ecclesia semper reformanda

Gathering A church should never arrive.  A church should never reach the point where it is fully established.

Ed Stetzer talks about this in his experienced-driven book, Planting Missional Churches.  One of the prevailing calls during the Reformation was that a church should not become a static institution, but should continuously reform.  The idea was stated in the phrase ecclesia semper reformanda: "the church always reforming."  Stetzer comments that churches, while always remaining true to a biblical foundation, are compelled to change as the culture around them changes.  The point is that a local church should not get stuck in the pride of their institution, but rather always be aware of its missional identity in their community.  A church should always be more than "missions-minded"- simply aware of some overseas missionary efforts.  A church should always instead be "missional"- a community of missionaries committed to share Jesus within their own surroundings.  A follower of Jesus is a missionary and a church therefore is to have a missionary flavor and fervor.  Stetzer says that a "missional church is ‘on mission.’"  In other words, a church should always be intentional and deliberate about reaching others. 

I ask you… Have any of you seen examples of a missional church?  What are they like?  What do they do?


  1. Aha! Well put! I might quote this last comment some day (especially the encouraging part about me!)… I think that you’re right- Many pastors and congregations get into routines… good ones even… but the routine which was once started in intentionality eventually can lose its passion and purpose. Many marraiges suffer this same easy comfortable fate. One day you wake up and realize the kids are gone and don’t want to be like you! Intentional lifestyle of ecclesia semper reformanda… good stuff! Thanks for the dialoge Paul!

  2. very cool ken…very cool.
    it seems that one of the key initiatives which will be helpful in transitioning established churches is “intentionality.” Many pastors will just keep going through the motions as per the expectations put upon them, and nothing much will change; they will love people and people will hopefully love God and others…but there are those who, in that same position, will “intentionally” love people and challenge them (because they’re not afraid to lose their job) to embrace the calling and privilege of serving Christ through missional activity and lifestyle.
    That is why i have hope for established churches. that is why i’m stoked that you are someone, a pastor, who is willing to engage an established church with intentionality. May God increase your contentment and may you be a blessing to those yearning for a more intentional lifestyle.
    take care brother.

  3. I really appreciate this dialogue, Paul. I need to keep these questions at the forefront of what I’m doing now in Calgary so that I don’t fall into a rut of pastoral “expectations” that aren’t aligned with Eph 4. It was much easier for me to ponder these things while I was in transition between churches… and I can already feel the pull away from dealing with these issues because I’m “on the job”. I can understand how many professional pastors fall into the patterns of our traditional definition of “pastor”– the tyranny of the urgent almost demands that. I suppose this is one reason why so many emerging churches are reacting against professional clergy systems.
    It is wrong to dismiss a person as a pastor simply because they aren’t hired. We need to do a better job of affirming all believers in their gifting and missional identity. One thing I really like about Brentview is how upon baptism they commission persons as ministers of the Gospel.
    I had a conversation at lunch today with some friends at Brentview who want to see small groups do more intentional ministry initiatives. They think too many people are too reliant on the paid pastors to initiate and lead. It was a refreshing conversation. Another person has told me recently “we should start a new outreach to the poor”- and then they put their hand on my shoulder and said- “and you don’t have to add that to your schedule because we should organize it.”

  4. what if…that’s not only a good question, but also a great pursuit in my opinion.
    as well, “what if” if we were a little more gentle with the word “position” and instead understood a person to “function” in the role according to their gifting. “Position” can quickly become hierarchical and authority oriented. Yes, we need leaders who will lead, and we need leaders who will serve…but do they have to be “on staff” or paid for the function in which they serve?
    How many believers in our congregations are functioning in the roles of pastor, teacher, apostle, prophet, evangelist, but we haven’t recognized and celebrated that fact? In my limited experience, it seems that those who do function in these roles are often alienated or seen as weird or told to “get in line” with what the rest of the church is mindlessly following. I’m guilty of such blame, and i’m ashamed of it…and i’m trying to be more open and understanding about the possibility of God through his Word showing us what true leadership, and the matrix by which it functions in, can look like in today’s context.

  5. I wondered if you’d catch the fact that I chose only part of the verses to prove my point! Good job. You got me!
    The dispensationalists of the late 19th and most of the 20th century defined those other roles- and made the pastor-teacher the only one that actually worked with churches today. Apostles, they said (and many still say) were only the 12 in Acts 1. Prophets ceased, they said (and say). Evangelists were rare and for the most part were itinerant.
    But there is a growing movement, it seems to me, of biblically-based believers who long to see these other important “giftings” or “positions” in our churches.
    What if we had each of these in our church networks today?

