What is "Missional"?

“Missional” is a common buzzword in ecclesiology today. You don’t have to read very much to realize that there is a lot packed into this word. But not all agree on what should be packed into it, or more precisely, how it should be played out in the church. “Missional” involves varying views of the Kingdom of God and varying views of how the church is related to the kingdom. It has to do with how God is at work in the world, what God is doing and how people should be involved in that work.

There is a tendency among some to judge the value of a word or idea by looking at who predominantly uses the word or idea. Some are hesitant to use the word because of who else uses it. In this case, “missional” is a word frequently used among the “emerging” type of churches and ministries. It is frequently connected with a lack of orthodoxy and a heavy emphasis on social justice. It is also frequently connected to what is known as “incarnational ministry,” the idea that believers are to “incarnate” the gospel just as Jesus did when He came to earth. This, too, makes some wary of the word.

The idea of missional

Yet I think that the idea is pretty simple and useful, even if we don’t like the word “missional,” and even if we do not agree with the doctrinal aberrancies and the social emphases of some who use it.

The idea of missional is based on the idea that God is a missionary God. This incorporates a number of elements that center on the fact that God is active in the world through both His incarnation and His people. Missional thinker Alan Hirsch says “By his very nature God is a ‘sent one’ who takes the initiative to redeem his creation.”1 Gibbs and Bolger say “God is a God who redeems, a God who seeks and saves…. [T]here is only one mission—God’s mission.”2

Mission embraces an even larger point. It is not simply that God sends, but that God is at work (on mission) accomplishing His purpose which is to bring glory to Himself through the redemption of sinners, the building of His kingdom, and the restoration of creation. In His mission, God has taken the initiative to come to man to reconcile Him, and now God calls man to join Him on His mission.

Fundamentally, our mission (if it is biblically informed and validated) means our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s word for the redemption of God’s creation.3

To be missional means to participate with God in God’s mission.

The biblical theology connection

Mission is closely connected to the biblical theology movement which emphasizes the storyline of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration (or sometimes consummation). Since God’s mission is redemption with a view to restoration, the disciple’s mission is to participate in God’s work of redemption in anticipation of the ultimate restoration. In this sense, mission emphasizes the Kingdom of God and is consequently inseparable from eschatology. Yet at the same time, missional thinking does not demand a particular eschatological view. Though most missional thinkers embrace some form of the “already/not yet,” virtually all agree that the church is living in and speaking to the “not yet.”

This agreement is evident in the common theme in missional writing of living in a post-Christian era—a time and culture in which the Christian worldview is no longer dominant. Many trace this theme to Leslie Newbigen, who returned to England after years of missionary work in India to find that British culture had drastically changed. The change meant that Christians must now be missionaries to their own cultures, just as “foreign missionaries” formerly went to a new country and learned a new language, new customs, a new culture, then preached the gospel into that culture in such a way that the message could be understood.

Christians are, therefore, to live in their culture as a missionary redeemed by God and sent by God to a particular historical and geographical context to be used by God in His work of redeeming and restoring His fallen creation to Himself. In this, everything that the Christian does is a part of mission. For the believer, to live is to live on-mission for God and the gospel. The church is to equip and encourage believers to live on-mission, doing life together in the mission of God for the sake of the “not yet” which surrounds them.

But what does “missional” mean?

One of the key issues in the missional conversation is the idea of mission itself. In fact, it is probably the key idea. And simply put, it means “going out.”

The problem is that missional means different things to different people. Missiologist Ed Stetzer likens it to a Rorshach test (the one where they show you a random inkblot image and ask what you see in it). As Stetzer says, what you see in “missional” depends on your theological commitments. It is, in some strange irony, the hermeneutical union of authorial intention with post-modernity. When someone says, “I’m missional,” I ask “What does that mean to you?” or “What do you mean by that?”

Almost all who use the word “missional” use it with reference to the missio Dei, the mission of God. (I say “almost all” because there are probably some who just see certain big names using it and jump on the bandwagon with no clue of the actual meaning—because it sounds cool.) Some see the missio Dei as predominantly social in nature—the reformation of societal structures of injustice, oppression, and poverty. For them, this is largely unconnected to the church and the “word of the gospel” (as opposed to the supposed living out of the gospel through working for societal change). For them, this is the working out of the Kingdom of God apart from the church. They emphasize the horizontal relationships and see salvation as more corporate than personal—the redemption of societal structures that reconcile people to each other rather than the redemption and reconciliation of lost sinners to God through Jesus (e.g., Brian McLaren).

