at work in the culture around us? Start breaking the missional code.

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