It’s always good to hear other people talk about what they mean by the word “missional.” It helps me clarify my own thinking and, in turn, to identify hooks upon which others can hang better understandings. My pet peeve, as all of my students will tell you, is when missional is associated with “outreach.” I heard a version of this a few days ago at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Someone described outreach efforts as “you know, doing missional things.” Missional becomes an activity, distinguished from other church activities that only some people do. This is simply a re-labeling of what the church is already doing, only perhaps with more focus.
In contrast, the missional church literature defines missional as the church’s identity. Missional is not an activity of the church, it is a way of being. To the extent that the church serves the coming reign of God in public ways, it serves God’s mission in the world. Worship is as much a part of God’s mission as “outreach,” forgiving one another as much as a community garden. The big difference for churches living into God’s mission is that they see their life not as an end in itself, but as God’s instrument for blessing the world. Or as the book, The Missional Church, puts it, the church is not a vendor of religious goods and services, but an outpost for the reign of God.
So, don’t do “missional things,” be the ball!
I also hear people talk about all members becoming missionaries. And while I think I know what they mean and like the emphasis, I think many people don’t recognize themselves in this description. Missionaries are people who have specialized knowledge of the Christian story and hold Bible studies with their neighbors and give powerpoint presentations at church. And while it would be great to have more of these kinds of people, most don’t recognize themselves in this picture. So, I’d prefer to talk about missional living. Put simply, these are people who are prayerfully aware of the contexts in which they find themselves. They see the primary expression of their faith, not as attending worship, but as living intentionally in their neighborhoods and workplaces. And I’m thinking more and more about concrete practices and habits that would give some specificity to missional living.
More to come.