Contemporary Western Missional Movements and the Workplace

Academic Paper / Produced by Individual TOW Project member
Movement in the marketplace

“Mission is not simply an occasional activity or a program of the church; rather, it defines the church’s core identity, where all disciples are called to be missionaries in their spheres of life. This holistic understanding of missional vocation begs for further development. How is it that ordinary Christians can authentically imagine and enter into participation in God’s mission in their workplaces, homes, neighborhoods and world?...How can congregations form and equip their members for such missional witness?" 1

This paper looks at a sample of contemporary missional movements that are currently impacting on church life in Aotearoa-New Zealand and globally. It asks the question ‘Where are there signs of these movements taking the workplace seriously as a context for ministry and mission?’ The reason for this is because most adult Christians spend more of their waking hours involved in their daily at work (paid and unpaid) than any other activity. Hence the focus here is on resourcing Christians for mission and ministry in the contexts where they spend most of their time and energy.

The contemporary movements that this paper is particularly interested in include:

  1. Missional Church
  2. Emerging Church
  3. Fresh Expressions
  4. New Monasticism
  5. Mega Church Movement
  6. Lausanne Missions Movement

Although it is recognized that these are not entirely separate movements and in some cases there is considerable interplay between them, still they each demonstrate enough distinctive characteristics to justify this categorization. They also share some common concerns.

These movements all share a concern about The Challenge of Mission for the Church in the West

They share the opinion that, if the Church is to have a good future in the West, it will need reinventing in ways that see churches better structured for mission, resources reallocated to promote mission and the people of God better equipped and supported for mission. Hoping that we can attract more people to come and participate in church programmes on our turf and our terms, is no longer sufficient. The challenge is for churches to operate in a way that resource the people of God to participate in God’s ongoing creative and redemptive activity in the world. Mission is not primarily about getting people more involved in what churches are doing, but getting churches more involved in what God is doing in the world. It is a shift in emphasis from an attractional model for church to a more missional model for church.

A variety of theological influences lie behind these movements. There is no single dominating voice, although Lesslie Newbigin is probably the person most widely quoted by leading proponents of these movements. And there are some common theological concerns. They all emphasise the importnace of strong biblical foundations, Trinitarian theology, a focus on what God is doing in the world (the Missio Dei), mission by the whole people of God that embraces the whole of life, and rediscovering the important role of the local church in mission. This is why I have lumped them together under the heading missional church movements.

Now we look at six different expressions of these movements, noting some of their distinctive characteristics and specific examples in each movement of ways in which workplaces are recognised as a context for mission and ministry.

Missional Church

This is the only movement that has deliberately adopted this name. It is associated with a 1998 book titled Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America 2. This book grew out of the Gospel and Our Culture Network, a group of professors and pastors that sought to bring the World Council of Churches' discussions of missio dei ("the mission of God") and Lesslie Newbigin's missionary insights to bear on North America. According to Missional Church, the American church had been tied to a "Christendom model" of Christianity, wherein the church focused on internal needs and maintaining its cultural privilege in society. The decline of Christendom provided the church an opportunity, they said, to rediscover its identity as a people sent by God into the world as gospel witnesses. It’s leading exponents include George Hunsberger, Craig van Gelder, Darrel Guder and perhaps its most active ambassador in Australia and Aotearoa has been Alan Roxburgh (a Canadian, originally from Liverpool).

A most helpful history of this movement has been recently written by Craig van Gelder and Dwitght Zscheile. And this makes plain that even this is a movement with a diverse variety of expressions.

You might think that this movement would have a lot in common with the faith at work movement, especially given the significance that Newbigin gave to the workplace as a much neglected context for mission. Newbigin challenged more people to recognise the importance of local congregations in resourcing the people of God to live out the Gospel at work, especially in his The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. 3 However, for the most part, the north American missional church movement seems to have prioritised ministry to neighbourhood over workplace ministry.

