A Missional Bibliography

Missional Bibliography

As Missional Theology matures, it’s producing a growing body of literature. It can be a lot to sort through, so here I’m collecting those resources that I’ve found helpful, with some comments along the way. I’ll start by providing a handful of foundational texts that I think are indispensable, and then point towards some other useful works along the way. I’ll be updating this page over time, so let me know of the ones I’ve missed in the comments!

Foundational Texts

41B0WZFUGgLMissional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America Darrell Guder and Friends, 1998. This is the mothership, people. It’s a foundational text, and if you really want to study the missional church, you have to read it. The good news is it reads pretty well, even after a couple of decades. For me, reading this was like finding the spring that fed the stream I’d been drinking from for years.


51A+xI24b+L Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness by Lois Barrett and friends. This is essentially the same gang of writers as Missional Church (Guder 1998), and in this text they try to put a little more flesh on their ideas. It’s based on case studies, and is a quick read—much less dense than Missional Church.



713WtZZZHKLThe Missional Church in Perspective by Craig Van Gelder and Dwight Zscheile, 2011. This another piece from one of the original collaborators (van Gelder) that strikes me really as an extension of Missional Church. Since it’s a fairly easy read, I’d think of this as going into the essential toolkit. Part of what this book does is to frame the how the missional conversation has forked and taken different turns since 1998. Since different people use missional language to mean different things, a book that takes high view of the conversation, mapping it out, becomes very useful. This book is also useful for sending you in new directions, expanding your reading list.

61iIyu7Mm5LThe Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission by Leslie Newbigin (1995). This is a key predecessor to Missional Church, and no missional reading list is complete without it. Newbigin, upon his return to the Western World, helped it to see its own identity as a mission field, and provided theological language for our engagement with our neighbors.

Other Missional Books

Staying is the New Going by Alan Briggs (2015)

Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. David Bosch (1991) One of the significant predecessors to Missional Church, Bosch gives a thorough account of the trajectory that led to the missional movement.

Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw (2013)

The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church by Michael Frost (2011)

The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch (2003, 2013) The revised editions has some pretty useful reflections in the introduction. This is a passionate and useful text, even if I have a couple of reservations about the way they ditch the trinitarian emphasis in favor of a heavy Christology.

Surprise the World: Five Habits of Missional People by Michael Frost (2015) is a great little book that would be useful for a small study group. Very readable.

The Continuing Conversion of the Church, by Darrell Guder (2000) This book provides a perspective on what’s happening inside the missional church, and why that formation is key for the mission of God. I love this text’s fundamental premise.

The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch (2009)

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight (2011) provides the sort of biblical backdrop that fuels the missional movement.

The Trinity and the Kingdom, Jurgen Moltmann (1993). Moltmann fits the description of a theologian whose writing has deeply impacted the missional movement, even if not explicitly missional.

The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality by Alan Roxburgh (1997). This is a more academic piece than Roxburgh’s other writing, and is sort of a forgotten little book, unfortunately.


Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren (2009)

Doing Local Theology: A Guide for Artisans of a New Humanity Clemens Sedmak (2003). This is a jewel of a book with an unfortunately hokey cover. I advise you to defer judgment.

The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit Craig Van Gelder (2007)

A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf (1996) Volf isn’t explicitly a missional theologian, but his work seems to be an important piece of the conversation, in my view. 

A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good by Miroslav Volf (2013)

Missional Web Hubs

Missio Alliance has one of the best missional blogs around the web. Most of the articles here are at a popular level, though often by respected missional leaders.

Missio Dei is an online academic journal with articles about missional theory and practice.

The Journal of Missional Practice has a vision “to be like a table around which theologically informed practitioners gather with others to share the stories of what they are doing and discerning on the ground and in the local.” I’d say they pull it off.

Missional Podcasts

Theology on Mission is a regular podcast featuring David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw. (iTunesOvercast)

Missional Hospitality with Alan Roxburgh is episode 2 of the Fresh Expressions Podcast.

Views – 113

Podcasts: A Guide for Spiritual Seekers


As podcasting emerges and develops as a media form, the church is figuring out how to use it to foster spiritual growth. This guide is for those who are new to podcasting in general or who have not yet tapped into its potential as a tool for spiritual formation. We’ll start with the basics of what a podcast is, and how you can use them. Then we’ll look at the landscape of some of the spiritual resources available through podcasts, and I’ll offer a shortlist of top podcasts to get you started. Finally, I offer a curated list of other podcasts you might want to try out.

What Are Podcasts?

A podcast is an audio show that is released serially—one episode on the time—over the internet. Typically, the episodes are collected by what we call a “feed”, so that users can subscribe and get notified or automatically download each new episode as it’s published. This means that they are not released “live” (although some may be recorded that way), but podcasts are an example of “time-shifted” or “on-demand” media—the episodes are available so that users can listen to them whenever they want.

Podcasting has a few distinct advantages as a form of media:

  • It has a really low bar of entry (a computer and mic is all people really need to get started), so there are a lot of innovative shows and interesting people getting involved who wouldn’t get published or broadcasts in other forms of media. Of course, you have to sort through and find them, but I think that’s getting easier.
  • Its on-demand nature means people can listen to them whenever they want. No more need to catch a show on a certain time.
  • Because of the low bar of entry and the ability to broadcast worldwide, there are a lot of really niche shows—if you’re interested in it, I bet there’s a podcast devoted to it.