Others see this as primarily (or at least equally) proclamational in nature, that the gospel must be proclaimed, not just lived. They would reject the saying, “Preach the gospel; use words if necessary.” They would say, “If you haven’t preached the gospel, then you haven’t preached the gospel.” Words—the message of salvation in Jesus alone—are inseparable from the mission. Most would quickly add that words alone are insufficient for the gospel and point out that the preaching the love of Jesus to the lost without living the love of Jesus around the lost is hypocritical and is not missional living (e.g., Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller). Such living ultimately hampers the proclamation.

The Kingdom of God

Some of the historic evangelism conferences of the 20th century addressed the issue of the relationship of the church and the Kingdom of God. T.V. Philip offers a brief summary of some of these conferences here. One example from this chapter: At Madras in 1938, there was a strong emphasis that “church and mission are inseparable.” Missionary E. Stanley Jones objected to this on the grounds that it removed an “absolute conception” from which to live and serve in the world. For him, the Kingdom of God was absolute (perhaps ultimate) and the church was relative. The usefulness of this in understanding the issue is that most missional thinkers see the Kingdom of God as having priority over the church. The church is the sign or the instrument of the Kingdom of God (cf. Stetzer). It is not an end unto itself. It is a tool for something bigger.

I say that to say that a large part of “missional” deals with the conception of the Kingdom of God. In this sense, missional thinking is very similar to (though, in my opinion, not identical to) incarnational ministry: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Missional thinkers typically look to Jesus as the model for ministry (an idea I believe is significantly flawed—which I will argue for later). We are at work in the world with God (on-mission with God) to bring about the Kingdom of God just like Jesus. The mission is to work with God to bring about the Kingdom in some limited or small way now, looking for the consummation when God finishes the job, so to speak.

Thus, we are to live in the world like Jesus did, “showing and sharing” the love of God like Jesus did in His ministry. This incarnational focus becomes one of the driving forces of missional for many people. This relationship between the Kingdom of God/life of Jesus and the church age is one of the major factors in missional thinking that has been given insufficient thought, in my estimation.

Being sent

But let me go back to the beginning of this post. To be missional is to be sent. I think that is an entirely biblical concept—that the church has been sent into the world to preach the gospel so that the church is built of the people whom Jesus purchased with His blood. The reason that the church must go to all nations is because Jesus purchased people from all nations (cf. Matt 28:18-20; Rev 5:9).

The irony is that missional thinking is “new,” but in some ways really isn’t all that different from what many believe the church is supposed to be: a group of believers that comes together for worship, instruction and fellowship, and scatters for evangelism.

Missional thinkers typically reject seeker driven models of ministry. The contrast they draw is between attractional and missional. The church, they believe, should be missional—going out to them; not attractional—asking them to come to us.

Alan Hirsch says it this way:

Missional represents a significant shift in the way we think about the church. As the people of a missionary God, we ought to engage the world the same way he does—by going out rather than just reaching out.

Notes

1 Alan Hirsch, “Defining Missional,” Leadership Journal (Fall 2008), http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/winter/2.34.html?start=1, accessed 6 June 2010.

2 Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), p. 50.

3 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), p. 23.

[node:bio/larry body]

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There are 35 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I don't see any need for terms that are pretty much empty buckets (though really pretty ones) folks fill with whatever meaning they like. Smile
So I won't be touting "missional" any time soon.

But getting beyond the semantics, I have a huge beef with

  • Views of the church and its mission that derive too heavily from the ministry of Jesus (and often Jesus in isolation from both His OT context and the teaching of the apostles that came after)
  • Views of the kingdom that confuse the gospel purpose of the church with the social-political transformation that Christ Himself will effect direclty

So... yes, I'm surfing on the wrong side of the most exciting wave (and maybe most historical-theologically defensible one) right now. Because to me, a basically dispensational framework helps us

  1. understand Jesus' ministry correctly, and
  2. understand the kingdom's relationship to the church correctly

    The result is that the church's mission is go, make disciples, baptize, teach. ... not hard to understand. Just challenging to do.

driddick's picture

I'm a young guy, so current and trendy terms don't really bother me too much. Smile

I agree with the general sentiments of this post. I think 'Missional' is a useful term/concept, especially in the current dialogue regarding church life.

