At this point it will be of greatest help to identify the elements of a missional church. This will put some specifics in place that will aid in formulating a mental picture. These elements come from the pen of Timothy Keller, a church-planter and pastor in Manhattan, New York. He is a leading author and speaker in the area of gospel-centered ministry and missional thinking. In an article titled Missional Church, Keller outlines the following five elements or characteristics that a missional congregation embodies:
1. Discourse in the vernacular of the unchurched community and culture. This means that a missional church avoids using language that an unbeliever living around them would not understand. They do not use “pompous, spiritual, sentimental talk” that distance themselves from their unchurched community. It means they avoid ever talking as if non-believers are not present.
2. Enter and re-tell the culture’s stories with the gospel. This means that preaching, speaking and communicating is always done with the assumption that skeptical people are present. They want to engage these kinds of people and figure out how to explain the gospel in a way that will be meaningful to them, not simply talk about the “good old days.” To “enter” means to show sympathy toward the local communities art, literature, music, and theatre. To “re-tell” means to show how only Christ can give freedom to be authentic.
3. Theologically train lay people for public life and vocation. This means we must train our laity in more than prayer, Bible study, etc… These are private skills—yes, that are necessary—but we must also train people in public skills—thinking Christianly in all areas of life. What does the culture practice that is not a sin for us to embrace? What does the culture practice that is sinful and must be rejected? What practices of the culture can be revised and adapted? Finally, under this point, it means to demonstrate real, biblical love and tolerance toward those with whom we differ greatly.
4. Create Christian community which is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. This means the Christian community shows to the world how radically different we are in regard to things such as sex, money, and power. In sex, we avoid the idolization of it that secular society has created but we also exhibit love rather than hostility or fear toward those with different sexual lifestyles. In money, we promote generosity instead of greed. In power, we share it and build relationships instead of trampling over one another to get to the top.
5. Practice Christian unity as much as possible on the local level. This means that churches and Christians focus their attention on the points they agree on much, much more than the points at which they disagree. That means we avoid phrases like: “we are not like that church over there, or those Christians over there.” We must not define ourselves over against the values of one church or another. Rather, we must clearly define ourselves against the values of the world. Lack of unity in individual churches, denominations, and Christianity in general has been a real “defeater” of the gospel in the past century. This must stop.