How to Listen to Podcasts

Although episodes can be located and listened to in a web browser, most consumers use apps to listen to podcasts. These apps allow the user to subscribe to various shows, often by providing access to a directory, and the app takes care of automatically downloading new episodes. The most popular app by far is the podcast app that comes preloaded on iPhones, or iTunes on desktops. However, other apps have emerged as well, either to serve other audiences (like android users) or to provide various additional features. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Overcast.fm app that’s available for iOS (I love the layout and smart speed features). Stitcher is another app with a large following on iOS and Android, and Google has recently added podcasts to the Google Play app as well.

Basically, to really take advantage of the podcasting scene, you just need to download one of these apps and begin subscribing to a few shows. It can be a little daunting to find the ones you’re looking for, so let me give an overview of what I see out there, and provide a few shows that make for good starting points. If you know of a show I should add, please feel free to leave it in the comments!

The Landscape of Spiritual Podcasts

In the last few years, podcasting has exploded, and the numbers of both podcast shows and subscribers is growing consistently. You might be surprised to know that on the iTunes directory, which is easily the most used, the “Christianity” category is one of the most highly populated, with more than 20,000 active shows (via Josh Morgan).  Those shows come in a handful of different formats:

  • Interview Shows—A large number of shows exist that employ a format where a host interviews somebody, usually somebody who has recently published a new book. One of the good things about this format is that it helps expose you to a wide range of ideas, while providing the consistency of the host’s perspective. On the other side, if you subscribe to a lot of these types of shows, you’ll end up hearing the same authors as they make the circuit promoting their shows. There are some really excellent shows out there in this format, and the material is somewhat unique to the podcasting world.
  • The Buddy Format—these shows have a couple of pals kicking around an idea or two. When these shows work, it’s because you just feel like part of their conversation.
  • Essayists Shows—These shows usually are monologues of a person sharing their own thinking in a certain area, whether that’s theological, spiritual, or something else. I like this sort of material because it can be a little dense, in the sense of holding a lot of meaning.
  • How-to Shows—These shows provide some sort of guidance on working through particular issues, whether they be leadership or spirituality based.
  • Sermon Podcasts— I’m sure that one reason the number of shows is so high in the Christianity category is because churches often release their sermon recordings as podcasts. I’m not into listening to these as much, partly because the content is repurposed, and it doesn’t feel as fresh as the actual experience of listening to a sermon live. However, it’s certainly a good way to connect with preachers from afar, or to keep up with sermons you may have missed from your home church.

In terms of theological perspective, there are shows of nearly every stripe available, both in terms of denominational origins and theological emphases—although, interestingly, it may be easier to identify shows by the latter rather than the former! It seems to me that there are a lot of very popular podcasts coming out of the Neo-Calvinist camp, and the prosperity gospel folks are represented by Olsteen’s mega-popular show. There are a lot of people doing interesting work from what I can only call the “deconstructionist” corners of the church, which I mean as people who have left institutionalized (and often fundamentalist) forms of Christianity and reentered faith, generally with a more postmodern perspective. The faith stream that resonates most with me, the missional perspective, is also well-represented. There’s no shortage of catholic offerings as well, some of which are very interesting devotionally.

A Starter-Pack of Podcasts for Spiritual Seekers

Given the incredible breadth of the podcast catalog, I feel like it’s important to give beginners a handful of shows to sink their teeth into. Here’s my basic starter pack.

Note: these weren’t picked because they are the best necessarily, but I think they’re simply easy for most beginners to get into. The extended list of podcasts at the bottom of the page has some excellent choices, too.

You can probably just search for them within your app of choice, but I’ve included the links for iTunes (should work in the iOS podcast app) and Overcast. (Seriously, give overcast a try.)

  • Fable (iTunes, Overcast): Charlie Porter does an outstanding job in this podcasts, which both offers perspectives (memoir style) of his own spiritual journey and reflections on characters from other narrative streams like literature or popular media.
  • Spiritual Steps (iTunes, Overcast): This is my own podcast, and I’m shamelessly putting it on this list. It’s a short podcast, 15 minutes or so, with each episode offering a step people can take to progress in the spiritual life.
  • The Bible Project (iTunes, Overcast): I love these episodes. They’re providing some very rich theological content, in a great conversational format.
  • The Robcast (iTunes, Overcast) Honestly, I have been really surprised by how much I love Rob Bell’s podcast. I really didn’t think this was my jam, but I think he’s a fantastic interviewer and he’s great at shifting towards the most interesting parts of the conversation. Give it a shot.

Tips and Tricks

  • Resist the urge to feel like you need to catch up on all your shows…sometimes you’re going to get behind and you really should give yourself permission to just delete the old episodes you missed. Just listen to the next one that really interests you.
  • Listen to a variety of shows…pick some from various faith traditions as well as your own, and try out different formats: monologues, interviews, etc. Finally, it’s a good idea to subscribe to shows with different lengths. Sometimes you may have time for a longer show, while the shorter ones make for good commute listening (or vice versa, depending on your commute!).
  • Share what you find. Podcasting is a lot more fun if you have some friends with whom you can exchange shows you love. Exposes somebody else to the world of podcasting!
  • Branch out. There’s a whole world of excellent secular podcasts out there as well. No matter your interests, there are podcast that will resonate with them, and broaden your horizons!
  • Join the conversation! Trust me, podcasters love to connect and get feedback, whether that be on facebook, twitter, or somewhere else. (Their most favorite candy of all is positive reviews on iTunes.)