I haven't seen an idea, doctrine or term that someone or some group hasn't hijacked and taken to an extreme or even heretical position. Because of our general tendency toward "guilt by association," we hate terms that seem to blur the lines and "Missional" is one of those terms.

Regardless, I think the Missional conversation in general is healthy for the church.

Aaron, I agree with your concerns.

Steve Davis's picture

Thanks for an outstanding article and glimpse into missional mindsets. It's encouraging to see some balance in an area where the extremes are usually set up and knocked down without engaging the idea.

You describe typical missional thinkers saying that "We are at work in the world with God (on-mission with God) to bring about the Kingdom of God just like Jesus. The mission is to work with God to bring about the Kingdom in some limited or small way now, looking for the consummation when God finishes the job, so to speak."

There may be some who speak of "bringing in the kingdom" but I would prefer to say with N. T. Wright and others that we are "bearers" of the kingdom. Of course this assumes an already/not yet understanding of the kingdom, one that I embrace. Apart from a dispensational lens imposed on Scripture you can’t escape the strong impression that Jesus inaugurated His kingdom – certainly not in the way it was expected – but that means that we don’t need to bring in the kingdom. It has been already “brung” and not yet consummated.

Steve Davis's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
I don't see any need for terms that are pretty much empty buckets (though really pretty ones) folks fill with whatever meaning they like. Smile
So I won't be touting "missional" any time soon. .

You mean terms like - let's start with fundamentalist or conservative or traditional - I mean if we are talking about terms that "folks fill with whatever meaning they like." That's the problem with terms. You have to be able to define what you mean by them. Sorry, even your smiley won't let you off the hook.

And you have a beef with "views of the church and its mission that derive too heavily from the ministry of Jesus." Do you hear yourself? Is that what a dispensationalist framework does for you? If so, give me another framework that doesn't think you can even begin to think church and its mission apart from the ministry of Jesus.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Steve Davis wrote:
>> quoting Aaron
And you have a beef with "views of the church and its mission that derive too heavily from the ministry of Jesus." Do you hear yourself? Is that what a dispensationalist framework does for you? If so, give me another framework that doesn't think you can even begin to think church and its mission apart from the ministry of Jesus.

Steve, I think Aaron left himself open on that one, but I think I understand what he's saying, and I suspect you would agree.... That the idea of being missional goes astray inasmuch as it links up to having an incarnational philosophy of ministry instead of proclamational philosophy of ministry.

After all, I know you want your ministry to emulate Jesus, but how many blind men have you healed lately? How many times have you spoken about God and the gospel without any indwelling sin? For Jesus, these things were regular facets of ministry, but for you and me... not so much, eh?

WilliamD's picture

The term " Missional" works for me and my church especially as we are developing what we are supposed to be as a church. I want to get away from the terminology of Fundamentalism like "A Soul Winning Church" because that term has it's own baggage: IE: easy believism, door to door evangelism, pre-learned scripts such as "if you died today would you go to heaven?..."; numbers games, and the notches on a gospel belt: "how many did you win last Saturday?".

The word "evangelism or evangelistic" has its own baggage too - Billy Graham crusades come to mind; promotions that lure people to church also come to mind.

But "missional" is a new term that includes a proclamational and incarnational gospel. When we see the mission or great commission as our purpose, we will not see evangelism or soul winning as simply an event that takes place on Tuesday nights at 7pm or on Saturday mornings after the "faithfulness rally". We must live the gospel before all men as we tell the gospel to all men.

Steve Newman's picture

I generally agree with Aaron that this term seems to already have a lot of negative "baggage" that needs to be overcome. So, the question to me is if you say you are going to be "missional", how are you going to differentiate yourself from others with misguided ideas? Just because a term is new and different and is not related to the past doesn't make it inherently good.

Charlie's picture

We live in the age of the thought-cliche. Usually it takes the form of an adjective. Look at the endorsements on a mediocre book: "Fascinating," "Engrossing," etc.. Among churches, most adjectives are for advertising. Whether "Fundamental" or "missional" or anything in between, a single word communicates hardly any meaning. It exists on a church sign or website to draw in people who have positive reactions to that word. It barely informs.

Imagine a conversation between a Christian and a non-Christian:

Non-Christian: So, what is your church like?

Christians: Oh, it's great. I go to a Reformed, charismatic, gospel-centered, missional church.

Non-Christian: ......