There are very few examples of the workplace being recognised significantly in this movement as a context for discipleship and mission. There is some acknowledgement in Van Gelder and Zscheile’s book Missional Church in Perspective that Mission in Daily Life is an aspect of missional church that needs further exploration. 4 And another one of the very few other references that can be found to the workplace in the missional church literature is an article by Darrell Guder from 2005 on “Worthy Living: Work and Witness from the Perspective of Missional Church Theology”. 5 Guder says: “When one examines the imperatives in the New Testament epistles it becomes very clear that the ‘work’ of early Christians was their ‘witness’…These communities were to demonstrate before the world the nature of the love and healing that God had made real for all in Christ in the way that they lived and related…..Their work, beginning with how they earned their bread, to how their families lived, to the character of their called communities, to their interactions with their neighbours, was defined as their witness ”. 6 He says that this presents a challenge to the missional Church movement, because, although the missional church discussion tries to relocate its focus on the work God is doing in the world, its default position still often ends up seeming to suggest that the church is an end in itself. Guder states the challenge very clearly: “We need to explore how our gathering for worship, for sacramental celebration, for mutual encouragement and edification, can serve to equip each of us for our “sent-outness”, for our apostolate as the church dispersed.” 7 And nine years later it is still hard to discover where this challenge has been taken seriously by advocates of the missional church movement. There is a lot of talk about challenge of mission in the neighbourhood, but little that extends into the world of daily work. The danger is that mission remains identified with certain missional activities that people devote their spare time to pursuing, but is still not strongly connected to exploring the missional dimensions of everyday activites that people spend most of their time and energy involved in.

Emerging Church

Unlike the Missional Church movement, this is not so obviously a movement with one central organising group. In fact more recently there are numerous points at which it now overlaps the Missional Church movement. However, generally it has been a more radical movement that has grown from the edges of the mainline churches rather than from the centre and is embodied in a wide variety of more informal expressions of church.

It has historical connections with the British Alternative Worship movement as well the Greenbelt Festival and other alternative expressions mostly in Britain and Australia and New Zealand, through examples like the Parallel Universe and Cityside Baptist Church in Auckland identified originally with Mark Pierson and Mike Riddell and the Forge Network in Australia associated with Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. More recently this movement has been adopted by North America and turned into publishing industry with its own North American conferences and blogs and heroes. Originally it was more about a younger generation of church leaders experimenting with church than it was about theoretical musings about more missional expressions of church.

Emerging Church is often not so focussed on church as the gathered community, although that is still part of it. Anna Doddridge (Bournemouth UK) says, ‘Our commitment is to be missionary at all times. Everything we do in our lifestyle, in what we say, in how we treat people, that’s all our witness. It’s all mission.’ Drew Jones says, ‘Our mission defines us more than our worship.' Mark Scandrette from San Francisco says about the Christians he works with: ‘there are no mission projects or outreaches. Their daily lives point to the reality of the kingdom’. Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger summarise their observations about emerging churches: ‘For emerging churches, to be a follower of Jesus is to live as a missionary… Emerging churches attempt to create 24/7 missional communities that seek to follow the pattern set by Jesus and express the kingdom of God in all they do. It is not about adopting a particular form of church. It is about the kingdom.’ Emerging churches do not so much seek to plant churches per se but to foster communities that embody the kingdom.

So how do these emerging churches express concern for workplace mission? Because they are not keen on programmed approaches to church life as a whole, they tend not to produce workplace oriented programmes but rely more on developing cultures that include everyday dimensions of work and life. When asked what Solomon’s Porch does in this regard, Doug Padgett said, “We run a dry wall company. We work for Delta Airlines. We run several restaurants and coffee shops. We run a social media consultancy. We are involved in parenting children.………” He listed the work that people are involved in outside the congregation. This is the ministry and mission of Solomon’s Porch. It is expected that it will be what people bring from these experiences that will shape their Sunday gatherings. And it did the day I was there.

The person who has written most about the workplace from an Emerging Church perspective has been Australian Michael Frost. Frost’s book Exiles:Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture includes a significant section on work. 8 He calls it working for the host empire. But this is not just developing a negative point of view. And this is rare in most of the missional or emerging church literature. Hence, it is more than just by chance that the Small Boat Big Sea expression of church that Frost belongs to at Manly beach in Sydney has also been very intentional about inviting its members to talk about their working lives in the context of their Sunday gatherings. For example, a Christian lawyer is invited to talk about his job, what he enjoys, what he struggles with, and how his faith influences his approach to work. People also ask him some other questions. He is then asked what he would appreciate prayer for and the community gather around to pray for him. A different person is invited to talk about their daily work each week as part of the regular sending function in their gatherings. See more examples in the Equipping Church article.

British Fresh Expressions

The Church of England have developed their own version of the North American Missional Church movement, but also cleverly combined this with some of the creativity and experimental elements of the Emerging Church movement. It is called Fresh Expressions. This movement started with a denomination-wide discussion about what mission-shaped church might look like. Then it was decided that just talking about this stuff wasn’t enough. They needed to promote more and bolder experimentation, some of which had already been going on in the alt. worship movement anyway. And they have remained vigorously experimental ever since.

Now Fresh Expressions training programmes are being run internationally, including Christchurch and Auckland.