An Extended List of Podcasts for Spiritual Growth

This is a growing list, so if you have a podcast you want me to include, please feel free to mention it in the comments, or let me know on twitter at @stevenhovater!

  • The Liturgists (Michael Gungor, Science Mike) | iTunes, Overcast  this is actually my all-time favorite podcast. I didn’t put it into the starter pack list above just because the deconstructed perspective isn’t going to be for everybody, but I absolutely love this show. The Lost and Found episodes and “Black and White”, an episode on american race-relations, are pretty much the best things on the internet.
  • Newsworthy with Norsworthy (Luke Norsworthy) | (iTunes, Overcast) This is one of the best interview format shows out there…every guest is great, and Luke’s crafted a fascinating show persona. Great Show.
  • Nomad | (iTunes, Overcast) There is an emerging consensus that this is the best Christian theology podcast in an interview format out of Nottingham, England. Rich interviews.
  • Q Podcast | (iTunes, Overcast)
  • Communion Sanctorum (iTunesOvercast) This is a church history podcast.
  • Relevant Podcast iTunes, Overcast This is like a party podcast format. They do news, current events from a (Millennial) Christian perspective.
  • This Good Word (Steve Wiens) (iTunes, Overcast)
  • Seminary Dropout (iTunes, Overcast)
  • Kingdom Roots (Scot McNight) (iTunes, Overcast)
  • On Being (Krista Tippett) | (iTunes, Overcast) Off of NPR, Tippett’s interviews go beyond Christianity, but they are spiritual rich, and she’s a fantastic interviewer.
  • Renovare Podcast (Nathan Foster) (iTunes, Overcast) Great podcast centered on spiritual formation.
  • Theology on Mission (David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw)| (iTunes, Overcast)
  • Christian Feminist Podcast (Ashley Easter, Charliee Olivia) | http://www.ashleyeaster.com/blog?category=Christian+Feminism+Weekly
  • Homebrewed Christianity | Tripp Fuller (iTunes, Overcast)
  • Theology in the Raw | (iTunes, Overcast)
  • Spark My Muse (Lisa DeLay) (iTunes, Overcast)
  • The Kindlings Muse (iTunes, Overcast)
  • Daily Disconnect Podcast (iTunes, Overcast)

Podcasts on Spiritual Leadership or Ministry

I didn’t include these above, but I also listen to a lot of podcasts on spiritual leadership. Here’s my list of some of the best ministry podcasts out there. Again, a growing list.

  • The Craft of Ministry Podcast. (iTunes, Overcast) Yup. Including my own podcast, and putting it first. Shannon Cooper typically joins me.
  • Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (iTunes, Overcast)
  • The Productive Pastor Podcast (iTunes, Overcast)
  • Lead Stories Podcast (Jo Saxton, Steph Williams) | (iTunes, Overcast) I appreciate these women adding their voices to the world of christian ministry and leadership podcasts! Great show!
  • Catalyst Podcast Nancy Duarte, James Clair | (iTunes, Overcast)

Views – 309

What is Missional Spirituality?


As the missional church movement matures and develops, we may well ask not only “What is Missional Theology?”, but what is the form of life taken up by disciples looking for a missional way of following Jesus? In short, “What is missional spirituality?” This article to sketch a thick description of that kind of spirituality to answer that question.

Missional spirituality begins with the commitment of Jesus’s disciples to participate in God’s ongoing work in the world. Flowing theologically from an understanding of God’s intent for the world and the nature of God’s own mission, the church owns a way of life of living into that story, and we call the particularities of this way of life our spirituality—that sometimes fluffy word simply refers to the way we nurture and live out our faith. A range of practices and postures flesh out this spirituality, and these fall loosely into a handful of categories.

1. Practices that form the individual and community of disciples in the image of Jesus.

Jesus models the kingdom, as one whose life represents full participation in God’s mission. He is the new human par excellence, who has restored the possibility of the image of God in humanity.

Practices representing this formative element of missional spirituality:

  • The celebration of Communion, which continually draws the church into the selfless way of Jesus, by reenacting his story. It reinforces the church’s anticipation of his coming, and teaches the community of disciples to recognize the image of Jesus in each other.
  • Practices of Hearing the Word form disciples through the testimony of God’s people in the scriptures. The scriptures nourish our capacity to think theologically, and invite us to live in a larger narrative context by seeing ourselves as living within the story of God. The scriptures provide ways for Christians to understand God’s intentions in creation, the consequences of human evil, and the nature of God’s intervention in the world to save us.
  • Baptism inducts the individual into the community of people who proclaim the Lordship and commit to live by his story and way. It provides a defining memory of the new identity we are given as the people of Jesus.
  • Friendship between disciples shapes them as they extend each other grace and practice companionship.
  • Prayer connects disciples (individually and communally) with God. In prayer, disciples reach out to God, and also listen to God’s leading by the holy spirit. By connecting in prayer to God, disciples both express their own hearts, and expose them to God’s heart. In the process, we allow their wills to be conformed to God’s own will.
  • The discipline of fasting helps disciples separate from the tyranny of their own desires or assumptions about needs.
  • Common Worship gatherings, in which disciples pray, sing, and listen to the word together, allow the church to solidify its fellowship as being based in a common identity before God. The habit of Common worship gatherings, provides a consistent reinforcement of the church’s attention to the substance of its faith.
  • The Giving and Receiving of Teaching is a way of thinking about all of the different ways Christians provide instruction to each other, both informally and formally. Within the community of disciples there are many kinds of teaching exchanges ranging from moral and scriptural teaching, theological and historical instruction, to practical guidance for living wisely. We might even consider the production and consumption of various media as falling into this category, allowing for the spread and reception of more specialized, developed ideas. Technologically, we may supplement (but not replace!) more intimate, face-to-face forms of teaching through these time and space shifted forms of media (like books, online courses, podcasts, or this blog!). It’s important, over time, that the church takes care to nourish communities that provide the more localized forms of teaching.
  • The cultivation of virtue through mutual encouragement and guidance. Several of the things listed above fit into this, but it’s worth saying clearly that much of the best formation simply happens as people in some sort of mutual relationship encourage each other and have the opportunity to provide and receive guidance.

2. Practices that help the individual and community and bear the fruit of the Kingdom of God.

All of the formative practices of missional spirituality prepare us for practices which produce the fruits of the kingdom of God—the results of God’s reign in our lives. In other words, the practices described above develop within us the capacity to act in certain ways, but it remains for us to give an account of the kinds of actions that characterize missional spirituality.

It must also be said that the line between these two categories of practices is a thin one, and we can certainly expect some practices to fulfill both the formative and fruit-bearing functions. For example, prayer both prepares a person by shaping their being, but may also exemplify an obedient responsiveness to God, which is also a fruit of the kingdom. On the other hand, Service, which I’m listing below as a fruit-bearing practice, also reinforces the inclination to serve and helps disciples move into solidarity with the people they serve, and thus contributes to their spiritual formation as well.

  • Hospitality means making space for other people, whether that be physical space where they can come and feel comfortable, or social space where they can come and enter into nurturing relationships. Hospitality in missional spirituality stretches beyond the boundaries of having people in our own homes (though this remains a powerful tool of hospitality!), as we take a mentality of hospitality into the community. We become people who create space for others, everywhere we go. As we practice hospitality, the relational nature of humanity is redeemed, and we become less defensive, fearful of each other, and adversarial —this is all fruit of the kingdom of God.
  • Generosity. Opportunities to share what we’ve received with our neighbors allows us to push back the threat of scarcity that plagues our world. It also loosens our own grip on our possessions, and helps us live out of a perspective of abundance and plenty. This contentment, and the generous sharing that fosters it, are both fruits of the kingdom of God.
  • In Service, we offer ourselves to another person, or to a community. It also demonstrates humility, the willingness to defer our own desires to another person. As we serve, we also make fruitful use of the skills and talents we’ve been given. God’s kingdom is made real and concrete as people offer themselves to each other, and in this way imitate Christ.
  • Reconciliation is the practice of repairing fractured relationships, whether between individuals or groups within a community. This is one of the most difficult missional practices, as people are often deeply committed to their factions and the grievances that they have against others. Furthermore, most disciples (and people!) are woefully inexperienced in the art of reconciliation. Nevertheless, reconciliation is a prime fruit of the kingdom, and bears incredible witness to the power of God’s reign in the world.
  • Simplicity and Restraint demonstrate and cultivate a spirit within disciples that is not compelled strictly by pleasure and possession. Disciples hold these things lightly, and are free to live unattached to the things God entrusts to them, while also giving thanks for the experiences of this life. These practices witness against our cultural obsessions over materialism and the escapist pursuit of pleasure. They are a sign that has gracefully delivered Jesus’s disciples from slavery to these things.
  • Confession and Repentance, in a similar way, demonstrate that we are not defined by or bound to our mistakes. Christians need not maintain a pretense of perfection, rather they freely admit their failures, and try to do their best to correct them. We admit when we have taken the wrong road, and depend on God’s help to return to the way of Jesus.
  • Forgiveness is the community’s complement to confession and repentance. We extend grace to each other, knowing that our relationship with God is built on the Lord’s grace to us.
  • The Giving and Hearing of Testimony allows disciples to speak of the Lord’s grace and action through and around them. It also allows the community to be encouraged, and to give God glory for these things!
  • Honoring the Least Disciples bear the fruit of the kingdom whenever we make sure that we honor those among us who are not honored or treated poorly in the rest of society.

3. Attentiveness to the world through theological lenses such as justice and righteousness, peace, or sacred dignity.

Disciples practice something like a holy watchfulness in the world. They take in what’s happening around them and carefully weigh the times by what they have learned of God. They explore the meaning of the cultures in which they live and carry with them the theological values of justice and righteousness, peace (in the sense of wholeness, or shalom), or the sacred dignity of all people. They look for ways to fruitfully engage with their culture and bring about these things in the communities where they live. They seek out what it means to respond to community problems in a way that can point towards the way of Jesus.