So, please, use a sentence. Then no one has to wonder.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Full disclosure: I think I have built in allergy toward trendy buzzwords. It's probably not very rational. On the other hand, what's wrong with words like "obedience"?
Here's what I can't get past: if the great commission and the purpose of the church (I see the latter as being larger than the former but dominated by it) have not changed, why do we need new buzzwords?

So which of these (if either) is true?
a) The church has been off track for millennia and is now discovering it needs to be "missional"
b) The faithful church has sought to be obedient since the Ascension and does not need a new understanding with new labels

So... when I get past my instinctive aversion to buzzwords, it looks like the more important question is, what exactly is new here if anything? And is the part that is genuinely new really biblical? Seems like it's either biblical or it's new in this case because we're talking about the core idea of what the church is all about.

Would it be fair to say that some use "missional" to refer to a new understanding of the core purpose of the church and others use "missional" to express a slightly different emphasis or perspective on what what the true church has embraced for a couple hundred centuries?
If that's so, my question to those in the latter group is aren't we likely to confuse people by using a hot buzzword in a different sense than others (who probably coined it) who are trying to reengineer the essence of the church's work?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

About my earlier words-as-empty-buckets observation, and Steve's rejoinder...
I think there's a difference between a term that has a widely accepted general meaning with some variations on ancillary points vs. a term that seems to have no consensus.
So I agree that all words are assigned meaning and, until then, are empty buckets, some terms come along that remain empty because there is no consensus.

As for "fundamentalism," it's a special case because the term was once quite clear and the consensus on its meaning gradually decayed. It's a pretty leaky bucket in the general populous but still meaningful to those who are aware of the history.

If Larry is right (and I think he is), you have to ask every individual who uses "missional" what they mean by it... in every context. So it just doesn't seem very useful (and, as I suggested in my previous post, there are strong negatives involved with the term as well.)

Charlie's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

So which of these (if either) is true?
a) The church has been off track for millennia and is now discovering it needs to be "missional"
b) The faithful church has sought to be obedient since the Ascension and does not need a new understanding with new labels

This is a loaded question, because it assumes without proof that the "missional" people are advocating something that departs from the Church's position established for millennia. There are a number of faulty assumptions at work here. First, I'm not sure that there ever has been a consistent conception of the church's purpose, especially when we get into the details of how the church interacts with politics, society, and culture. For most of Church history, the Church has been much more integrated with social issues than it has been for the last century. The closest thing to a consensus would probably be Augustine's City of God.

Second, it assumes that the people using the word "missional" are trying to do something new. This really isn't the impression I've gotten from them. At our point in conservative Christian culture, old is trendy. The revitalization of Protestant Confessionalism, the renewed interest in Patristics, and the move to liturgical worship all point to a retrospective outlook. Kevin DeYoung's book title The Gospel We Almost Forgot sums up the attitude well. I think that many of the missional folks are calling this generation to recover a missional outlook that's been lost.

Third, it assumes that new labels cannot aptly express old concepts to a new generation. If, however, there is an imbalance in the contemporary Christian culture, then the balancing force may assume a label corresponding to the aspect needing balance. So, if the Church has forgotten mission, which is (for the sake of argument) an integral part of biblical Christianity, then the call back to biblical Christianity would naturally be styled "missional."

That being said, I don't use the term missional. I try to express my ideas in complete sentences, so people know what I mean.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Steve Davis's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
About my earlier words-as-empty-buckets observation, and Steve's rejoinder...
I think there's a difference between a term that has a widely accepted general meaning with some variations on ancillary points vs. a term that seems to have no consensus.
So I agree that all words are assigned meaning and, until then, are empty buckets, some terms come along that remain empty because there is no consensus.

As for "fundamentalism," it's a special case because the term was once quite clear and the consensus on its meaning gradually decayed. It's a pretty leaky bucket in the general populous but still meaningful to those who are aware of the history.

If Larry is right (and I think he is), you have to ask every individual who uses "missional" what they mean by it... in every context. So it just doesn't seem very useful (and, as I suggested in my previous post, there are strong negatives involved with the term as well.)

I suspect that many churches fear missional because it makes much of what they do obsolete. Because embracing missional might bring needed but unwanted change in how churches do business, I mean ministry. Because some churches might see that they are more a club than a church, that they exist more for self-perpetuation than self-propagation.