Some of these fresh expressions have been developed with a workplace focus. One example is Riverforce that has developed in Liverpool among the Merseyside Police community. Another is called work:space. The Fresh Expressions movement has videoed many of these fresh expressions to offer a glimpse into their shape and character and to introduce viewers to the thinking of people who have helped to develop them.

The Fresh Expressions movement, like the Missional Church movement, has engaged in some serious theological reflection about what church is from a biblical perspective, but also remained vigourously experimental while still working hard to maintain the relationship between the institutional centre and missional edges of the church.

Another attractive element of this movement is the way they have intentionally engaged in wider conversations exploring connections with New Monastic, Emerging Church and Whole Life Discipleship concerns. 9 Hopefully these sorts of conversations will help to both widen their vision and also save their training programmes from becoming too neatly packaged and systematised.

Thus far the Fresh Expressions movement has still not demonstrated significant concern for workplace ministry and mission. In spite of the very thoughtful explorations of how church relates to Gospel and culture by some of its leaders, such as Michael Moynagh, John Drane and Graham Cray, the Fresh Expressions movement is still predominantly focussed on church gathered rather than church scattered, even if it is gathering in rather novel places to do more creative things. Mark Greene would say the litmus test of whether you really believe in whole life discipleship is whether worklife issues are addressed directly. This is usually the most neglected element.

The New Monasticism

The original Monasticism began as an attempt to reform the church from within through encouraging more radical discipleship from those who were willing to commit themselves to encourage and support each other by living together and sharing a common life. It was a revolt against nominalism and usually involved a life of renunciation and contemplation. As a by-product it also often produced new expressions of culture as a result of people’s creative work in and around the monasteries.

Today there is a new movement of monastic-like intentional communities. While some of these are drawn to pursuing the contemplative life as their priority, a number of others pursue a much more missional vision. Many different different expressions of intentionally missional communities that have grown up recently in New Zealand and Australia and around the world.

Justin and Jenny Duckworth founded Urban Vision. Ashley Barker founded the UNOH community in Melbourne and Dave Andrews The Waiters Union community in Brisbane. There is a Servants Community in Dunedin and the Addington Community in Christchurch. A number of these are significantly involved in local mission among the urban poor and some are also connecting local mission and global mission dimensions. Members of the Addington Community have run missions training programmes and then sent out short term teams to places with whom they maintain continuing contact.

The expectation in Urban Vision is that everyone will work at least part-time outside of the community. It is community life connected with working life. For the Addington Community this takes another form as the community itself is involved in several businesses, particularly the Addington Coffee Co-op. One of the challenges in the wider faith at work movement is trying to understand how the active and contemplative aspects of life fit together and can be better integrated. Perhaps some of these communities have a role to play in helping us to explore this. The Benedictine communities have always had a strong emphasis on valuing work for its own sake, but also nourishing the life of prayer in our work and of private study and contemplation alongside our work. A number of books have been written by lay people who have been helped by the Benedictine tradition or who are lay associates of Benedictine communities.

Two gifts of this movement are the rediscovery of a supportive community and the development of a missionary spirituality.

Mega Church Movement

Wikipedia describes megachurches as those church congregations that include more than 2000 regular worshippers. Mostly we think of these as operating according to an attractional model rather than missional, because megachurches tend to be strongly shaped by the gifts and theology of their founding leaders. Leaders such as Rick Warren and Bill Hybels are very effective evangelists who have started with an emphasis on church growth and then been forced to think about developing other dimensions of ministry. Interestingly, both Hybels and Warren do express some concern for workplace ministry, but still with a stronger emphasis on evangelism than other dimensions. This is also reflected in the ways that the SHAPE and Network programmes that these churches use to help people to discover their giftedness are both weighted towards finding where you fit in the life of the church and its ministries rather than in God’s wider purposes in the world.

At the same time, Saddleback has more than 200 groups that meet in workplaces each week, in addition to their regular church home groups. They have a member of staff who prepares bible studies for these groups each week. These groups explore more than just evangelistic questions.

In New York Redeemer Presbyterian Church, with its pastor Tim Keller coming from a more Reformed theological background, has quite a different emphasis. As the lead banner on its website, Redeemer carries this mission statement: ‘Redeemer Presbyterian Church: Seeking to renew the city Socially, Spiritually, and Culturally’. Their Centre for Faith and Work, which was established by entrepreneurial businesswoman Katherine Leary Alsdorf is a most impressive attempt to support Christians at work. 10 It aims to be ‘the cultural renewal arm of the Redeemer movement, founded to equip, connect and mobilize leaders in their professional and industry spheres toward gospel-centred transformation for the common good.’

