#5: Mission, institutions and the ‘gift of not fitting in’ #TaylorTuesdays


It is time we recalled the terms in which so many of the historical missionaries of the past have spoken of their own call, and ask ourselves how many of them would have become great if their guidance had been discounted or frustrated as we and the churches overseas discount and frustrate that of many missionaries in these days. A theology of mission based upon a truer understanding of the Holy Spirit is bound to challenge the hardening of our structures and that institutionalizing of our inter-church relationships which has been going on for the past half century.
The Go-Between God p.71

How should mission inform church structures?

Taylor suggests that we can compare those engaged in modern day mission to the prophets of ancient Israel. Those called to be prophets often had an incredibly strong personal sense of calling, but often didn’t fit into either the religious or political structures of their day at all. He then draws us to consider many of the great missionary figures in church history, and the role that many of them played in challenging the structure and tradition of the existing church.

In many ways, those of us engaged in pioneering forms of mission today, can share this frustration. Jonny Baker talks about the gift of being a pioneer as ‘the gift of not fitting in’. But could this sometimes lead to an unhealthy fear of structures on our part?

For Taylor there is no doubt that the more we integrate our understanding of mission with a theology of the Holy Spirit, the more we find our existing structures and institutions in the church being challenged.

Some questions to ponder:

  • Do you have the ‘gift of not fitting in’? How do you resource yourself to cope with the frustration that comes with this?
  • What ways have you found to challenge and work within the structures you are constrained by?
  • How does your own experience of structure, either positive or negative, effect your approach to mission and church?


What do you think? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment.

Each Tuesday we’re posting a quote from John V. Taylor with some thoughts and questions for reflection. John (or J.V.) Taylor (1914 – 2001) was the General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, and Bishop of Winchester, and wrote several seminal books on theology of mission, including The Go-Between God: The Holy Spirit and the Christian Mission and The Primal Vision: Christian Presence Amid African ReligionFind all the Taylor Tuesdays posts here.
About the author: James Henley
James Henley
James has been with The Lab since 2007 and leads our team. He's an ordained pioneer minister in the Church in Wales.