There surely is a difference between leaky bucket terms and empty bucket terms. As for asking every individual what they mean by "missional" I don't really care what everyone else means. And that’s true for all the other buzzwords from Conservative to Calvinist (or as some like to say Calvinistic). What's ironic is when we look at terms that have been popularized in many circles - fundamentalist, conservative, separatist, militant, independent, traditional, etc - and they are all leaky buckets - we now have a term that has some biblical basis (at least in the Latin "missio") - and hysteria breaks out. Yeh, there are problems with the term but let’s calm down.

The basic idea of missional is fairly simple as I think Larry and others have pointed out. Through the Incarnation the Father sent the Son into the world. By the Procession the Father and Son (filoque) sent the Spirit into the world. For the mission, Father, Son, and Spirit send the Church into the world. Being missional is rooted in a robust trinitarianism. It is the recognition of a new state of affairs with the church on the margins of society (at least in the Western world). It sees the church in mission mode rather than maintenance mode. It sees Christians as salt and light in society rather than separated from society in Christian rabbit holes.

Now what that looks like in real life for some might cause concern. But the idea and the word are here to stay – at least for a while. I think if you did an informal survey among younger pastors and church planters you will find that the term “missional” is much to be preferred that some of the other worn out leaky buckets. I won’t put it on my sign (because we don’t have one) but neither would I put any of the leaky bucket terms. And I would suggest that the negatives associated with missional are partly due to the way it’s been handled selectively in some corners – kind of like Calvinism is bad because of Calvin’s connection with Michael Servitus (okay not an exact analogy). You can always find associations that are detrimental to an idea. I may be wrong but I don’t think missional is going away any time soon.

Joel Shaffer's picture

To answer the question of the validity of this new "buzzword" missional, maybe we should go back and view what gave it rise in the first place. According to Larry,

Quote:
This agreement is evident in the common theme in missional writing of living in a post-Christian era—a time and culture in which the Christian worldview is no longer dominant. Many trace this theme to Leslie Newbigen, who returned to England after years of missionary work in India to find that British culture had drastically changed. The change meant that Christians must now be missionaries to their own cultures, just as “foreign missionaries” formerly went to a new country and learned a new language, new customs, a new culture, then preached the gospel into that culture in such a way that the message could be understood.

It pointed the church back to the great commission and how we fulfill the great commission in places that were once predominantly Christian such as Great Britain and the U.S.

By the way, I don't necessarily like new buzzword terms either....Too much marketing by Christian authors and publishers for my taste. However, if one doesn't like "missional" call it great commission church or great commission living, because that essentially is what missional is all about with the emphasis of being sent and/or going. That seems to be the common thread that holds the term together....except for the Brian MaClaren's of the world-who give more emphasis to social transformation than proclamation, but the emergent movement is dead and really the only ones that still give him and other emergents such as Doug Pagitt a voice are the main-line liberal churches and the Ana-baptist (Mennonite) evangelicals.

Jim's picture

Churchs' ought to have a purpose and they http://www.amazon.com/Purpose-Driven-Church-Without-Compromising-Message... ]should be driven to fulfill that purpose .

Saints are to be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah%27s_Witnesses ]witnesses to Jehovah in these http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah%27s_Witnesses ]later days . We are http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Church_%28Disciples_of_Christ%29 ]disciples of Christ ! All those of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Way_International ]the Way (Acts 9:2) believe (as it has been from of old) in http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reform... the holy catholic church .

We are to be warned of FINO's and pseudo's and be true http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalism ]fundamentalists .

If anyone has a source for tape for my vintage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DYMO_Corporation ]DYMO , please PM me!

Larry's picture

Moderator

Thanks for the interaction. Look forward to more.

Quote:
it assumes without proof that the "missional" people are advocating something that departs from the Church's position established for millennia
I think this is a key point. I don't think "missional" in terms of "going out" is different. Many traditional churches have always emphasized the "gather for worship/scatter for evangelism." Many missional people reject the seeker church precisely because it was "gather for evangelism."

While I think that dichotomy is not all that helpful in some ways, I do think that "missional" is at least in some sense a recovery of biblical mission. However, I think many people are applying it in ways that have nothing to do with the Bible, or at least not mandated by the Bible and I think that is an important distinction ... what we must do vs. what we can do.

Kevin DeYoung's talk at the DG conference in September was excellent on this topic, I think. It is well worth listening to.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Steve Davis wrote:
For the mission, Father, Son, and Spirit send the Church into the world.

Steve, would this be your understanding of John 20:21? If not, what would be your basis for the Trinity "sending the church into the world?"

