Michael Goheen’s book, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story insightfully relates the theme of missions to both Israel and the church. Yet at a few points it may be asked if mission ends up overriding other necessary aspects of the church.
For instance: “At its best, ‘missional’ describes not a specific activity of the church but the very essence and identity of the church as it takes up its role in God’s story in the context of its culture and participates in God’s mission to the world” (p. 4).
John Bolt and Richard Muller question the legitimacy of defining the church’s essence in terms of mission:
“In simple language, what we are determines how we can act and what the result of our activity will be. The marks of the church indicate her fundamental identity, and her identity is the basis for the performance of her task. The opposite model, where the doing of a task is posited prior to careful statement of identity, or where identity is defined in terms of a task, can lead and historically has led to disastrous consequences. A redefinition and revision of the church’s task, framed primarily by numerical growth for example, threatens the very essence of the church. After having led converts to a new and different place, we may well discover that this is not a place where the Word is truly preached and the sacraments rightly administered. We have then arrived if not at utopia, at ucclesia, a nonchurch. The point here is that the expression a ‘mission-shaped church’ is vacuous. A church cannot remain church unless it is shaped by a mission that is itself shaped by the church’s essential identity.”
John Bolt and Richard A. Muller, “Does the Church Today Need a New ‘Mission Paradigm’,” Calvin Theological Journal 31, no. 1 (April 1, 1996): 204-205.