Saturday, February 25, 2006

What Does It Mean to Be Missional?

One of the most popular buzzwords in Christian circles today is "missional." This word has long been at the heart of the emerging church conversation, it has been embraced by many younger Christians across nearly all denominations, and it has even been used in official SBC statements. But when you look at the various ways in which the word is used, it is evident that not everyone defines or uses "missional" in the same way.

With seemingly everyone these days talking about the need for Christians to be missional, we need to have a common understanding of what is meant by the concept. Basically, this is an open forum for you to discuss your understanding of what it means to be a missional Christian. When you use the word "missional" what do you mean by it? How is (or isn't) the idea of being missional a biblical concept? Why should (or shouldn't) Christians strive to be missional? What are some specific ways that we as Christians can be missional? Why do many Christians find it difficult to be missional? Feel free to discuss any other relevant questions or issues as we try to come to a common understanding of what it means to be missional.


Anonymous said...

I am an IMB missionary who works in a "restricted access" field. In our country there are many churches of all stripe and persuasion. When I use the term "missional" it is to indicate that since missionaries cannot easily get into this country, why not try to train church members to be missionaries (Matt. 5:13-16). To us on the ground, that is "missional."

Wes Kenney said...

To my mind, in our church culture it is a departure from the idea that only the ministers are responsible for the Great Commission.

Our people have heard "Give, Pray, Go" and decided that they are to choose one or two, when in reality, we should all be doing all three.

"Go" has come to mean, in our minds, going where Tim is, and we think it takes someone very special to do that, which of course it does. But we need to understand that just because God has not called us to "go" and share the Gospel in a foreign culture does not relieve us of the responsibility to "go" and share the Gospel in the midst of the culture in which we live.

At least, that's what I think.

art rogers said...

I think "Missional" has some core meaning that goes along with other words ending in "" like the words "radical" or "special" or "total."

These words describe the essence of someone or something. It is not what we do, but who we are.

To be missional is to proclaim the Gospel throughout your life, in who you are alone, who you are in your thoughts and beliefs and in the words and actions that you say coming from the overflow of your inner being.

ie, "I believe in the Gospel and believe everyone needs the Gospel. I believe that I should go to the lost - across the street and around the world and I am committed to doing that. I have done, am doing and will continue to carry that message through every open door. I am missional."

Guy Muse said...

What does it mean to be missional? The best way I can describe the term is by sharing a story from our field of service in Ecuador.

The church that meets in Manuel’s
home felt like giving up. For months they had been traveling every weekend to the small roadside community of Churute, about 40 minutes outside of Guayaquil, Ecuador, trying to
plant a church there. But all their
attempts to date seemed to fail.

Then God stepped in.

Manuel owns a nice piece of land in
Churute. A careless neighbor,
Carlos, set it on fire—burning everything to the ground including
Manuel’s valued mango trees. The
whole community braced for a tense,
possibly violent, confrontation.
Manuel was naturally distraught over his economic loss, and was unsure what to do. Call the police? Sue the neighbor? Demand restitution? At least give Carlos a good tonguelashing?

For a week Manuel prayed
for guidance. Once he had his answer, his mind was at peace. He made a trip to Churute and announced that he wanted to see
Carlos. Neighbors stirred, rumors
spread, and someone ran to get the
man who had burned Manuel’s property to ashes. When Carlos arrived, before Manuel could say a word, he began to defend and excuse his actions.

Manuel chuckled and interrupted
him in mid-sentence...

“Oh don’t worry about it...I realize it was an accident...could have happened to anybody...just be a little more careful next time…I came to talk to you today because we need your help in getting the whole community together to see a film we have. Could you provide some refreshments?”

To say the least, the would be
adversary was speechless. At last
he blurted, “Of course, count on my help. When do you want to show the picture?”

A week later, on the day they had
announced, Manuel and his team
arrived in Churrute and found the
whole community assembled (word
had spread about the previous
week’s encounter between Manuel
and Carlos). After showing the film, they gave a short message and invited people to give their hearts to the Lord. All the people stood to their feet, raising their hands towards heaven, praying aloud! The longprayed-for church was born that evening in Churute.

Since then (this happened 2 years ago) four more tiny neighboring towns have received the Gospel with 2nd and 3rd generation churches started. I just got off the phone with Manuel inviting me to baptisms next week of several more that have come to know the Lord.

That is being missional.

--Guy Muse,
IMB Missionary
Guayaquil, Ecuador

Bowden McElroy said...

I used to be an adminstrator in psychiatric hospitals. I remember one marketing rep who worked for me who was phenominal at getting patients to choose our hospital over all the others in town. When I asked him what his secret was he said, "I just figure every human being I meet is either a potential patient or a potential referral source".

To me, being missional is a similar outlook on life: every human being I meet either needs to know the Good News or needs to learn how to better live out the Christian life and share the Good News.

Missional denotes a deliberate or intentional life; it speaks to preaching the gospel with and without words; it's a choice to not merely be a church goer, but a fanatic. said...

Generally, a missional church is one that sees itself as the mission of God in the world. As one sent, not merely one sending. I have a few short posts on the topic itself at my blog here.

Please forgive the link, but it is relevant.

Tim Sweatman said...


I actually think that your post on the missional church is the most relevant to this particular topic. What you say about the need for us to be sent, engaged, and incarnational is where I think a lot of us as Southern Baptists miss the point. We're pretty good at the sending aspect of being missional, but sometimes we don't see ourselves as missionaries in the places where we already are.

Dan Paden said...

Well, I hadn't seen this post before I posted the last Sunday School lesson, but for some reason the subject was on my mind. This is quoted from that lesson, for what it's worth:

"Missional." There's a word we're hearing more and more often. However, since it was recently used in a column in the Baptist Messenger by one of our state convention leaders, I assure you that it is on its way out. Use by the "establishment" people is a sure sign that something has ceased to be cool. Personally, I never saw what the big deal about it was. You're "missional"--have a mission, are on a mission. A mission from Whom? From God, of course. So "missional"=doing what God wants you to do. We used to call it being obedient.

Another thought: if there's more than a hair's breadth of difference between being "missional" and having a "purpose," it escapes me. Yet for some reason, a lot of the people who sneered at Rick Warren (and don't mistake me, the man has his flaws) and his talk of being "purpose-driven" don't hesitate to label themselves "missional"--as if that were really something better.

A lot of these labels seem like a convenient way for some Christians to congratulate themselves on how superior they are to other Christians.

Present company excepted, of course. I'd no idea how seriously some took this label until this morning.

Nick said...


Although (some) people have a precise meaning that they ascribe to "missional", if the word gets picked up by others and becomes a popular term to describe things that aren't so precise, it kind of loses some of its meaning.

I've heard some suggest that in the world of missions, the nomenclature changed over the years to something like this:
missions -> mission -> missional .

I'm not trying to say this is the definition, I'm just saying, if that is how it is used, in a sense, that becomes the definition.

Which leads me to wonder, if we have a good definition for missional, we might should start looking for a new word. :-)

Nick said...

This comment from Tim Keller was posted at Reformissionary .

Dear Steve:

The term 'missional' seems to have been coined by people in the Gospel and Our Culture Network--a group that has been trying to put Lesslie Newbigin's work into practice. Scot is right that the Emerging folk have used it very heavily, but, in my estimation, they aren't really doing justice to the full range of Newbigin's agenda.(By the way--neither is Willow Creek or Saddleback.) So I'd hate to see the Emerging church co-opt the term entirely.
Maybe check out that set of posts there too.