I recently had a pastor say to me, "We want our Missiology to reflect our Ecclesiology," or the way we do mission to be a reflection of the way we see the church. On the surface I agree with this idea and I understood perfectly what this pastor was trying to say to me, but this statement really caused me to think. This may be fine in theory but what if the way you see the church is just completely wrong? What if the way you see the church is right but only in your limited context? Do we really understand just how our understanding of the church has influenced not only our philosophy of mission, but our practice of mission as well?
We should probably define some terms.
Ecclesiology: The branch of theology that is concerned with the nature, constitution and functions of a church. I would define it as the study of the church as Christ introduced it and the New Testament writers expounded upon it, but would include every Biblical expression of it throughout history. The Question: What is the church, where is the church, who is the church, why is the church?
Missiology: The study of the Missio Dei - The Mission of God to reveal himself as loving Father, expressed through a merciful savior, sent to redeem a people unto himself from every people group on earth. The Question: Who is the Mission, where is the mission, what forms and strategies should we utilize as we set out to fulfill the Mission, how do we know when the mission is complete?
As I further researched, prayed and studied about this subject I began to see the way in which historically Missiology and Ecclesiology have been separated into different and even opposing studies. There are those that say that its Missiology, not Ecclesiology that is really important. They would assert "We must begin with mission; that is to say, we begin with God and His mission of Redeeming a people unto himself through Christ, and what God is continuing to do in the world through the church to enact his purposes throughout the earth."
Then there would be those that counter, "No, it's Ecclesiology, not Missiology that is important," They would state, "God begins and ends with a people—the church. The church is the agent through which God's mission is carried out, and so in that sense I think ecclesiology must precede missiology. I think the biblical pattern in both the Old and New Testaments indicate this—God calls a people to himself (first Israel, now the Church), constitutes them under his rule and pours out his blessing on them, and then sends them out to be his agents and witnesses in the world. In the book of Revelation we see that the end of God's mission of redemption will be concluded, but the community we now call the church will be living in relationship to God throughout eternity."
Let me suggest: These are not separate, and certainly not opposing theological studies but rather one unified revelation. Our Missiology and Ecclesiology need to develop together—each informing our understanding of the other and both completing our understanding of God's plan for mankind. Our ecclesiology shapes how we understand and practice mission and our lives lived on mission continue to shape how we understand and be the church. Ecclesiology and missiology—one does not "come from" the other, but they are both derived from scripture, interact with each other and can be understood only in light of the other.
I hope that you will continue to follow us in this discussion, I believe there is much we have to learn about this important subject. I ministered on this subject at a recent conference and you can view the video here.