This is a post I wrote 3 years ago that I’ve since revamped and reposted.
Is a suitable definition for the word “missional”?
Contemporary churches like to jump on fads to find the next thing that will help usher in incremental changes that retain the most comforts at the smallest cost. This activity over time produces a church that loses its competency to connect with people who don’t look or believe the same. It’s a church that’s forgotten its mission.
Missional seeks to re-orient the church back to its calling. It’s not a fad, nor is it a verb. You can’t do missional. Missional is identity, and one rooted in a theological understanding of God.
At the turn the of the century, theology shifted to accommodate a new understanding on mission. Prior, mission was a function of the church, an offshoot ministry locked in the paradigms of soteriology or ecclesiology. Karl Barth is one of the forerunners to the theological understanding we now call, missio Dei (Latin for mission of God). His work spearheaded the movement to place mission at the heart of Trinitarian theology. That means mission is no longer a subset of the church, it’s part of the very nature of God.
The missio Dei therefore is part of the very character of God is missionary. The Triune God from the beginning exhibited characteristics of mission, from Creation, to following, to incarnation, to Spirit. The mission of the missionary God is simple, to usher in the hope of turning all wrongs right for creation totally and completely. That hope comes to a climax in Jesus. Today we live in a “now but not yet” tension of the kingdom inaugurated in the death and resurrection, but not totally here which is why we have a participating church to preview the kingdom to come.
Missional (a made up word) is a product of missio Dei theology, a movement catalyzed by Leslie Newbigin, and later a term coined by Darrel Guder and company (it wasn’t Guder who thought of it, but his colleague who’s name escapes me). Missional seeks to re-orient church function towards a foundation of mission and the understanding of a God who is a missionary God. We are fully “sent ones”, sent by Jesus, who was himself sent by God (John 20:21).
Missional becomes the lens we view church function through, rather than an offshoot we do once a week in a “missions week”, and certainly is no longer something only qualified missionaries do in a far away land.
This is why its confusing when missional is used to describe anything pertaining to missions or behaviours. Missional isn’t an adjective we can mash into existing church structure, it informs the entirety of church structure. To use missional as the former is misuse and perpetuates the persistent problem of fragmentation.
Churches encourage people (knowingly or not) to live compartmentalized lives separating faith with the rest. The image your see above is from Verge Network post and highlights what I mean (I crossed out the missional part). There’s no need to have a ‘missional Thanksgiving’, which differs from normal thanksgiving. Rather, our whole lives must be reflections of the missio Dei.
I understand churches, especially big ones, need to be strategic in teaching new competencies to congregations. But when we reduce missional as select activities or nuanced events we reduce the magnitude of God’s mission and don’t fully demonstrate we understand or are interested in the wholeness of kingdom pursuit.