Woman checking a list An early (unpublished) stab I took at a missional definition not that long ago was after the list fashion, describing what I mean using bullet-points, with explanatory notes… not so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.

  1. Mission-Purposed
    • Fundamental purpose rather than important facet of the church.
    • 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.

    • Contextualize rather than convert culture.
    • 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.

    • Post-Christendom rather than Christian culture.
    • 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.

    • Cooperation rather than coercion.
    • 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.

  2. Incarnational
    • Incarnational rather than attractional ministry.
    • 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.

    • Individual rather than corporate responses.
    • 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.

    • Inclusive rather than dualistic.
    • 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.

    • Centered rather than bounded sets.
    • 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.

    • People rather than programs.
    • 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.

    • Near rather than far.
    • 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.

    • Being rather than doing.
    • 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.

    • Mindset rather than set of actions
    • 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.

  3. Nuance: Emerging
    • Egalitarian rather than hierarchical.
    • 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.

    • Relational rather than organizational.
    • 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.

    • Relational rather than positional power/authority, gifted upward rather than granted downward.
    • 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.

    • Apprenticeship rather than conversion.
    • 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.

  • Mission-Purposed
    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.)
  • Incarnational
    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 God’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 church’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 God’s presence and God’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:

  1. is incarnational, not attractional in its ecclesiology.
  2. is messianic, not dualistic, in its spirituality.
  3. 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…

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