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I have heard the phrase "Independent Missionary Baptist" used as a name for or a description of churches since I was a wee lass. Googling the term came up with dozens of hits- so 'missionary' is not a new label. One church describes it here- http://www.creamerdavis.com/IMB.html "What is an Independent Missionary Baptist?"

Quote:
The Second word I want us to see and understand is Missionary. Why use the word Missionary? When we say Missionary, we mean that we are to be mission minded. We are to witness with a purpose. We are to preach with a purpose and we are to live with a purpose and that purpose is to bring honor and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ and to see people saved for His glory. It is God's will for His people and His New Testament Baptist Churches to be missionary. To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every creature. When we are Missionary this also acknowledges what the Bible says about mankind. That we are lost and without hope and need to be saved from our sins.

When we say the word Missionary, we use it in the sense that we are to preach Jesus Christ to a lost and sinful world and that by hearing the Gospel, they will be saved. Mark 16:15 says, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."

Then of course when we use the word Missionary; we also mean by that as Missionary Baptists, we are to start New Testament Bible believing, Bible preaching, and Bible practicing Baptist Churches.

So what is the necessity of 'missional' as a new buzzword/catch phrase? My first instinct is that someone is channeling http://www.whedon.info/Slayer-Slang-The-Rosetta-Stone-of.html Joss Whedon to appeal to Generation Y.

Becky Petersen's picture

Susan, that is the same thing I was thinking this afternoon...that IFB has long been using the word "missionary" to describe churches/organizations which have the great commission as forefront in their minds.

I'm thinking that people just like new terms. The word "missional" sounds ever so much more "contemporary" than "missionary" or "missionary-minded".

Larry's picture

Moderator

It is pretty common in missional thinking to make a difference between between mission and missions. Typically, missions is a subset of mission.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Larry wrote:
It is pretty common in missional thinking to make a difference between between mission and missions. Typically, missions is a subset of mission.

At first I was ambivalent, but now I am confused. What is the difference between mission and missions? The only thing that I can think of is one is the command and the other is the implementation...? Is that what you mean by 'subset'?

I don't see any significant difference between the traditional use of 'mission-minded', 'missionary', and 'missional', except that the latter is in a shiny new package.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Hurried, so I can't be more thoughtful at the moment but...
For context...

Aaron wrote:
So which of these (if either) is true?
a) The church has been off track for millennia and is now discovering it needs to be "missional"
b) The faithful church has sought to be obedient since the Ascension and does not need a new understanding with new labels

And later....
Charlie wrote:
Third, it assumes that new labels cannot aptly express old concepts to a new generation.

I was thinking on the whole topic while doing some driving yesterday and something sort of like the above emerged from the fog.
That is, with the "b" part of my hypothetical either-or, I meant to ask if folks talking missional are really not advocating anything new, in which case there is not much to say other than, hey, let's do what the faithful church has always done.

But then how do you get a new generation to do something an old way? Or how do you get an old generation to return to more clarity about something that is actually old but has become a neglected or just fuzzy concept?
Answer to both (at least in part): re-articulate.

So I believe I am seeing a crack in the door for some value in a "missional emphasis."
Not quite there yet. But I'm warming.
In my own case, if I felt a need to re-articulate what the faithful church has always done, I might try to come up with my own new-sounding buzzword so I don't have to deal with other folk's semantic baggage. Easier said than done I suspect.
How about, instead, just telling folks "Hey, we've kind of lost sight of some things.... I'd love to give these things a new name and make sound like we just discovered these ideas yesterday, but they're actually a couple thousand years old. How about if we pretend they're new and get excited anyway?"

That may sound cynical, but that's not my intention. I really do understand the need human beings have for the New. And we do have to work with that.

But reading Steve's posts, I'm still not sure if his particular idea of missional is a recovery of something ancient tried and true (but re-articulated) or something genuinely novel and new. Steve... maybe you can help me there?

(Guess that didn't turn out as hurried as I intended)

Steve Davis's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
So I believe I am seeing a crack in the door for some value in a "missional emphasis."
Not quite there yet. But I'm warming.

But reading Steve's posts, I'm still not sure if his particular idea of missional is a recovery of something ancient tried and true (but re-articulated) or something genuinely novel and new. Steve... maybe you can help me there?

Embrace it Aaron. Feel the warmth.

I don't think I'm advocating anything really novel, although it might appear new in some sense to many who seem to be hearing it for the first time. I'll go more toward your re-articulation in a new context. What might seem new is how to live the Christian life and do ministry now that the church in the West no longer holds a privileged position and cannot demand a hearing and how to engage society in order to make Christ known. We preach Christ but to whom are we preaching?

