An early (unpublished) stab I took at a missional definition not that long ago was after the list fashion, describing what I mean using bullet-points, with explanatory notes… not so much a checklist as a general set of criteria or representative characteristics. I was originally going to say that any definition of “missional” which fails to account for or include the characteristics or concepts I listed may not be inaccurate, but will not be comprehensive, while any definition which negates these characteristics or concepts is not a nuance of the word which I commonly use in my reference to it. As I’ve been reviewing the word and its nuances, I’m becoming softer in my definition of it, such that the nuance portion of the word allows for a broader definition or understanding.
In any event, now that I have my longer explanation of missional out of the way as a followup to my missional short list, I will revisit my own list of missional characteristics to test whether they truly break down into one of the three definition components I outlined. Format-wise, I’m just rearranging the list items to fit as sub-points beneath the three components of the definition. Were I composing a thorough definition, each item in the list would require a more detailed explanation. On most of these I have written more here before, and for brevity I provide only a brief explanatory note in this context.
- Fundamental purpose rather than important facet of the church.
- Contextualize rather than convert culture.
- Post-Christendom rather than Christian culture.
- Cooperation rather than coercion.
Missional endeavours — the missio dei are not simply an aspect of the church, but the fundamental purpose around which everything is organized. This one essentially is the major heading.
Rather than seeing culture as an evil to be redeemed or overrun by the gospel, culture is amoral and the gospel is contextualized for it. Some discussion of post-modernity and/or post-Christendom fits in here, but it is mission-purposed in that it helps clarify the mission.
Culture is assumed to have moved on past any form of “Christian heritage” it might have had, with Christianity holding much less influence — or none at all.
People are not “won” by arguing them into the faith, and leaders do not forcefully direct followers. Theology of conversion/rebirth and missiological method, so I place it under the heading of the mission. Ideas on the organizational structure of the church may similarly fall here, as the organization is driven by the mission.
- Incarnational rather than attractional ministry.
- Individual rather than corporate responses.
- Inclusive rather than dualistic.
- Centered rather than bounded sets.
- People rather than programs.
- Near rather than far.
- Being rather than doing.
- Mindset rather than set of actions
Church goes to people rather than getting people to come to church. People’s presence in church is de-emphasized as a requirement of faith, as it’s not the goal. Again, this one essentially is the major heading.
People do not require a program or a group of people acting together in order to pull off something that is missional… it can be done individually without the support or instigation a church or other group. Incarnation of the Gospel has both an individual and a corporate component.
Uses the concept of “we” more often than “us” and “them” and doesn’t seek to draw strong distinctions between those inside or outside of the church. This is not the only example of dualistic thinking which missional church would tend to eschew.
Draws the church as being those drawn to Jesus rather than by membership roster or dualistic qualifier. Because missional church is aligned around purpose, it incorporates all those drawn to that same purpose rather than being defined by other (external?) qualifiers.
Concerned primarily with the individual person rather than their categorization into the correct program; ministry is individually tailored to the person’s needs. This is the one that leans contra-megachurch and enables individual missional action rather than requiring corporate participation to qualify.
Concerned first with those people who can be engaged directly, those already in our neighbourhood or sphere rather than those who are afar. (Not ignoring those who are afar, but engaging personally with those who are near.) Similar to the above, as a personal response it must by definition begin in the immediate context, changing only as your context (location, etc.) changes.
Not that doing doesn’t matter, but who we are is more important than what we do… simply being can foster a missional presence without the doing of an agenda of any kind. Incarnational ministry implies a benefit by presence even before any action is undertaken, though missional engagement normally anticipates more than just presence.
Determined more by an outward-focused framework of thought than by performing a qualifying set of activities. It isn’t works-based, but is more positional. It is conceivable that the same actions could be missional or not based on the mindset and intention behind them.
- Nuance: Emerging
- Egalitarian rather than hierarchical.
- Relational rather than organizational.
- Relational rather than positional power/authority, gifted upward rather than granted downward.
- Apprenticeship rather than conversion.
Leaders are on the same footing as everyone else, with no clergy/laity distinction at all. It isn’t merely that all believers can be “priests” but also that the priests are no better than any other believer. Rather than attempting to make priests of the laity or laity of the priests, it tends to equalize; many expressions will have no paid clergy, or will de-emphasize the importance of full-time paid clergy.
