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Becoming a Missionary Church

Lesslie Newbigin and Contemporary Church Movements

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Lesslie Newbigin's influence on the ecclesiological landscape in North America is unmistakable. His ideas have been developed and contextualized, but some insights have been lost.

In Becoming a Missionary Church, Michael Goheen and Timothy Sheridan explore the depth and breadth of Newbigin's thought, offering an analysis of three popular contemporary church movements: missional, emergent, and center church. The authors provide a historical assessment and balanced critique of these contemporary church movements, especially in light of Newbigin's missional ecclesiology. They explain that some of his insights have been neglected and need to be retrieved for the present day. This book calls for the recovery of the missionary nature of the church and commends church practices applicable to any congregation. The authors' substantive assessment is written in an accessible style, making it suitable for seminarians and pastors.


1. Becoming a Missionary Church: An Invitation
Part 1: The Historical Development of a Missionary Church
2. The (Re)Birth of a Missionary Church (1938-1952)
3. God's Mission and the Missionary Church (1952)
4. Competing Visions for a Missionary Church
5. A Missionary Church in Western Culture
Part 2: The Missional Church Conversation
6. Theological Foundations
7. The Missionary Congregation
8. Western Culture as a "Mission Field"
Part 3: The Emergent Church Conversation
9. Modern and Postmodern Cultural Context
10. The Missionary Congregation in a Postmodern Setting
Part 4: Center Church
11. A Missionary Encounter with Western Culture
12. Missionary Congregation
13. Gospel and Biblical Story
14. Becoming a Missionary Church: Lesslie Newbigin's Legacy for the Twenty-First Century


"'Faithful are the wounds of a friend' (Prov. 27:6). This saying came to mind repeatedly as I read this appraisal of three contemporary efforts to reenergize the church in its missionary identity and mandate. There is warm appreciation for how all these 'friends' (for they are, especially the highly esteemed Tim Keller) long to reach and impact our culture for Christ and the gospel, combined with sharp but respectful critique of shortcomings and dangers that become apparent in the wider light of the whole Bible narrative and its implications. The authors' exposition and application of the missionary life and theology of Lesslie Newbigin is a master class of clarity and illumination, repeatedly offering eye-opening insights as to how we have come to be where we are in the Western world (and wherever the toxins of Western idolatries have penetrated). Any church that is praying for a fruitful missionary encounter with their surrounding culture will find here a rich resource of biblically rooted priorities, characteristics, and practices that align with the whole-Bible gospel, center on the cross and resurrection of Christ, and glorify the God of all creation."

Christopher J. H. Wright, Langham Partnership; author of The Mission of God

"Few grasp Lesslie Newbigin's magisterial contributions to everything that is essential to Christianity--the universal story of Scripture, the comprehensiveness of the gospel, the mission of the church--as well as Goheen and Sheridan do. Becoming a Missionary Church offers riches for both the Newbigin beginner and veteran. It persuasively articulates an invigorating Newbigin-inspired vision for renewing the culturally captive North American church that is more compelling than contemporary alternatives. Its critique of those alternatives is careful and fair-minded, managing to leave readers both more appreciative of the wisdom they contain while also more clear-eyed about their shortcomings. Both my understanding of what is necessary for renewing the church and my passion for deeper engagement in that task have grown because of this book, and I am grateful."

Amy L. Sherman, author of Kingdom Calling and Agents of Flourishing

"Ironically, much of what has passed for 'missional church' has been untethered from the careful theological reflection and wisdom of its forefather, Lesslie Newbigin. Goheen and Sheridan re‑tether the church to mission by grounding the whole life of the church in its true missionary identity. They call us to embrace suffering, cultural exile, vocation, and Sunday gatherings as an intended part of God's mission. Their critiques are incisive, even-handed, and charitable. The nuanced missiological reflection in this book is a priceless gift to readers. I was inspired to continue leading churches into God's mission while trusting the results to him."

Jonathan Dodson, founding pastor, City Life Church; author of The Unbelievable Gospel

"This book is overflowing with rich insights regarding the missionary nature of the church. Goheen and Sheridan engage in conversation with past developments in missionary ecclesiology as well as recent trends like the missional church movement, the emergent church conversation, and Tim Keller's center church. In each case, the authors allow Lesslie Newbigin's seminal vision of the church in mission to provide a welcome and needed corrective. Readers will value the book's balanced perspective, which spotlights both the strengths and the gaps in the influential movements it evaluates. This isn't just a 'theory' book; it teems with practical implications for how the church can participate in God's mission more fully and faithfully today."

Dean Flemming, professor of New Testament and missions, MidAmerica Nazarene University; author of Contextualization in the New Testament

"A fresh look at Newbigin's wisdom for the Western church. We have much to gain from Goheen and Sheridan as they draw us into the profound and often overlooked insights that Newbigin offers for the church today. This book is for all who take seriously God's mission and the call to be a missionary church."

Jim Mullins, lead pastor, Redemption Church Tempe

"As new contexts emerge, new questions arise. We all recognize that times are a-changing. But changing times demand wise guides. I can think of few better guides to help us navigate this period than Mike Goheen and Tim Sheridan appropriating Lesslie Newbigin. If you are a leader feeling rumblings in your soul about church, culture, and the world overall, you should read this book! And as you read, ask the Holy Spirit to apply these truths to your life and church."

Tyler Johnson, lead pastor, Redemption Church (AZ)

The Authors

  1. Michael W. Goheen

    Michael W. Goheen

    Michael W. Goheen (PhD, University of Utrecht) is professor of missional theology at Calvin Theological Seminary. He is also professor of missional theology and director of theological education at the Missional Training Center, Phoenix. Goheen is...

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  2. Timothy M. Sheridan
    Grace Burns

    Timothy M. Sheridan

    Timothy M. Sheridan (PhD, Stellenbosch University) is church-planting leader for Resonate Global Mission and professor of congregational theology at the Missional Training Center, Phoenix. He has served in pastoral ministry for over twenty years in...

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2023 Word Guild Award of Merit (Academic)