Being truly missional is gospel-centered. Preaching Christ crucified, baptizing and discipling believers, seeing the Lord of the Harvest do what only He can do. Missional looks for ways to engage lost people in the conversation of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. There must be encounter before engagement otherwise we are preaching into the air. Missional does lean toward an already/not yet understanding of the kingdom as Larry pointed out – but not a bringing in the kingdom but bearers of the kingdom

Novelty is not in my blood. I’m fairly simple and uncomplicated in many ways. I like meat and potatoes, ride a 1998 Harley Road King, married to the same women for 32 years, live in a simple two-bedroom apartment, drive a 1998 Grand Marquis given to me by my mother-in-law, and want to see Christ honored in my life and others transformed by the good news of the gospel, good news for all people, bad news for those who resist and remain rebels. Novelty, nah, I’m not quick to jump on the novel or avant-garde if I were I'd be driving a new BMW Smile - not a bad idea if my mother-in-law ever has one to give away.

Blessed New Year

Becky Petersen's picture

If I remember right the whole reason that this came up is because NIU said something about them being missional. Haven't they always been missional (as in being concerned with seeing the lost come to Christ--??

This is why I'm really confused as to what the meaning is. Steve, when you mention your definition of missional as bringing the gospel to those who don't understand it, etc. How is that different from what missionaries have been doing for decades? I read the Jungle Doctor books and the dr. (Paul White) has to explain the gospel in really simple terms--using what they know as allegories and explanations for spirtual concepts. How is what is being described now different from what was happening in missions 50-60 or 100 years ago?)

If this isn't what missions is supposed to be about, what has been happening? Is there some sort of assumption that "missions" hasn't been been "missional"? If not, what is happening when a missionary goes to a field like Papua New Guinea or the jungles of South America where there is no understanding of Biblical truths?

Steve Davis's picture

Becky Petersen wrote:
If I remember right the whole reason that this came up is because NIU said something about them being missional. Haven't they always been missional (as in being concerned with seeing the lost come to Christ--??

This is why I'm really confused as to what the meaning is. Steve, when you mention your definition of missional as bringing the gospel to those who don't understand it, etc. How is that different from what missionaries have been doing for decades? I read the Jungle Doctor books and the dr. (Paul White) has to explain the gospel in really simple terms--using what they know as allegories and explanations for spirtual concepts. How is what is being described now different from what was happening in missions 50-60 or 100 years ago?)

If this isn't what missions is supposed to be about, what has been happening? Is there some sort of assumption that "missions" hasn't been been "missional"? If not, what is happening when a missionary goes to a field like Papua New Guinea or the jungles of South America where there is no understanding of Biblical truths?

Larry has more to come on this I'm sure. I've also written some on my blog - urbanmissional.com. This all predates the NIU controversy.

Becky Petersen's picture

Steve Davis wrote:

Larry has more to come on this I'm sure. I've also written some on my blog - urbanmissional.com. This all predates the NIU controversy.

No problem. I'll be glad to wait. Lots going on in real life...

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
How is that different from what missionaries have been doing for decades?
It's not, in many ways. See my comments in teh article about Leslie Newbigen and living in a post-Christian culture. One of the points of the missional idea is that we are living in a post-Christian culture, just like missionaries who go to foreign countries. They say we have to learn a new language, so to speak (no pun intended). We have to learn to relate to people who do not share our Judeo-Christian worldview.

I have written some more, and they will show up on my blog when I get done polishing them.

Becky Petersen's picture

Larry ][quote wrote:
They say we have to learn a new language, so to speak (no pun intended). We have to learn to relate to people who do not share our Judeo-Christian worldview.

IOW, we need to get out of our comfort zone and actually talk to people who are atheists, homosexuals, and liberals? Smile

Actually--a few weeks ago I started a Bible study with a lady who just stared at me in disbelief that I actually believe that God created the world. When I told her that I thought it was easier to believe in a God who planned it all than to believe our whole universe exists "by accident". She said, "Whoa...I never really thought of it that way."

"Think about it", I said..."if someone didn't plan it--then everything is an accident. The fact that all those explosions happened and that we exist at all is one great big cosmic accident." She said she needed to think about it again. Now that Christmas is over, I'm planning on heading back to her house weekly to have a "Bible study" which isn't really the right term. We're doing an apologetics study on "How do we know God exists" (book purchased at the BJU bookstore--by John Ankerburg, or something like that--)--more or less preliminary to a Bible study since she doesn't believe in God.

