Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What is Missional?

Here's Tim Keller opining . . .

On "Missional Church vs. Seeker Church":

On "Missional vs. Evangelistic":

Each video (from the Desiring God media library) is less than two minutes long.

I'm a words guy, so there is in me to some extent a skepticism about the value of using this "new" word missional. It is, by many indications, emerging church newspeak, and so I wonder if it has a shelf life. I am weary of church trends. And many of those who speak from within the movement -- Dan Kimball, for instance -- have said they consider "emerging" and "missional" as synonymous. And then some churches use both as qualifiers (eg. "We are an emerging missional church"), as if they have distinct meanings.

My understanding of missional, subject as newspeak may be to the whims of prevailing understanding, is essentially this: It is about discipling and empowering Christians in the community to then become "missionaries" in the culture.

I think some, if not many, of the attractional aspects of the seeker church movement have value and can be maintained (in the right context), not just in terms of style or practicality but in the appealing notion that a community of reconciliation can be amazing grace to sinners in need of a home. But by and large, I see the missional approach, as stated above, as more in keeping with the Great Commission.

Mark Driscoll defines missional more directly in these two short videos.

So I resonate with the missional concept. I worry it is a label that is dated already and will be replaced by the next new thing in a few years, but of the terminology of today, it is I think the most right.
In my view it's not really "new" anyway. It attempts to do what churches used to do once upon a time -- feed and grow and commission followers of Jesus to spread the Gospel.
In terms of "doing church," I guess I'd be in favor of a good ecclesiological gumbo.

What I envision is a classical church exalting Christ in a modern context.


Chad said...

Despite some initial apprehension, I'm liking the "missional" terminology more and more. I think the biggest reason it is effective is because it implies a whole new paradigm of "doing church" and communicating rather than the tendency to compartmentalize, as "evangelistic" and "seeker" outreaches tend to do. Keller's right about the need for reformulating the message from the ground up so that it connects with the post-Christian culture. Just talking about sin and the need for forgiveness means nothing to most of the unchurched 30-something friends of mine. It doesn't mean selling out the gospel message, but it does mean drastically reframing it so that its truth resonates and connects.

In short, "missional" is the best descriptor so far of "a classical church exalting Christ in a modern context" so I'd go with it.

Anonymous said...

If Missional means "outwardly focused" then that can be a good thing. However, isn't the term "Missional" almost an implication of other Churches ? I mean, unless we're talking about a fossilized denominational ruin, many exist, then I think that most Churches do have outreach of some kind.

In reading about the emerging "whatever" I get the sense that politics, methodology, and age strata are the underlying factors. Not so much what is done outwardly in regards to the world. You can take a typical conservative congregation somewhere and still find outreach and giving, they just don't spend as much time in coffee houses. It's just differning world view.

I don't know if that makes any sense. I just view the emergent-ing trend as a "not your father's oldsmobile" kind of situation. I response to, and sometimes a rebellion towards, seeker and denominational forms. And yes, I view it as a trend with a shelf life, as you put it so well.

It seems to boil down to methodology, and what wears well in the culture. I notice local (Nashville) seeker churches and Pastors are trying to morph into the emerging culture somewhat. Not suprising, but it's got to be awkward to shed skin and come out looking like a completely different species. That's how the game of relevance is played though.


Jared said...

Chad, in terms of missional activity (not just theory or preaching or whatever), it certainly implies believers are being salt and light, that they are ministering in their cultures and communities (what Driscoll would call their "tribes") incarnationally.

I'm not sure we need to redefine or reframe the Gospel message; in fact, I'm one of those fundamentalist weirdos who thinks the penal substitution angle of the atonement is still a good and important and vital one to proclaim. But I do believe the atonement is fuller than that, and that the context and content of our sharing the gospel must be living gospel lives.

Nathan, I feel your pain. :-)

No, but seriously: I hear what you're saying about the idea of missional as just being the old school outreach but dressed up. As I'm sure you've seen in my own writing, I'm not a fan of just hipping up and considering that authentic Christian spirituality.

I'm also with you on the emerging church stuff. I don't consider myself an em-church guy and I am generally skeptical, frequently critical of emergent (if you follow the difference between -ing and -ent).
There are some threads within the emerging movement I appreciate, usually within the conservative theological stream (Driscoll,
But even Driscoll doesn't say he's emerging any more.

But missional outreach really is different from "our father's oldsmobile" outreach. The way pre-seeker churches appear to approach "mission" is somewhat antagonistic; it's soul-winning. There is a war metaphor at work there, and there is also an aspect of salesmanship.
Thus door to door evangelism. Thus canvassing campuses and neighborhoods, and cold-calling people with evangelistic propositions. Witness Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron ambushing strangers for Jesus.

I think that works occasionally, and certainly there are people who are gifted at doing it.
Jesus certainly employed this approach occasionally. But, then, he was Jesus.

He also was a part of his culture, lived in it, worked in it, was a salt of the earth sort of person and his missional approach to evangelism was not usually in the context of a stranger from one culture visiting another, but a fellow citizen of one culture loving his neighbors.

I think the difference, the real qualitative difference, in the missional form of being missionaries is not that evangelism is a project or endeavor or task, but a way of life in which we live as witnesses in and to our respective tribes.

Not sure if that makes sense. But I do think, in theory, it's not the same but snazzier/newer. In theory, it is a different, and I think more biblical, approach.

Chad said...


I'm pretty conservative myself and shriek from all attempts to water down the gospel. But reframing and redefining are too very different things.

If I talk to someone who does not believe and immediately discuss sin and the need for forgiveness, the most common response is either an eye roll or an attitude of "I think all people are basically good" (and therefore don't understand the need in the first place).

On the other hand, I could use an Acts 17 style approach referencing popular movies and/or music that tell the redemption story in some way. I can then connect with that person about the truth in that and put it in the context of the bigger arch of the Christ story that provides the only true source of hope and freedom. It's building it from the ground up rather than utilizing the same overdone church-speak that often does not resonate with the people we'd try to reach.

No doubt Christ is the only way and the need for forgiveness from our sins is absolutely central, but there are more effectively ways to get there with someone without selling out the message along the way (as the apostle Paul displayed references Greek poets and philosophers of the day). That's how I understand the missional approach.

Anonymous said...

Well put here...

"I think the difference, the real qualitative difference, in the missional form or endeavor or task, but a way of life in which we live as witnesses in and to our respective tribes."

The real issue becomes slapping on the missional label or actually equipping people through teaching and leading in all the various ministries within a church.

All to often you see Churches that can master the language and surface identity they want to project, but to borrow a sports cliche' "we're only as strong as our weakest link." They just pay lip service to dicipleship. Lip service as in just speaking from the front, rather than actually pastoring and modeling Lordship.