What is Missional?

The word “missional” is used by many different people in many different ways to mean many different things. The following understandings of missional are gleaned from The Missional Church in Perspective by Craig Van Gelder and Dwight Zscheile, Introducing the Missional Church by Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren, and The Missional Leader by Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk.

MISSIONAL IS NOT a label to describe churches that emphasize cross-cultural missions.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label used to describe churches that are using outreach programs to be externally focused.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label for church growth and church effectiveness.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label for churches that are effective at evangelism.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label to describe churches that have developed a clear mission statement with a vision and purpose for their existence.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a way of turning around ineffective and outdated church forms so that they can display relevance to the wider culture.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label that points to a primitive or ancient way of being the church.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label describing new formats of church that reach people who have no interest in traditional churches.

MISSIONAL IS about God, Who is about a big purpose, in and for the whole of creation. The church has been called into life to be both the means of this mission and a foretaste of where God is inviting all creation to go. Just as its Lord is a mission-shaped God, so the community of God’s people exists, not for themselves, but for the sake of the work. Therefore,

MISSIONAL IS NOT about a program or project some people in the church do from time to time (as in “mission trip”, “mission budget”, and so on).
MISSIONAL IS NOT even about sending missionaries.
MISSIONAL IS a community of God’s people who live into the imagination that they are, by their very nature, God’s missionary people, living as a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all of creation in Jesus Christ.
MISSIONAL IS about Imagination, Incarnation, and Context. .

MISSIONAL IS about IMAGINATION – a way to see and experience life in the church and the world. Missional imagination is fundamentally about seeing the church and the world in light of the Triune God’s presence and activity. Jesus repeatedly stresses new ways of seeing in his encounters with various people in the Gospels. Discerning the presence and possibility of the reign of God in our midst involves a fresh perspective illuminated by the Spirit. From the perspective of missional theology, imagination is not the property of autonomous individuals. Rather, it is one of the ways in which the Holy Spirit moves within and among us to lead us into God’s missional activity in the world.

MISSIONAL IS about INCARNATION. Just as “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14 in The Message), we are called to live Christ-like lives among our neighbors within our own context. We are called “to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). We are called to share stories and parables as Jesus did, come alongside people as Jesus did, and demonstrate the Kingdom of God to the world. This is more about living the faith than creating a program. It is about discerning what God is up to in our community, and discovering how God wants us to listen, live, and learn in a particular place.

MISSIONAL IS about CONTEXT. The church increasingly finds itself within a dramatically changed context. A variety of terms are used to discuss this shift, such as “postmodernity”, “post-Christendom”, “globalized world”, “information age”, and “network society”.

The MISSIONAL conversation has unleashed a great deal of energy and hopefulness among churches stuck in patterns of church life that have become disconnected from a changing world. Leaders weary of trying the latest strategy or technique, burdened by the impossible expectations of entertaining and satisfying fickle spiritual consumers, and staggering under the weight of collapsing church institutions are waking up to a new sense of possibility, as they explore what it means to rediscover their identities within God’s larger mission.


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