I have a new pen-pal: Christian Schwarz in Germany of Natural Church Development International. We’ve been writing back and forth lately discussing the relationship between NCD and the missional movement.  Christian’s definition of a healthy church includes it being “mission-shaped.”  I asked Christian for his understanding of “mission-shaped.”  Below is his response, shared with his permission, because I thought my readers might find it interesting.

Henrik Andersen, who wrote his dissertation on Missional Leadership (and in that context, evaluated empirically the missional outcomes of NCD, both by quantitative and qualitative research), took a list of “5 values of a missionary church” (Cray, 2009) as a starting point: A missionary church is… (1) focused on God the Trinity, (2)… is incarnational, (3) … is transformational, (4) … makes disciples, (5) … is relational. After having discussed a number of lists of a similar nature, he tried to synchronize the essence of these lists in the following six indicators of a mission-shaped church: (1) Living Faith, (2) Community Lifestyle, (3) Discipleship Focus, (4) Member Mobilization, (5) Neighborhood Engagement, (6) Adaptable Structures. Each of these indicators has been precisely defined in his paper. In his dissertation, Henrik was looking for indicators that don‘t just define some desirable ideal, but can be empirically accessed in the course of his research project.

When I made the missional mindset my personal DNA in the course of the late 1970s, I wasn’t influenced by the modern missional movement (as it did not exist at that time). The chief impulse for me was my dealing with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in especially his Ethics and his Letters from Prison. In particular, it were the following six elements of Bonhoeffer’s theology that shaped my life toward investing everything at my disposal in seeing missional fruit: (1) His concept of “church for the others” (Church is only church if it is church for others). (2) His understanding that the “world has come of age” and a new form of Christianity has to give credit to that fact. (3) His rejection of both autonomy and heteronomy and the centrality of “responsibility” that he worked out on the basis of that (which included the willingness to become “guilty” in our practical involvement with the world). (4) His concept of “Christ existing as community” that was the seed for developing radically different forms of “church.” (5) His non-religious interpretation of religious/biblical terms. (6) His discovery that we find the “transcendent in the midst of our lives” (i.e. in the midst of the immanent), in other words: definitely not bound to “the church.”

Interestingly enough, in none of these six areas Bonhoeffer gave concrete answers. But he asked these questions in an unsurpassable way, and left it to others to develop the answers. In a way, Bonhoeffer’s own answer to all of these challenges was his fragmentary life. Apart from theologically dealing with these concepts and trying to develop them further, it was especially my intense relationships with part of the Bonhoeffer family that kept that “virus” vibrant in my life.