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What is Missional?

Blog: What is Missional

By Pastor Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29 Network

I believe Missional is one of the most misunderstood words used in Evangelicalism today. The term is used in a way to mean anything that is evangelistic or contextualized ministries or edgy and sometimes just defined in the “cool” category (we’re "missional" because we play indie rock, have a soul patch and worship in a dimly-lit warehouse with candles and artwork). Its meaning gets lost in the method by which it is employed. For mainline churches, missional is an attempt to resurrect its roots and passion for evangelism. For those tired of organized religion, it may be a defining word to live like Jesus without aligning with a church that is perceived to be irrelevant. In most cases, missional is described by a method one uses to evangelize. Missional, therefore is difficult to define and thus we are relegated to a description of its uses.

             Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City describes it in terms of identifying oneself with the non-believer and how we function as a church body with cultural-sensitive methodology and addressing the same issues inherent in the culture where the church ministers.[1] Keller asserts, “We don't simply need evangelistic churches, but rather 'missional' churches.”[2]

Incarnational. Indigenous. Intentional.

             Ed Stetzer, President of Lifeway Research distinguishes missional from mission-minded as an attempt to sensitize the established church with biblical missions across the street and not just missions across the seas. “Missional means actually doing mission right where you are,” Stetzer writes. “Missional means adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound.”[3] Stetzer condenses the statement to say, “Missional means being a missionary without ever leaving your zip code.”[4] Stetzer and Mike Dodson described the missional church as 1) Incarnational—entrenched in their communities, 2) Indigenous—taking root in the culture of the society and 3) Intentional. [5]

            Steve Timmis, author of Total Church and Acts 29 Western Europe Director, describes the missional church by stating,  “Mission is the primary purpose of the church in the world.” [6] Timmis best describes the practice of missional ministry as “ordinary people doing ordinary things with [extraordinary] gospel intentionality.” [7] This restates how Stetzer and Dodson described missional above as incarnational, indigenous, intentional missional living.

            Lesslie Newbigin was a missionary to India. Upon his return to the United Kingdom, he was shocked to find how ‘pagan’ it was. He became convinced that this was as needy a missionary field as anything he had seen on the sub-continent. The church needed to adopt a missionary stance towards the world. Newbigin’s answer was for the church to take a missionary stance to the world, Newbigin simply asked the church to have the courage to be herself. [8] Newbigin argued that the church must return to its foundational essence a missionary in the world.

            The Gospel and Our Church Network (GOCN), for which the church is indebted along with Newbigin for their germinal work on the missional church said, “The missional church represents God in the encounter between God and human culture. It exists not because of human goals or desires, but as a result of God’s creating and saving work in the world.”[9] Over a decade ago they provided 12 indicators of a missional church that attempted to describe a missional church and not define missional.

            Mark Driscoll uses the term missional as a way to emphasize that the church exists to “go into the cultures and nations of the earth and live sacrificially for the [salvific] good of others.” [10] Driscoll’s description above can mean anything one attaches to it and thus moves into describing what a missional church does as a descriptor.

Sent.

            As Stetzer has stated in his blogs, missional is not something that one can sum up the meaning for the word. [11] Even describing it is diverse and multi-dimensional. Perhaps the most succinct description of the word missional is found in Hugh Halter and Matt Smay’s The Tangible Kingdom Primer. Hugh and Matt say that missional essentially means “sent.” They claim, “In simple language, it means that we are passing through this life [in Biblical language as sojourners, wanderers, aliens, foreigners, strangers or ambassadors] with a sense of purpose, duty, passion, and responsibility for the ‘mission of God.’”[12]

            Missional is an adjective describing all of the activities of the church body as they are brought under the mission of God to proclaim the good news of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. Being on mission can very easily becomes one activity in church among many others vying for attention. Over time churches allow meetings, programs, traditions and other good things to cumulatively move the church from missional mode to maintenance mode or worse, me-centered mode. A church must continuously see itself as missionaries and all of its energies must be missionary.

           A missional church understands it has been sent into an irreligious world to proclaim the Gospel of Redemption that is made possible by the Son's sacrifice for our sins and the Father's love for us. Every believer is sent on this mission by God just as Jesus was sent on this mission (John 17:14-16, 18; 20:21). To respond to this calling is to be missional. To neglect it is to disregard the mission of God and to cease being the kind of church that is following Jesus.

           I would conclude that a missional church is a theologically-formed, Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered, united community of believers who seek to faithfully incarnate the purposes of Christ for the glory of God. The mission of the church is found in the mission of God who is calling the church to passionately participate in God's redemptive mission in the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMolvODsM-c

[2] http://sheasumlin.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/missional_church-keller1.pdf

[3] Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville: TN: Broadman and Holman, 2003), p. 19.

[4] Ibid, p. 19.

[5] Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Comback Churches (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2007), pp. 4-7.

[6] Steve Timmis, Church (unpublished guide used in Porterbrook Training), p. 15.

[7] Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2008), p. 63.

[8] Steve Timmis, Church (unpublished guide used in Porterbrook Training), p. 16.

[9] www.gocn.org

[10] Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Church (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2008), p. 218

[11] Ed Stetzer, Thursday is for Theology of Missions—Meanings of Missional, part 3 (http:blogs.lifeway.com/blog/edstatzer/2007/08/Thursday_is_for_theology_of_mi.html) posted August 29, 2007.

[12] Hugh Halter & Matt Smay, The Tangible Kingdom Primer (Anaheim, CA: CRM Empowering Leaders, 2009), p. 2.

3 Comments

PJ Tibayan

on Jun 16, 2010 :: 1:01 pm

You conclude: "The mission of the church is found in the mission of God who is calling the church to passionately participate in God's redemptive mission in the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8)."

So what would be the distinctive between the mission of God and the mission of the church? Surely there are ways of participating in the mission of God that are for the church and ways that are not for the church. Can you point me to a resource that points out the distinction? I'm working on this as part of my Re:Train thesis.

Lee

on Aug 28, 2013 :: 10:41 am

Have you read, "Center Church" by Timothy Keller? It might help some. Not sure if the answer to your question is radically different. If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And God's chief end is to have us glorify Him and enjoy Him forever, where do you make the distinction? He is the One being glorified and we are the glorifiers. If let's say, His mission is to have His Son be glorified and His gospel to go to the ends of the earth as the means by which He will be glorified, I would think the primary distinction would be who are the vessels and who is actually doing the work. If the mission of God is His redemptive plan to source, to sustain and complete the gospel mission of the Church by and through His grace such that it glorifies and exalts His Son, the distinction is that God has chosen unworthy, humble vessels by which He is to accomplish His mission. But He is the giver, the sustainer and the completer of the mission. We just get to be used! For His glory and our good!! Not sure if this helps but thought I'd take a shot.

Lee Walti

on Aug 28, 2013 :: 10:45 am

Have you read, "Center Church" by Timothy Keller? It might help some. Not sure if the answer to your question is radically different. If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And God's chief end is to have us glorify Him and enjoy Him forever, where do you make the distinction? He is the One being glorified and we are the glorifiers. If let's say, His mission is to have His Son be glorified and His gospel to go to the ends of the earth as the means by which He will be glorified, I would think the primary distinction would be who are the vessels and who is actually doing the work. If the mission of God is His redemptive plan to source, to sustain and complete the gospel mission of the Church by and through His grace such that it glorifies and exalts His Son, the distinction is that God has chosen unworthy, humble vessels by which He is to accomplish His mission. But He is the giver, the sustainer and the completer of the mission. We just get to be used! For His glory and our good!! Not sure if this helps but thought I'd take a shot.

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