I’ve been plodding along through my series toward a synthesized definition of missional, and I’ll be taking a break from that series now until next week, Tuesday at the earliest. I’ve got some other thoughts brewing (more below), but this is a tip that we’ve hit the 20-minute lull in the conversation, and you’ll be able to catch up on the missional series if you need to. To recap the series so far:
- The Dangers of Missionalism & The Dangers of Language
- Aloha, Missional
- Missional Essentials: A Short List
- Understanding Missional: Personalizing the Central Tenets
- Missional Definitions: A Brief Survey
- Sorting Missional Characteristics
- Missional Interlude, with Post-Christendom Considerations
- Missio(nal) Dei?
- Missional Reading, Pre-Missional
A response to Gordon MacDonald’s use of the term in Leadership magazine in the Winter 2007 issue. The whole issue used the term quite differently than most of us are accustomed to, but MacDonald himself used it very differently — I would say just wrongly — in an editorial. In the spring of 2007, we began to talk about creating a kind of synthesized definition in light of (a) a very poor Wikipedia definition and (b) the fact that the term was already being used with different meanings by different groups. It was partially from some of those discussions that Ed Stetzer also began a series defining missional (Start before part 1), beginning with a thorough history of the word’s usage and background.
This is really the series introduction, which describes four alternate uses of the word missional… but it does relate very closely to the preceding post on MacDonald’s use of the term.
This post begins to dig into the meat of it, and is an important one to the series. Here I discuss two formats to the many definitions that exist, and highlight two common elements which are essential to understanding “missional” — remove either, and you’re no longer talking missional. To spill the beans, they are (1) church is mission-purposed and (2) the church’s ministry is incarnational. This post has some excellent stuff contributed in the comments.
Having outlined the two essentials, I described the concept that every use of the term missional is nuanced, so that the definitions all have three elements, not two… the third consisting of whatever set of nuanced distinctives the term is given. I discussed a few of the various aspects to existing definitions and described how or why they may be viewed as nuance and not essential to the term itself… even though they are extremely common to the existing definitions or uses of the word. The concept of Missio Dei was introduced, and a significant observation was made that a personal call exists in addition to a corporate one, so that an individual can be missional without a missional church. I briefly defined “missional community” as well; some discussion also follows this post.
This post surveys a number of the short-form definitions and compares them to the two essentials I had identified. From the survey, I gleaned five concepts which appeared in the short forms in addition to the two essentials, and showed how they could be fit within the two essentials or a nuance of the term.
This post begins to look at some of the list-based definitions, and sorts the list items between the two essential elements and the nuance catch-all. Included here is a list-formatted early draft of a definition that I had composed; I got some mild push-back in the comments, which were helpful.
I paused and listed the posts so far, omitting the latter “sorting” post by accident. I discussed Earl Creps’ description of four uses of “missional” and engaged Alan Hirsch’s working definition briefly before turning to a question that was raised from the discussion so far, that of the relationship of culture and the nature of post-Christendom within the context of a missional definition.
Based in no small part on Ed Stetzer’s discussion and the fact I’d already introduced the term, I tackled the Missio Dei next, providing a brief definition and overview as essential background to an understanding of missional thought and language. I stopped short of an exploration of the Kingdom of God.
A survey of a few books from my library on ecclesiology and missiology illustrated some ideas from the early part of the century and from the 60’s through the early 80’s. The ideas presented were all essentially missional thought, or missional-related, minus the terminology. The lesson here is that the ideas behind what is now being called missional are neither new nor radical. Jamie pushed me on the Kingdom of God, and I offered a long comment on this post where I link the Kingdom with missional/Missio dei more strongly, and make mention of the notion of a “missional hermeneutic” followed by the appeal that where we have existing language and concepts that are the same, there’s really no need to reinvent them under the guise or label of “missional” and call it new.
Throughout the series, I’ve commented on the definitions of words themselves, of the nature of word definitions themselves, and I’ve hinted (not so subtly at times) at some of my own discomforts with some of the uses of the word and the direction that it’s taking. Yesterday I was musing that in the charismatic movement, there was a tendency to prepend “Spirit-led” in front of things… so we didn’t have preaching, we had Spirit-led preaching. But you know what? It was the same. All we managed to do was to be divisive and fool ourselves into thinking that our preaching (or whatever — dare I mention worship or prayer?) was somehow qualitatively or fundamentally different than what was going on in other “non-Spirit-led” churches. I don’t think this kind of thinking was limited to the charismatics, but it is part of my background, and I think it illustrates my point quite well. What I really hope and pray is that we don’t do — or rather, stop doing — the same thing with the word missional. Who would we be fooling?
Next in the series, it looks like I will need to have some discussion of the Kingdom of God, and I want to revisit just what makes up a missional community. I plan to revisit what I’ve said so far and make the adjustments that have already or will become necessary to what I’ve said as we’ve progressed through the subject. I also plan to interact with Ed Stetzer’s work as he releases it, and make some comment on where I see the upcoming conversation (in October) concerning the Allelon Missional Order fitting in. At the close, I will make some sort of appeal for the intelligible future use of the term, and summarize a synthesized definition. If you have general comments on the series so far, please go ahead and make them below — I am interested in what additional topics people feel still need to be addressed that I haven’t hit yet or haven’t been as thorough as I need to be. Once the series is complete, I plan to re-compile the entire thing as a paper, though I’m not sure what I’ll do with that form yet — offer it for free or paid download, release it as an e-book, or look to rounding it out for more traditional publishing. I’ve already revisited a book outline I composed several months ago and noted which parts of the outline would be filled in by the series, so that’s an option. (Thoughts or recommendations are welcome.)
I presently have a short series of posts compiled examining community, a subject which obviously relates to this one. Mainly I’m looking at transformation and change within community, but it touches on the essential nature of the beast, which of course also relates to missional communities. I will be fleshing out those thoughts as well, and will launch into that discussion soon — not sure yet whether I’ll wrap up the missional series first or begin interspersing the series; I may wait for September to start into community. Man, I feel a bit like Scot McKnight… but seriously, nobody is that prolific besides him!