Book Review: Creating A Missional Culture by JR Woodward

As a missional practioner, I am always looking for resources that come from others who have been digging deep in the garden of Missional Communities. Lately as I’ve traveled around a bit, I’ve bumped into a lot of “missional talk”; it can become a bit tiring. However, connecting with JR and his book “Creating A Missional Culture” I find missionality saturated in persevering practice. Walking through the book over the last month I’ve felt like I’ve had a conversation with someone who has taken difficult risks to pioneer for the sake of God’s in-breaking Kingdom.

The Power of Culture 
My favorite section of the book is on the power of culture. JR is a diagnostician when engaging with the nature of how cultures form and form us. JR helps us see what we have potentially become too accustomed to. He helps us have eyes to see when he says “The dominant culture seeks to squeeze the church into its mold of market-style exchanges, manufacture desire, self sufficiency and addiction.”  I many ways the Evangelical church has built and planted churches leveraging these drives and cultural standards. JR is diagnosing the culture and like an archaeologist begins to uncover how the “host culture” has shaped and socialized us. The glaring narrative of our host culture is fierce individualism. This ethic has seeped into the church and woven its way into our very fabric. JR exposes that this reality has seriously weakened our ability to be an “alternative way of living and of being a human community”.

Re-imagining Leadership 
The feistiest section of the book is when JR transitions to re-imagining leadership that is not individualistic but instead orients around a shared approach to discipleship and culture creating. Honestly this type of leadership makes many of us nervous. There is an illusion of security with a strong hierarchy style, one guy at the top branded leadership. JR is speaking truth when he says that a “Kingdom-formed church must swim upstream when it comes to how we practice leadership.” In the chapter “Hearing the Story” he makes an effective attempt at giving us a new lens to read the scriptures when it comes to the narrative of leadership. Within the church we have heroic ideals of sole leaders who rescue the day and lead God’s people into the sunset.  But JR challenges that reading and walks us gradually through leadership in the book of Revelation, in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the Gospels and in Acts and the Epistles. This part of the book is straight up bible survey that lands with saying “the church in Jerusalem was led by a plurality of leaders, James, Peter and John being amongst others…sitting in the round, encircling the table, recognizing God at the center and mutually submitting to each other.” 

The Polycentric Model 
Part three of the book lays out a thorough schematic of what a shared leadership paradigm looks like for the Missional Church. JR calls this a “polycentric leadership model.” He paces us methodically through what he calls the “five culture creators”: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. He gives us a good picture of each of the culture creators working together and how each of them is earthed out.  For a couple years now personally, I’ve mulled over and researched whether these five gifts are prescriptive or descriptive. I’m not fully convinced either way yet but JR makes the best case I’ve read so far for how to interpret Ephesians 4:11-16.  He is gracious and hospitable with his hermeneutic and this drew me in to investigate. Honestly it was this section of the book that stirred me up and challenged me the most and that’s how I like my books to hit me.

For certain, I’m convinced JR Woodward is surgically accurate when he says “structures are not neutral, they are theological statements”.  His passionate case for correcting our over-institutionalized leadership is necessary to free the Missional Church to authentically be on mission and contextual in the west. If we desire to be a church that is a sign of God’s coming kingdom we will “seek to reflect his triune and communal nature in all we do”.  This emphasis on community is more than a fad or just an issue of belonging for JR, it is the plumb-line through the Scriptures. Get this book if you’re in the trenches, it’s an accessible text book on the missional frontier that is written with urgency, soaked in genuine experience.

Click for my further thoughts on “Mutual Missional Leadership” 

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