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Book Review: Mission is the Shape of Water by Michael Frost

Whether or not you are professionally engaged in mission or ministry, this book is for you, says reviewer Phil Inglis.

In the 1970s, my parents left Australia and backpacked their way to London. After a short time working at the International Headquarters of The Salvation Army (washing the General’s car), they flew to Zambia in central Africa.

They were two of the dozens of Salvation Army personnel from North America, Australasia and Europe to serve at Chikankata Mission. My sister and I were born in the Mission Hospital, and my parents later returned to Australia.

I have heard stories of missions my whole life and spent many nights with officers and lay people talking about mission (and sometimes mischief), as they often gathered whenever one or another of the crew came to visit Sydney.

Later, in my teens, I joined the staff at Red Shield Summer Camps. We welcomed kids to camp and spent a week giving them great food, great fun and great experiences around Sydney. Basically, we did everything we could to make the kids understand that they are valued, they matter, they are important, and they are loved. This was mission, and I loved it.

One time, I was telling this to one of my parents’ old Chikankata friends, and they simply said, “Why don’t you become an officer?” Well, that was that, and I’ve been ministering as a Salvation Army officer now for 22 years.

Sadly, I soon discovered that ministry as a Salvation Army officer wasn’t all about taking kids to the beach, cinemas, the zoo and Sydney Harbour. As I was trying to wrap my head around full-time ministry, one of the extremely helpful books I read was The Shape of Things to Come by Mike Frost and Allan Hirsch. This book both encouraged and inspired me to see mission in a broader sense and helped me understand my mission as a Salvation Army officer.

When I was given the opportunity to read Mike Frost’s latest book on mission, Mission is the Shape of Water, I jumped at the chance.

In this book, Frost shows how, throughout history, mission has changed its shape to fit the cultural container within which it is poured.

The shape of mission – as practised by my Salvation Army officer grandparents in 1950s Australia – was vastly different to the shape of mission in a hospital and high school in 1970s Zambia. The shape of mission at camps and churches today is vastly different again.

To illustrate this idea further, Frost spends 10 chapters exploring different shapes adopted by major mission movements in history. From the ‘god-slaying’ missions of the early centuries to the ‘unearthing’ missions happening today.

Whether or not you are professionally engaged in mission or ministry, this book is for you. It is an absolute joy to read.

I was enthralled by the stories, appalled by some, encouraged by others and inspired by all.

The best part of this book is the epilogue ‘Where Will the Water Flow?’. Here, Frost takes all that has been learned in the previous 10 chapters and extrapolates it in a few ways to give us some insights into the future of mission in our post-Christendom, post-enlightenment, post-COVID world.

Perhaps the most encouraging point is that no matter what shape the future takes, mission, ministry and the active spirit of God will always flow and fill that shape to bring about the purposes of God.

Mike Frost’s Mission is the Shape of Water is available from

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