Anyway...if this just simply means getting out there and interacting (and attempting to give the gospel to/explain the concepts of Christianity) with people "unlike yourself"--then it's a message long needed. More people who are NOT in full time service probably already do this more than pastors and others working in the Christian school movement, though--though I'm not sure about this--it seems like the extreme home schooling movement makes people retreat and not interact much with these types--. The non-full-time workers have more time to rub shoulders with "the world at large" than those dealing with infractions of dress codes or detentions or making sure the offering is counted and deposited.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
Anyway...if this just simply means getting out there and interacting (and attempting to give the gospel to/explain the concepts of Christianity) with people "unlike yourself"--then it's a message long needed.
It is more than this, but not less than this. There are some sloganistic type sayings that characterize parts of it, like "Show before you share" meaning you have to live the gospel around people and love them before you talk to them about the gospel because your acts of kindness and mercy are the currency that buys you a hearing with them. Of course this is similar to "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." There certainly is some merit to the idea that our lives need to demonstrate the love of Jesus to others. The relationship between word and deed can get slippery though. Some plainly say that deed is more important than word. Others hold them equally but always together. Some hold them equally but separate. Some hold word as more important than deed. And some hold Word without deed, and some deed without word. (How's that for some options?)

Another slogan is "belong before believing." This means that people should be welcomed into the community so that they can learn about Christianity before believing. It tends to blur the "in vs. out" line.

I actually think there is some good in both of these that I don't have time to explain fully now. I also think there is some danger.

Take the second: Belong before you believe. I think one reason we have so many apparently false professions is that people didn't know what they were "signing up" for when the professed faith. It was what one unmentionable person called a "shotgun wedding to Jesus." Then when they found out what Christianity actually was all about, they weren't in for that. By belonging before believing, people can come and experience life in the church while not being a formal part of the church and see what it is like. I have often said that I want our church to be a safe place for people to come and explore, to sit and listen and learn, to ask questions. Come for six months or a year. Figure out what it's all about. Don't pray some prayer when you don't know what you are doing.

There are some other slogans or ideas that are pretty common.

But for most missional types, your statement above is a very surface statement. They take it much deeper, in some good ways and in some bad ways, IMO.

Quote:
More people who are NOT in full time service probably already do this more than pastors and others working in the Christian school movement
I think this is probably true. I remember Mark Dever talking about this in a series of messages on evangelism. If a pastor doesn't love to be out with unbelievers, he should not be a pastor. Too many pastors just want to hole up in their study with books, instead of being out with people. That's certainly my tendency, though I am much better about it now than years ago. (You know you are getting old when you use "years ago" to describe something in your own life.) Being out with people engaging them in conversation is one of my continual pursuits to get better at.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Being in the presence of lost folks doesn't mean we are interacting with them- that goes for your school environment, workplace, public life, etc... Witnessing has become something we think we can do by osmosis- and while our daily lives should reflect Godly characteristics, we have to engage in conversation, in compassion, and be purposeful in our ministry efforts.

One of our family 'missionary' efforts is volunteering for charitable organizations outside of church- we are a foster puppy family for 4Paws that trains service dogs for the disabled. This not only gives our kids some pretty intense responsibility caring for, training, and socializing their dogs (and these dogs go for upwards of $10Gs), but we interact with other volunteers, the staff, and the families that are seeking a service dog. We also draw a crowd wherever we go- it takes 45 minutes just to get a gallon of milk because everyone wants to see the cute little puppy in the store! And then to top it off, the kids have to give up the dog they have bonded with and trained for 10 months to someone else.

The point is, if we want the next generation to have a missionary spirit, then we have to actively teach them compassion and not to objectify folks- as in pointing at people in the grocery store like it's visiting the zoo- "Ooh, look at all those lost people- they are dying and going to Hell, don't you feel sorry for them? So- do you want pizza or hot dogs tonight for dinner?"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Steve, your response is helpful. And I'm all for re-articulations and new applications to changing conditions. The adage is true that you have to change to stay the same.
I think I'm just inclined to rearticulate differently given the constant pressure toward social gospel that is part of our evangelical environment... along with other factors (a curmudgeonly aversion to anything that looks like it might be a fad? Wink )
But it all has me thinking alot.

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