Different missional communities and individuals will understand these theological values in different ways, and emphasize some over others. Our attention to scripture and our engagement with the community will lead us into new understandings—I think it might be a mistake to prematurely cement our current understandings and priorities as the complete missional identity of the community. After all, continual growth and movement towards maturity is part of the missional way. However, what is unavoidably missional is that we take those theological values back into the community around us. They deeply affect the way we perceive what is happening in the world, and lead us to act and engage in particular ways that resonate with those values.

4. Responsible Stewardship of Vocations, understood as a broad range of callings given to individuals and communities.

Missional theologies lean towards the exploration of spirituality within a brand range of vocations for at least a couple of reasons.

First, the commitment to a holistic vision of God’s plan for humanity, in which God is concerned with the entirety of human life, (social, economic, political, familial, etc) certainly involves a person’s work. God’s creational intent is for humans to be in the development, ordering, and cultivation of creation—we are more than widgets, but we were created to be productive and to participate in God’s creation work of filling the world with life and goodness. Furthermore, as God works to recreate the world, our life of work is redeemed as well—not made irrelevant.

Second, Missional churches are already focused on being as intentional about what happens outside the walls as inside the sanctuary. Concerns about the work lives of Christians employed in secular environments follow naturally, as faith moves back into the public sphere—although it is expressed in a different way than in the public environments of the Christian majority assumed in Christendom.

This move towards exploring the spirituality of work finds multiple expressions beyond the simple ideas of being a witness to the faith by conversation and being a good example. This begins with the church’s public conversation about work, but distinct spiritual practices follow.

  • Missional communities are learning to practice vocational Discernment, in which the individual shares vocational leanings and receives encouragement or guidance from others. They may receive confirmation from those who have seen gifts and skills that support their vocation, or who perceive spiritual guidance in that direction.
  • As an extension of discernment, missional communities may practice vocational Celebration, in which the community recognizes and commissions people into their callings. Few places do this formally, although it’s easy to imagine a church that celebrates the sorts of work transitions people make and from time to time highlights and celebrates how people are finding their vocation (including, but exclusive to work!) and how that contributes to (or flows from) the wholeness they have in Christ.
  • Disciples pursue excellence and diligence in the workplace, understanding that how they do their work matters. Most work worth doing is worth doing well and excellently, and fulfilling our work roles as well as we can reflects on our own higher master. However, Christians pursue excellence in their work not only because of the testimony of good workmanship (though that deserves a thought as well), but because work itself matters, and diligence is a matter of character.
  • Missional spirituality also points towards the intentional use of skills and resources to contribute to the community. Good work is not only a way of providing income for a family unit, but also provides ways for the individual to contribute to the good of the community. Sometimes the ways this take place may seem obscure and ambiguous—at times disciples may need to look deeper for ways of understanding their work and its role for the community, or may need to investigate other ways of contributing. What am I contributing? Is an unavoidably important question, even if troubling. Missional spirituality takes on this challenge.
  • Missional disciples also pursue their callings with Vigilant Ethics, knowing both that righteousness is a fruit of the kingdom and also a witness for the Lord’s reign.
  • Occasionally, work environments create the occasion for Spiritual Conversation, which is a way for the followers of Jesus to engage their coworkers who may have insight from other ways of life, and also open to hear a perspective informed by the way of Jesus.

Where do I start?

It might be helpful to provide, after such a set of lists, a couple of helpful pointers for where people interested in this sort of life might get started.

  • Engage a community of mission…and if you’re not already part of one, it only takes one or two friends to begin one. So start having the conversations about what this kind of life might loo like. You can’t do it alone, and the community begins with conversation.
  • Try experimenting with different elements described above, and journal your experiences. So take a few weeks and really try to attend to the way you practice hospitality, or your sense of vocation, and write a little bit every day about how the experiment is going.
  • My podcast Spiritual Steps offers bite-sized steps towards developing your spiritual life. I generally work out of a missional perspective, so those >15 min episodes might prove useful to you, and provide concrete next steps.
  • You might want to begin by taking something of a spiritual inventory of your life. Instead of adding a bunch of new practices out of nowhere, begin by reflecting one where you are, then just focus on the next step in front of you. Steady and intentional growth is the way, and being honest about where we currently are is the edge on that.
  • You can always do a lot worse than by simply starting with prayer!

Views – 152

11 | Divergence and Convergence in Design Thinking for Ministry

This episode develops the idea of “Design Thinking” with the concepts of Divergence and Convergence. 

Long-Term Sermon Planning is available for Kindle on Amazon!

Host: Steven Hovater (Twitter: @stevenhovater, Web: stevenhovater.com)

I’d appreciate it if you would share the podcast with others, and please remember to subscribe for future episodes. You may also be interested in my other podcast, Spiritual Steps, which is about taking small steps in your spiritual journey.

Check out this episode!

Views – 246

Joseph and Jacob’s Story

Your story is not just your storyA few years ago we were getting ready to have VBS and we asked Dr. John Fortner to come and help prep our adults with a theological understanding of the story we were going to work on—the Joseph narrative. One of the best insights for me that came out of that story was how the Joseph story really fits into the larger narrative of the patriarchs, and particularly into the story of Jacob.

For most of Jacob’s life, he is an absolute control freak, scheming for control over virtually everyone in his life. He lies cheats and steals his way to the top. Even though God appears to him, and promises to be with him, he seems to believe that life would be much better if he (Jacob) were in control, and he consistently resists God’s initiative.