Groups and leadership structures are formed on the basis of relationships in the body rather than by reliance on position or org charts. No imposed hierarchy.
Leaders are leaders because people follow, not because they have a title or an office. The “authority” of a leader (such as it is) is given by the follower in a trusting relationship, not dictated to the follower as a fact of position. This one is a leadership value common within but perhaps not fundamental to missional church.
Conversion to Christ is more of an ongoing process than a single event. Being drawn to the center, to Christ and his purpose for the church, is an ongoing process rather than a dualistic in/out one-time event; this allows the view that everyone is on a path of spiritual discovery, de-emphasizing the us/them, believer/unbeliever dichotomy without losing the goal of encouraging people to be drawn to the center.
I can flesh these out more extensively in the comments or in future posts based on feedback, but as noted, most of the concepts here are not new.
Let’s do one more… the Gospel and Our Culture Network‘s “Empirical Indicators of a Missional Church” (PDF) — if the three-component definition is accurate at all, it must deal adequately with this particular set of criteria. My comments are italicized in parentheses; the numbers are the original order from the GOCN list.
1. The missional church proclaims the gospel.
4. The church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death, and resurrection of its Lord. (Participation as described is what aligns the participants with the church.)
12. There is a recognition that the church itself is an incomplete expression of the reign of God. (Relates to the organization/structure of the church — no local church sees itself as complete apart from the church catholic.)
2. The missional church is a community where all members are involved in learning to become disciples of Jesus. (This could fit within mission-purposed or within nuance, as it relates to terms I’ve used in my own list which were sorted there.)
5. The church seeks to discern Godâ€™s specific missional location for the entire community and for all of its members. (Location is an incarnational concern; note that the community and the members are both listed.)
9. The church practices hospitality. (Part of incarnational ministry; methodology.)
11. This community has a vital public witness.
- Nuance: GOCN
3. The Bible is normative in this churchâ€™s life. (This is probably more common than is implied by listing it under nuance.)
6. A missional community is indicated by how Christians behave toward one another. (Among other things, probably speaks to community rule and structure.)
7. It is a community that practices reconciliation.
8. People within the community hold themselves accountable to one another in love.
10. Worship is the central act by which the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both Godâ€™s presence and Godâ€™s promised future.
Frost and Hirsch in The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church essentially subscribe to this list, but add three further indicators:
- is incarnational, not attractional in its ecclesiology.
- is messianic, not dualistic, in its spirituality.
- has an apostolic, rather than a heirarchical, mode of leadership.
Based on the two re-sorted lists above, these three items should not be difficult to categorize, and also exist in my list above.
It is interesting to note that the GOCN list includes a number of items describing how the missional church relates to itself and functions internally.
Further testing and possible adjustment to my three-component definition framework will be necessary to properly refine it — I am interested to know if anyone has seen items from similar lists which are difficult to categorize under one of the three headings I’m using. As well, I’ve done only a quick sort of the above lists (consider it a rough draft), and it’s possible or likely that some of the items aren’t categorized as well as they could be. In some cases it could be argued that a given item could go under a different (or more than one) heading… many of them interrelate and overlap quite significantly, and the particular emphases or suppositions which yield the statement of the particular item may suggest reclassifying it. It appears to me that the three-part definition concept works, but is not cut-and-dried.
The floor is open…
Okay… I’ve got a few thoughts.
1. Post-Christendom rather than Christian culture. While I recognize that we are in a post-christian society, I’m not sure why the recognition of that fact is essential to being missional.
2. There were a few points about which I wonder if they would be better served by replacing “rather than” with “ahead of”. Such as:
Individual ahead of corporate responses.
People ahead of programs.
Near ahead of far.
Being ahead of doing.
Mindset ahead of set of actions
The thinking being that the latter would be of lesser value rather than of no value, since these qualities need not be antithetical.
Great thoughts, as always. I think I’m with Cindy on the “Post-Christendom” point. I see that, perhaps, as an example of contextualization. Anyway, keep it up!
Hmmm. I’m finding a little too much emphasis on the individual. One of the problems with the North American church has been it’s reflection of NA society – the importance of the “I”. ‘Tis all about me, doncha know! ‘Twas strong rugged individuals like the Marlboro man who built NA, right!?
