As is commonly the case will all buzz words, the word “missional” is being used diversely. This proliferation of definitions, while inevitable, has created a lot of confusion and diminished the force of the word. It is for this reason that this post is part of a synchroblog attempting to recapture the force of the word missional.
In a recent blog post a young man wrote excitedly about the contrast between churches that were “attractional” and “missional”. His ruminations led him to the conclusion that the “services” at his church should be missional. His heart was in the right place but his distinction between the terms was clearly off-base (at least according to my understanding of the term). This led me to consider the various voices espousing the notion of a missional church. Significant books and reports have focused on this term as the locus for their ecclesiology. Anglicans, American mainliners, and Southern Baptists are all keen to use this term (perhaps a rare time for these disparate groups to use the same terminology).
Part of the confusion is the word is deeply grounded in theology and robust with practical implications at once. It might serve us best by beginning with the theological underpinnings of the term. To be missional is to imitate the mission of God (missio Dei). This notion of the mission of God can best be understood as God’s purposeful and sending nature. The late missiologist, David Bosch, put it succinctly: “Missio Dei [God’s mission] enunciates the good news that God is a God-for-people.” (Bosch, Transforming Mission, 10) Christopher Wright offers a grand exploration of the intensely missional nature of God in The Mission of God:
“The Old Testament tells its story as the story or, rather, as a part of that ultimate and universal story that will ultimately embrace the whole of creation, time, and humanity within its scope. In other words, in reading these texts we are invited to embrace a metanarrative, a grand narrative…. It is the story that stretches from Genesis to Revelation, not merely as a good yarn or even as a classic of epic literature, but fundamentally as a rendering of reality—as account of the universe we inhabit and of the new creation we are destined for.” (Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, 56)
We are invited into this metanarrative to partake in God’s purposes. In other words, we are to be driven by the missional essence of God to be missional in the same way as God. As image-bearing created beings of a missional God, we are carrying the missional DNA of God. The ultimate expression of the mission of God was in the incarnation of Jesus. In the incarnation was a radical, sacrificial sending out of God. It is a posture of self-emptying (kenosis) as we see in Philippians 2. In light of this, how do we respond to Jesus words in John 20:21: “As the Father sent me, so send I you”? The missional essence of God is the core foundation of our missionality.
Where is the disconnect? For some, they miss this foundation of God being missional in nature. It is not just some program from a church. It should characterize the core essence of the church. In getting to the more practical side of it, simply trying to be “missional” by having a missional service misses the point of being the people of the intensely missional God. As the Father sent Jesus, so we are being sent. Our posture should then be that of being sent. The church needs to be going with the desire to love the missional God and love his people. This is a radical departure from a focus on ourselves or on our own church. This is noticeably different from churches building their own kingdoms and trying to attract people to it.
A missional ecclesiology posits the church should be sacrificially representing Jesus in the world. Comfort, prestige, and pride should be abandoned to see Jesus communities established in the most troubled, dark locations of the globe. Nothing short of this kind of going is what it means to represent the missional God. It is for this reason that tweaking a Sunday morning service to be “missional” is still not grasping what it means to be missional.Check out what all of the others are saying about the word "missional":
Cobus Van Wyngaard