Now, I think most people would see and agree with that. Unfortunately, we tend to atomize the text—we separate out the stories of the Bible into individual tales, and lose the intergenerational narrative that Genesis (and the rest of scripture) is telling.  When we do that we lose some insights—for instance, the significance of the Joseph saga.

The Joseph saga is not just about how things worked out for Joseph. It’s about how things worked out for Jacob. It’s about how things worked out for God’s people.  See, the Joseph story is really just a long stretch within the story of Jacob—it’s the definitive blow to Jacob’s mentality that he is in charge. He can’t manipulate God. He can’t micromanage the promise of God. It seems like he’s in control until Joseph (he thinks) dies. That concept completely rocks Jacob’s world, and since he’s not in control, he basically gives up on life and waits to die. He seems to think God has abandoned him.

However, after he learns Joseph is alive, Jacob has another theophany, where God appears to him, reassures him that he is still with him, after all this time. Jacob turns loose of all the control, and it seems to me like he actually reinterprets his life through that insight.  Now he can (for the first time!) tell Joseph about the promise of God. (Joseph will later tell the rest of the brothers.) Now he can refer to God as the one who “has been my shepherd all my life to this day.” Jacob can finally affirm the promise of God and the continual working of God, even in light of his own impending death! Reading Genesis 48 with this insight has been a powerful adjustment to the way I’ve read the Joseph saga before, and indeed the way I see my own life.

Think about the deeper lesson here about reading the scriptures: Anytime we read a text, we need to remember to pull back and see it from a perspective of the broader story of the mission of God. Each story is unique and important on its own terms, but becomes even more incredible when viewed in terms of a longer context. Reading a text like the Joseph saga with a missional perspective allows us to pick up different layers of what’s happening in the moment of the text as well as how that text contributes to (or complicates) the larger story of God and the world.

It’s not just Joseph’s story. It’s not even Jacob’s story. It certainly isn’t simply my story. These are all moments in God’s story.

It's not just Joseph's story. It's not even Jacob's story. It isn't my story. These are moments in God's story. Click To Tweet



Views – 169

9 | The Lord’s (Missional) Prayer

Praying towards the fulfillment of God’s work in the world, via the Lord’s Prayer.

This episode its together two major themes in my thinking right now: prayer and missional theology. In my mind, one of the most important questions for the church in our day is, “How can we be formed spiritually to participate in God’s mission?” The Lord’s Prayer is a great start on that journey.

For an introduction to missional theology, see my post here: “What is Missional Theology?

Host: Steven Hovater (Twitter: @stevenhovater Web: stevenhovater.com)

Please think about leaving a review of the show on iTunes!

You might also be interested in my podcast The Craft of Ministry, which is about developing key capacities for ministry.


Views – 134

What is Missional Theology?


“Missional Theology” has found its place in the vocabularies of both the academy and the church, but it can be difficult to pin down exactly what the term “missional” means. Because of the term’s broad usage in a variety of different settings, and the different shades various authors and practitioners insist upon, many people still find themselves asking, “What is missional theology?”

Let me begin to answer that question by clarifying that missional theology isn’t one particular concept, but rather a constellation of ideas that come together in a comprehensive conversation about God, the church, and what God has sent the church into the world to be and do. The publication of Missional Church launched the missional conversation in 1998 with a core of ideas that has remained significant 1, although like all good conversations the ideas have taken on different nuances and directions as new voices from the church and the academy have joined in the discussion. I’ve reviewed Missional Church elsewhere; here I’d like to offer a distilled version of missional theology as an introduction for those who are joining the conversation now. Essentially, missional theology is a movement that offers a theological shift, a sociological recognition, and a set of distinct church practices. Let’s take each of these categories in turn.

A Theological Shift

At the core of missional theology is a different way of thinking about God, the church and mission. Although there is a constellation of ideas involved in that theological shift, I will confine the conversation here to three critical emphases: the agency of God in mission, the nature of God’s intent for creation, and the importance of the reign of God.

The Agency of God

The authors of Missional Church perceived that the church often spoke of missionary work as an activity that the church carried out. Van Gelder writes that the church developed foreign mission structures throughout the twentieth century with the goal of carrying the gospel into other parts of the world, holding the mindset that God had given them this evangelistic mission in the great commission. This emphasis undergirds a “church-centric” view of mission that “views the church as the primary acting subject responsible for doing something on God’s behalf in the world.”2 In response, the missional church has pivoted towards an understanding of mission that proclaims that mission is, first and foremost, rooted in the identity and nature of God. Guder describes this “theocentric” understanding Christian mission: “We have come to see that mission is not primarily an activity of the church. Rather, mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purposes to restore and heal creation.”3 The location of mission within the nature of God’s own being results in the perception that God is always at work bringing about the mission, and sometimes in ways that the church is unaware of, and which are located outside the church’s activity. This already brings about the possibility that the church may look to recognize and discern God’s activity outside of itself, but also points towards the great theological question: What is the mission of God?