Although conservative doctrinally, Redeemer promotes an assertive approach to social engagement built around their Reformed vision of a city transformed through thoughtful Christian influence and action in every sphere of life.

They are very well organised and strategic in their approach. They have 17 different professional groupings that meet every month. They have a Gotham Fellowship internship programme for young professional people who commit to a 9 month programme of devotional readings, serious study and small group meetings as well as several weekend gatherings, in addition to continuing in their regular employment. This is intense and demanding, but provides a great stimulus for growth for those who participate They even run an Annual Entrepreneurship Competition putting up prize money for the best ideas so that these ideas can be implemented. This usually attracts more than 100 entries and coaching is offered to help people sharpen up their ideas and their presentations.

An international Citywide Ministry movement has also recently grown out of Redeemer. What is clearly evident here is a thoughtful approach to mission that takes both the Bible and cultural transformation very seriously. In terms of support for workplace ministry and mission it very helpfully combines concern for everyday discipleship, biblical literacy and spirituality, as forming a supportive community. It also seeks to identify young people with leadership potential and works very deliberately to nurture this for the sake of the world and not just for in the church.

Another megachurch movement that has gone global is Alpha. This has grown out of the ministry of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Brompton, London. The genius of Alpha seems to reside in the combination of informal mostly home based meetings around a meal, combined with a simple presentation of basic Christian beliefs in a way that invites open discussion. It has produced a very successful formula that has resulted in people coming to faith in many different settings internationally.

On the workplace front there is Workplace Alpha which is primarily an evangelistic strategy. However, Ken Costa, who is a very successful businessman and the international chairperson for Alpha, has written a book called God at Work and also a Study Guide. This consists of six hour-long sessions focusing on work, stress, ambition and other work-related issues from a Christian perspective and is being marketed as a discipleship tool much the same as the Alpha marriage material is at the moment. Although it doesn’t really make a strong case for the integral value of work in itself, nevertheless this is still greater recognition of the significance of work in the mission of God than we have seen from Alpha previously. Also a recent meeting with the leadershp team of Alpha in Malaysia looking at the theology of work suggested that they may produce more resources following up these concerns.

Lausanne Movement

The Lausanne Movement (also known as the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation) includes a broad international coalition of evangelical mission agencies, theological teachers and church leaders that have been exploring holistic mission at home and overseas in a series of conferences since 1974.

In terms of targeting workplace mission and ministry there are several different groups of people in this movement, each with their own unique perspectives. These groups include:

Marketplace Ministry: this group is made up of a mixture of marketplace people, pastors and theologians and tends to focus on resourcing people for mission in their home countries.

Business as Mission: this group tends to be made up of international entrepreneurs reinventing themselves as missionaries, or providing capital and training for the establishment of significant business ventures in less developed and/or less evangelised parts of the world.

Tentmaking: this group is made up mostly of missionaries who have reinvented themselves as businesspeople through involvement in small enterprise developments or to gain access into restricted access countries.

Microenterprise Development: this group is made up of people, often missionaries, who work among the poor and wish to help people start small scale self-supporting livelihood projects.

Growing concern for recognition of workplaces as important contexts for minstry and mission is reflected in the way the 2011 Lausanne Capetown Commitment has been crafted through the influence of Chris Wright and Mark Greene and others. Following this up a series of international consultations on the theology of work have been planned.

Also the Theology of Work Project has been working with the Lausanne Movement to help provide and promote biblical and theological resources for supporting marketplace ministry and mission.


The church in the West continues to be challenged to reprioritise for mission, restructure for mission, and reallocate resources for mission.

There are contemporary missional movements that God has raised up to do something about this. Each of these serves to remind of us some important elements we have neglected.

Each of the six contemporary missional movements examined exhibits some acknowledgment of the significance of the workplace for ministry and mission. It is not a major focus for any of these movements. This acknowledgment is more the product of the interest of a few inspired proponents rather than an emphasis that is owned by the whole movement, although in the case of the Lausanne Movement it has recently been officially recognised as a higher priority.

Together these movements help to underline the important need for:

  • a carefully thought through theology of mission and theology of the church . (Missional Church and Fresh Expressions)
  • more bold and creative experimental initiatives (Emerging Church, Fresh Expressions, Redeemer)
  • a supportive community and a missional spirituality (New Monasticism)
  • creative and relational evangelism (Alpha)
  • a better biblically grounded theology for the marketplace and theology of work (Redeemer and Lausanne)