By outlining the Petrine, Johannine, and Pauline modes, I have aimed to hypothesize an approach describing how churches can be missionally effective by describing and considering all three modes. Once again, although these are distinct aspects of how God’s mission shaped the New Testament churches, they are nevertheless connected.
How do these modes of mission apply to churches today? Like most things, wisdom comes from knowing the current situation and what it takes to get to a future, more balanced, state. In other words, all such modes are important, but there is also a recognition that different phases of church life reflect different modes and different times. Let me share just two examples: newer churches and established churches.
Church plants and newer churches tend to be strong in Pauline evangelism and multiplication. They may need some Johannine sentness, but often are in need of a Petrine community. Thus, new churches often exude a passion and vision to reach out to those who are unbelievers and unchurched.
Many seek to live on mission in their community by becoming part of the local rhythms of life and looking for ways to serve those around them. However, this tends to be an area where they need to develop a stronger Johannine missional focus.
Primarily, however, new churches often lack a Petrine mode of mission. Many new churches struggle with developing the community of mission—the teams, leaders, systems, and processes that help facilitate ministry and mission. They struggle with foundation and the established community, and therefore are in need of creating centered-set primary theological boundaries as well as a solid structure that includes governance, systems, and processes.
Older churches tend to be more Petrine, using my hypothesized distinctions. Such churches have a stronger inward pull to the foundation they have laid—usually through their programs, systems, processes, and structures. Many have created a theological and practical culture and have become financially stable. Many have given years of faithful service to their community. Their longevity, in some cases, leads to trustworthiness in the community.
Yet, established churches tend to lack a Johannine and Pauline mode of mission. They are often inwardly focused and lack a passion for sentness, hence the growing movement to help established churches be more missional. The need is evident.
However, they also often lack a Pauline approach to multiplication. Stagnation has become more common for they have difficulty multiplying in both micro (disciples) and macro (churches) ways. Thus, they need more elements of the Johannine and Pauline modes.
Although not all established churches are unhealthy, most of the healthy ones would still benefit by building on Petrine modes with a greater Johannine sentness and Pauline multiplication. Statistically, most established churches are plateaued or declining, becoming the inward version of the Petrine mode (which didn’t end well for the Ebionites). Such churches tend to be inwardly focused—having lost sight of the mission.
Rather than being motivated by mission, many times established churches are motivated to maintain their traditions, preferences, culture, and systems. They fall into the same trap as the church in Jerusalem; they go overboard on their foundation and end up protecting and preserving their culture and homogeneity at the expense of mission. Unfortunately, many churches often choose maintenance over mission.
A Fully-orbed Mission
The goal is well-grounded and developed people (Petrine), living sent by their very nature (Johannine), and multiplying believers and churches (Pauline)—a missional people, embodying sentness, on a mission of multiplication.
These are not three different paths of doing mission, as if you could do one and not the other. Rather, they are all aspects of our mission pulled out here for consideration, with the recognition that our tendency can be to emphasize one over the other. Thus, there are three modes, but they need to work together for fully-orbed mission.
Certainly, my synthesis, though limited, can be a helpful reminder that the New Testament patterns of mission can teach God’s people today. As such, churches seeking to be missionally effective will need to embrace their nature as a missional people in “community” (a Petrine mode of mission), embody a missional posture of apostolic “sentness” (a Johannine mode of mission), and enact a missional practice of “multiplication” (a Pauline mode of mission).