The Missio Dei: God’s Intent for Creation

There may be many paths of answering that great theological question, which rises to the significance of the meaning of creation and the intent of all of God’s interactions with creation. In the missional conversation, the quotation above already offers a possible trajectory, referencing “God’s purposes to restore and heal creation.” This is perhaps enough of a departure from theologies that view creation as tangential to God’s intent to warrant our attention, but we may be more particular in the direction of missional theology. Missional theologians and practitioners often describe God’s intent for creation by recognizing and describing a particular narrative arc within scripture. The basic line of that narrative may be described like this: God’s intent was for creation to be full of life and goodness (whatever goodness might entail is an important question), but creation is corrupt because of human collaboration with evil. Nevertheless, God pursues that intent, restoring corrupted creation through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and will one day bring about the final restoration, reconciliation, and recreation of all things. This process has already begun in the in-breaking and spread of the reign (or kingdom) of God.

The Reign of God

Thus missional theology understands that it is by God’s own divine agency, in which the church of Jesus participates by the Spirit, that creation will return to God’s intent. At the invitation of Jesus, the church enters into God’s reign, learning to live under God’s kingship. This line of theology has much to commend it, not the least of which is the way it refigures the church’s identity. In this view, the church, comprised of disciples of Jesus, is not simply a collection of people who have accepted a promise of salvation and await a rewarding afterlife, pending good behavior. Rather, the church is a community that represents God’s kingdom in the present. It embodies the reign of God as a community, and is sent into the world as the kingdom’s servant and messenger. It is both a foretaste of God’s kingdom and an agent of that community—and both of these facets of its being are ways of participating in God’s own mission. Thus, missional theologians see mission as not simply an activity of the church, but as a feature of its very nature and being. Mission is not confined to the pursuit of (distant) proselytes, but is wrapped into every moment where the church lives in alignment with the will of God. As disciples practice love and peace with each other and also with their neighbors, they are about the work of the mission of God. They also naturally invite others to join them in living in the kingdom of God.

A Sociological Recognition

Along with this theological orientation, the missional conversation, particularly in North America4 contains a specific sociological recognition. A second broad feature of the missional movement grows from a certain analysis of the social situation of the church, particularly in western contexts, and even more particularly in North America. The first paragraph of Missional Church closes with a sentence that signals the trajectory of this conversation:

“On the other hand, while modern missions have led to an expansion of world Christianity, Christianity in North America has moved (or been moved) away from its position of dominance as it has experience the loss not only of numbers but of power and influence within society.”5

The importance of this claim for the direction of the conversation can be further seen from the structure of that seminal work; after the introductory chapter, the next two are devoted to making the case of the shifting position of the church due to cultural trends and the evolution of American religious practices. Although various writers within the missional vein may approach this sociological claim with different emphases, here I will describe two recurrent themes: the loss of Christianity’s privileged status within society, and critique of the church of Christendom.

The first of these emphases, the loss of Christianity’s privileged status, refers to a sense that society was once structured so that the church held a powerful voice in the public sphere, but that the church has been pushed to the margins as the construction of a secular, pluralistic public sphere has evolved. Taking Leslie Newbigin’s lead, the missional conversation argues (and more lately, assumes) that the modern western cultural assumption is that no religion should be permitted to make ultimate truth claims in public. It is more readily apparent that there is tension and conflict between North American culture(s) and the church at the levels of worldview, values, and praxis. Thus, the church can no longer assume a de facto partnership with the broader culture in which the church helps people become better citizens and the culture forms people as good disciples. In the current cultural reality, the missional movement has claimed, the church cannot continue to make the same assumptions about the starting places of conversations with its neighbors about Christianity as were held under Christendom. 6

Missional Church furthers this point by describing how the church, having been blocked from the public sphere, increasingly focused its message on a private, interior sort of religious life.7 The authors argue that as the churched culture either collapsed or was eroded in the second half of the twentieth century, morality based on faith was generally rejected or marginalized in terms of its fit for public debate, and faith commitments could only be leveraged for personal decisions.

“Notions of shared public morals gave way to personal decisions of expediency, pleasure, or private judgment. Expectations of privileged position gave way to irrelevance and marginalization. People no longer assumed that the church had anything relevant to say on matters beyond personal faith. Public policy became increasingly secularized, as public morals became increasingly personalized and privatized.”8

A final step in this argument comes from Alan Roxburgh, who argues that pervasive pluralism has stripped away the church’s privileged monopoly over even interior faith. The new situation is that churches, once driven from the public sphere but given sanctuary in the private life of Americans, now finds themselves in a crowded marketplace of ideas with competing spiritual sources and authorities. 9

Missional authors respond to the church’s loss of the cultural center on a variety of levels. Most basically, they insist on the acknowledgement of this reality and its practical implications, employing their rhetoric to implore churches to adopt and adapt. Even if they grieve the loss of the former arrangement, the missional movement argues that churches must move forward and learn new ways of being if they are to survive or be fruitful in the new situation. However, a more forceful vein of rhetoric argues that the new situation is in and of itself good, that it provides the opportunity to abandon distorted and corrupted forms of ecclesiology in favor of a model that more aptly represents not only this sociological shift, but also theological reality. This critique of Christendom may vary from critiques about its missiological distortions, its collusion with secular power, its hubris, or its oppression of others. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch vigorously advance a critical perspective of Christendom in The Shaping of Things to Come, referring to the Christendom model of ecclesiology as an idol and a virus, which can’t help but spawn churches that carry in their DNA its critical flaws.10 Their text is essentially a response to three specific flaws, namely that the church of Christendom is attractional, dualistic and hierarchical. Churches that recognize the unsustainability of the Christendom model, they argue, are thus freed to create communities that represent alternatives to these flaws, practicing incarnational mission, messianic spirituality, and apostolic forms of leadership.11

