“Engaging the Missional Church Conversation for Church Planting” (Excerpt from Mary Sue Dehmlow Dreier’s Created and Led by the Spirit)

Created and Led by the Spirit
Created and Led by the Spirit

Mary Sue Dehmlow Dreier is associate professor of pastoral care and missional leadership at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, South Carolina, and an ordained Lutheran minister who served twenty-five years as a pastor in rural, suburban, and church-planting calls.

In the following excerpts from her new book Created and Led by the Spirit: Planting Missional Congregations, she introduces the volume’s unifying theme and provides a brief outline of its various essays. 

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Church planting is full of “go figure” moments — those moments when you sit back, awestruck, and realize you can’t explain what just happened. Those exhilarating experiences of something like the rush of a mighty wind blowing through the room. Those provocative coincidences that whisper of something stirring out in the world beyond our imaginations.

I wonder about the decline of mainline denominations in the United States — while the church is growing explosively in Africa. I see Pentecost-like sparks flashing in unconventional places. I can’t systematize all the moments that are reminiscent of Peter being led, as though in a trance, by the angel in Acts 12. The Spirit of God is stirring out in the world beyond our imaginations!

Churches in North America are in a mission field, as we become increasingly aware that people in our neighborhoods are not acquainted with the gospel. One of the ways the Spirit of God is creating a new future for Christianity in North America is through the planting of missional congregations: these are new faith communities, created and led by the Spirit, that are intentional about participating in God’s Trinitarian mission for the sake of God’s world. This is an exciting frontier for the church, and it invites new theological reflection, new imagination, and new partnerships as God’s people engage this creative new apostolic era. . . .

The primary purpose of this book is to extend the missional church conversation as it relates to the generative work of planting new missional congregations. The reader will find that the authors draw significantly on the developing body of missional church literature, as well as a diverse range of other applicable sources, case studies, and contextual anecdotes. The book provides original scholarship with a missional church-planting focus, and thus it contributes fresh insights to the missional church conversation as well as to the expanding field of church-planting resources.

The first section of three essays provides the theological framework for planting missional congregations. In the first essay, Mary Sue Dehmlow Dreier sets up the conversation across diverse perceptions of the Spirit’s work by focusing on God’s primary agency as church planter and our secondary role as midwives; it offers fresh reflections based on the third article of the Apostles’ Creed. In the second essay, Miroslav Volf offers the act of loving God and our neighbor rightly as the core theological challenge for establishing human community that flourishes. He implicitly redefines and contextualizes church planting amid a culture dominated by the pursuit of experiential satisfaction. In the third essay, Lois Malcolm retrieves the missionary thrust of Paul’s apostolic theology to explore the promising breadth and depth of the Spirit’s work “for us and for all.” Thus she creates a Pauline theological framework for church planting.

The two essays in the second section provide congregational stories that give witness to the Holy Spirit’s activity in the world through church planting. In the first essay, senior pastor Leith Anderson traces how the Spirit led his congregation in numerous church-planting efforts and summarizes his rich experience into a mini-primer for planting missional congregations. In the second essay, Susan Tjornehoj sifts through the unique beginnings of five very different congregations in the metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. She identifies how common biblical themes in the deeply contextual soil of a congregation form a furrow from its past, through its present, and into its future.

The third section of three essays narrates new missional appearances on the church-planting scene, pointing the reader’s attention to emerging churches, multiculturalism, and new organizational possibilities for church planters to consider. In the first essay, Daniel Anderson tackles the phenomenon of emerging churches; he provides descriptions, distinguishes areas of emphases, and suggests a process for seeing beyond innovation to missional identity. In the second essay, African-born Harvey Kwiyani brings his native experiences and understandings of the Spirit to bear on the North American context, creating a pneumatological missiology that discerns and celebrates the multicultural activity of the Holy Spirit in the United States. In the third essay, Todd Hobart explores the theological and structural possibilities of postmodern organizational forms. This essay grew out of his research within four postbureaucratic congregations that offer innovative alternatives to traditional structures for planting missional congregations.

The fourth section, an epilogue, concludes this collection with the proclamation of the gospel. Paul Chung, professor of mission and world Christianity at Luther Seminary, delivered this sermon during worship at the 2009 Missional Church Consultation. With the wisdom of a scholar and heart of a church planter, Chung orients our church-planting efforts in witness that flows from the heart of God.

Each of the contributions to this volume uniquely addresses the theme “Created and Led by the Spirit: Planting Missional Congregations.” When considered together, these essays are complementary to each other and present a diverse but cohesive celebration of the Spirit’s missional church planting in our time — and into a creative new future. This book provides a critical focus and helpful trajectory within the growing missional church conversation for church planters, judicatories, students, educators, and scholars. May it facilitate rigorous theological reflection on the imaginative, challenging, and rewarding adventure of planting missional congregations that are created and led by the Spirit.

Click to order Created and Led by the Spirit: Planting Missional Congregations, edited by Mary Sue Dehmlow Dreier, or to learn more about the Missional Church Series from Eerdmans.