  6. hey Ken, isn’t the whole “equipping God’s people for works of service” not just talking about pastors but also the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher?
    Why do we call multiple staff members at churches all pastors (well, i suppose some are called Directors or other things)? Have we reduced the responsibility (or perhaps privilege) of “equipping” to one person when it should be a communal and participational experience?
    You’ve asked the question before of “what is a pastor?” Are we able to ask this question objectively today? For those of us who have served in a dependance-oriented congregation, our experience may lead us to think that people need a leader and that leader is us (pastor so-and-so). And for those who are sitting in the pew’s, their perception of what a pastor is may lead to expectations which are not biblically accurate or at best skewed.
    Can we even ask ourselves the question “What is a Pastor” without at the same time asking “What is an Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, and Teacher” as well?
    I am still working through this…obviously! I want to objectively, and biblically, understand how this five-fold leadership matrix helped to shape and equip the early church and whether that is a timeless model for the church or if indeed we need to embrace (as we have in the West at least) the cessation of these functions as gifts to the church.
    I can’t help but realize that God works in so many un-idealistic circumstances and uses us in our weakness…and pursuing clarity about such matters should never leave us disconnected from other believers or jaded about institutional practices…but the question seems to be begging an answer with church planting models under scrutinization and traditional churches suffering from the banter about being irrelevant and un-open to change.

  7. Paul, I’m keying in on your word “dependency”. Is this not a major part of our pastoral problem today? We “depend” so heavily on our pastors for (insert whatever here) that we fail to release them to do what they’re supposed to do- which is equip God’s people for works of service to build up the Church ultimately towards fullness in Christ (Eph 4:11-13). That’s an overly simplistic view I suppose- but I think we place too many peripheral expectations on pastors that aren’t necessarily a part of the biblical gifting of a “pastor”. Ideally, we should depend on one another to serve according to our gifts… and I suppose ideally we’ll depend ultimately on Jesus…

  8. i guess there are two things i’m working through here: (1) dependency on pastors, and (2) calling gifted leaders pastors when they may not be gifted as a pastor.
    much thinking, probing, reading, musing, and discussing needs to happen before i could propose any kind of realistic ideal for the way forward…but i sometimes think it’s our natural fear of the unknown which keeps us from pursuing these ideals.

  9. No offense taken at all, Paul. I think you’ve thought up a dream scenario there. Too many people gifted as pastors end up doing administration or buildings or (insert job). Too many people gifted prophetically or evangelistically or administratively or (insert gifting) end up doing committees or audience pew-ing. The pastor is not biblically the epitome of a church… though we often treat a pastor like that. A pastor has authority and leadership responsibilities… but a pastor is not the focus of a church (or shouldn’t be at least). A pastor is not the church. But we often act as if a pastor is the church. Am I syncing with you?

  10. Hey Ken, don’t take this the wrong way, but what if we could transition western churches to not be dependent on their pastors? Not that there shouldn’t be pastors, of course, but rather that we rethink the leadership matrix of which we seem to be predictably familiar with.
    I’m sure we’re all somewhat aware of the frenzy which takes place when a pastor resigns and there is not another pastor in place to step in and take over (maybe take over is a poor choice of words).
    Anyways, what if people with the gift of pastor stepped up and functioned as pastors…what if people with the gift of prophecy stepped up and functioned as speakers of truth and relevancy…what if teachers had the opportunity to actually teach and not be criticized for how “good” of a speaker they are…
    Well, there i go again…off topic and offering my bias and ignorant opinions!

  11. “If we were to start this church today in this community, would we do the things we are doing today?” That’s a great question, Paul! Max DePree says in his book, Leadership is an Art, that our structures and facilities need to be flexible and adaptable. When we become to rigid in our programs and routines and when we start writing too many manuals and bylaws… then we can suffocate the missional passion.
    Stetzer comments that “most established churches are unwilling, or at least unable, to overcome” the challenge to recapture a missional identity. He says that most of our churches therefore become unable to adapt indigenously as culture changes.

  12. I think many of the churches i/we have encountered or been a part of have/are been/being missional to some degree.
    in fact, the more people i talk to the more it seems that people are getting the difference between “missionary” and “missional.” However, as much as this is verbal consent, it rarely transfers to asking the question, “If we were to start this church today in this community, would we do the things we are doing today?” That is, for many churches, a very awkward, dangerous, and perhaps even deadly question.
    I think (and this is just an opinion which has no real factual basis…totally subjective) that the expectation of preaching has lost its effectiveness in many ways. Yes, people get something out of our sermons (sometimes) but how much, and for how long?
    This is why I think helping established churches transition is a very difficult endeavor. We have to ask ourselves what the purpose of sunday mornings are…what it means to be the church in our community…and how we measure success (if we should even do that!).
    Perhaps evaluation has taken the place of Christian accountability; that we have many tools which tell us how unsucessful we are in making converts, but we are weak in personal accountability such is found between Paul and Peter in regards to the cultural prejudices that were evident in Peter’s behavior.
    ok, that was random spewing…sorry.

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