A Set of Church Practices

Frost and Hirsh viewed these three practices as an extension of the twelve hallmarks of missional churches identified by the Gospel and Our Culture Network.12

  1. The missional church proclaims the gospel.
  2. The missional church is a community where all members are involved in learning to become disciples of Jesus.
  3. The Bible is normative in this church’s life.
  4. The church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death and resurrection of its Lord.
  5. The church seeks to discern God’s specific missional vocation for the entire community and for all of its members.
  6. A missional community is indicated by how christians behave toward one another.
  7. It is a community that practices reconciliation.
  8. People within the community hold themselves accountable to one another in love.
  9. The church practices hospitality.
  10. Worship is the central act by which the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future.
  11. This community has a vital public witness.
  12. There is a recognition that the church itself is an incomplete expression of the reign of God.

Along with the practices suggested by Frost and Hirsch, these practices begin to outline a different set of church practices than what might be considered the norm in North America previously. At the risk of overly distilling the lists (and the other lists they represent!), let me offer two distinct directions for these practices: Developing a Contrast Community of Disciples and Engaging the Church’s Neighbors.

A Contrast Community of Disciples

As a result of its theological convictions and perception of its sociological reality, the missional church sets out to prepare its people to live differently than the people around them. It seeks to intentionally form people by practices that implant them with the story of God and prepare them to live out values like love and justice through practices like hospitality and reconciliation. The missional church wants people to learn the gospel so that they may practice the gospel, working for good, loving sacrificially and persevering hopefully in ways that mirror the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is what marks the internal life of the church—ministry that forms people to live as God’s people, sent into the world.

Engaging the Church’s Neighbors

Externally, the missional church pursues relationships with its community and engages the needs of the people it shares life with. It enters into partnerships with people who work towards making the community whole, and joins those who seek to infuse new life into places of hurt and brokenness. The missional church knows that as it engages these neighbors it must speak a word of the gospel, but it also seeks to listen. It expects that God may indeed use the community to shape the church, even as the church shapes the community, and knows that its own practice of the kingdom of God is not yet a perfect expression. By becoming a vulnerable neighbor, the church demonstrates the gospel of Jesus, and always seeks to deepen its own faith, even as it shares that faith with its neighbors.

Views – 349

9 | A Missional Conversation with Joel Abrahams and Jeremy Daggett

Over the past few years, I’ve been drawn further and further into the conversation surrounding missional theology and practice. In this episode of the Craft of Ministry podcast, my good friends Joel Abrahams and Jeremy Daggett join me for a fantastic conversation about what it means to participate in God’s mission.

You can learn more about the work in Peru here.

This episode grows out of a shared understanding of missional theology. For an introduction, see my post here: “What is Missional Theology?


I’d appreciate it if you would share the podcast with others, and please remember to subscribe for future episodes. You may also be interested in my other podcast, Spiritual Steps, which is about taking small steps in your spiritual journey.

Views – 117

The Simplest Prayer: Thank You

One of my favorite lines about prayer comes from Meister Eckhart, and it says, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” The profound truth within that line is that gratitude is at the center of our life of prayer, one of the foundational ways that we relate to God.
Gratitude in the Christian tradition points us toward God’s identity as “the giver of all good things,” a phrase that distills a verse from the book of James, “Every good gift, every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
But also, embedded in the prayer of gratitude is recognition of our own identities as receivers. Although surrounded by brokenness and suffering—which we sometimes taste ourselves—there is much that is good, and it begins with the gift of life itself. We are receivers of the gift of life…this is fundamentally who we are.
And this brings us to this most essential prayer, which is simply, “Thank you.”
It is a great place to begin in prayer. In fact, it’s the prayer that I’m teaching my two-year old son…we simply say, in a little repeat after me game, “Dear God…Thank You…Amen”. I hope that this simple prayer will become the foundation for how he relates to God as he discovers the profound gift of life. I hope that as he learns to make this prayer his own, it will form within him a depth of gratitude.
The prayer is also a simple place to return to if you are in a moment when your prayer life as become clouded, either by complexity or confusion. So, today, whether you are a beginner in prayer or someone who has sought the way of prayer for many years, I want to encourage you to take a moment and allow the practice of this simplest prayer to be a step forward in your spiritual journey.
In concrete terms, when I want to have a very simple moment of prayer, here’s what I do:
Find somewhere where you sit comfortably, and take a couple of moments to just be, and breathe.  Nothing fancy here, but you want to become fully present to yourself, which is not our default mode of being. So be still, and for a moment, just breathe.
Dwell for a moment on the gift of life. Breathe it in.
And then, simply say to God, “Thank You.”
It is a simple prayer, but you may trust that the Lord hears it.
This moment of gratitude is a small step, but one that you can often return to as you seek a fuller connection to the Spirit of God. The path of the Spirit is made up of such steps, small moments which, over time, form us in the image of Jesus.

Views – 167

7 | The Prayer of Solidarity

Learn to pray on behalf of those who are suffering injustice!


Host: Steven Hovater (Twitter: @stevenhovater Web: stevenhovater.com)

Please think about leaving a review of the show on iTunes!

You might also be interested in my podcast The Craft of Ministry, which is about developing key capacities for ministry.

Views – 164