Though I struggle with most NA iterations of church “community”, I strongly believe that we are called to live and respond missionally within the context of community. As you state in the “Inclusive rather…” point, the emphasis needs to be on the “we”.
We need to be careful that we don’t just interpret missional through a People Formerly Known As/CLB lens.
Now that I’m finally passing by the computer for pretty much the first time since posting in the wee hours, I see we have some good discussion going… and you’re all correct.
First, post-Christendom. I stuck this one under missionally-purposed since the post-Christendom awareness becomes a motivator for missional methodology (i.e. yes, it’s contextualization). Awareness of this is in fact one of the key factors that first gave rise to missional thought as we know it, so it’s very common to include it as part of missional thought — but strictly speaking, it’s more nuance. I’m certain I actually said that or something like it in my last post, the long one, when I was talking about being missional to moderns and so forth, except that I said it might be moot now since we can’t turn back the clock. I think I was writing too bleary-eyed… I would see this along the lines of my earlier statement and what Cindy-lu and Jamie have stated here, namely that it should probably appear under nuance.
Second, “ahead of” vs. “rather than” — the preamble to the list got dropped or rewritten. The list of characteristics I offer should have a lead-in like, “Missional church emphasizes:” — if you prepend this for each of those bullet points, I think it would clarify my intent that “rather than” refers to a shift in emphasis more than to a complete substitution. In an absolute sense, I’m not in favour of the substitution, even where the two primary distinctives are concerned. The people of God (the church) share in the Missio Dei, but I wouldn’t want to say that no other purposes exist or were served along the way. Similarly, I don’t mean to ditch attractional practice entirely, as I believe that true functioning community is inherently attractive, and that a display of such community will draw people… but that wouldn’t be my only hat-hook, and the emphasis needs to be incarnational.
Concerning an emphasis on the individual, I think this probably bears further comment. The individualism of the Marlboro Man and Consumer Church™ is more the stuff of bootstrapping narcissism. What I have in mind is an individual response, outward-focused for extrinsic purposes rather than self-serving action. Whereas consumer church is others serving me, the individual response I’m discussing is me serving others. You’re right Bill, in that I need to state cautiously (and perhaps I sounded more balanced in my last post) this individual component, as I don’t want it to be misunderstood and viewed through mega-CLB glasses. Part of my concern in this came out in Rick’s comment on my long post, that a missional congregation was not a necessary component of missional action, rather a missional congregation is a concentration of missional action. That is, a missional emphasis places a burden of missional response on each member of the body. That said, there are most definitely aspects of “church” as the body of Christ that cannot be manifested individually, and missional people will I believe gravitate together to express those aspects in concert with one another. Perhaps a good way to say it is that the charge to participate in the Missio Dei is a call to missional action directed not only to the corporate body, but also to each individual within the body.
Perhaps a good way to say it is that the charge to participate in the Missio Dei is a call to missional action directed not only to the corporate body, but also to each individual within the body.
Apologies. Should have block quoted the previous Quoth.
Since Cindy got me thinking on the “Post-Christendom” point, I would mention that not all regions of the USA are post-Christian and there are parts of the world which were never Christian to begin with and therefore can’t be post-Christian. Should not the list account for this so that it doesn’t become progressive western centric?
(Oh, I was just reading your response and note the “that it should probably appear under nuance.” I like that.)
Using the phase “rather than” does create in my mind a rather “black and white” distinction. For example, if I just read “Near rather than far,” I come away with the feeling that we need to drop “far” and focus on “near.”
“Being rather than doing” and “Mindset rather than set of actions.” I love these two!
I may have missed it, but isn’t being missional also about furthering Jesus message of reconciliation and a whole gospel?
Rick, I was thinking the same thing about post-christendom – that it is not an accurate statement of the global environment, even if it does capture my own place in it. :-)
I wonder about the absence of a foundational Kingdom theology, and the centrality of Jesus’ ministry for shaping both the form and focus of an incarnational mission? Do we need more about how a missional church infuses its people with missional DNA (ala Hirsch)? What role does virtue and justice have in the missional church? Does anything distinguish a missional church when they assemble? Thanks for a stimulating article and the conversation that followed.