Back in August-September of 2007, I did a series on defining “missional.” I spilled a lot of virtual ink on this question, never really feeling that I’d exhausted it. A complete listing of the posts in the series appears below — when I wrote the last of them, I expected to return to it earlier, either with further posts or in published form. I’m still planning to rearrange the material for publication despite not having touched the project for a few months, as the thing that set me off on the project in the first place hasn’t gone away. Fundamentally, there is a lot of misunderstanding of what constitutes “missional” in the church at large. People are either afraid of the word because it represents some liberal emerging church idea or they adopt it completely. The term that is, not the ideology — existing programs are commonly being relabeled “missional” without actually engaging the ideas behind mission-shaped church. The word “missional” came to have a rather slippery definition — and if you followed the series at the time, the image at the top of this post will make sense.
Two of the significant posts in my series were Missional Essentials: A Short List and Understanding Missional: Personalizing the Central Tenets. In these two posts, I describe the two basic principles behind missional church as (1) The church is Church is missionally-purposed, or organized around its mission, the Missio Dei, and (2) The church’s ministry is incarnational, not attractional. I added to these two the observation that a personal engagement is necessary. I wrote,
Since there is no dichotomy between people across an ocean or continent and those across a street or back fence, the missional imperative or universal mandate does not delegate well. Every believer is already among those to whom they are sent, whether or not they have been commissioned for a missionary endeavour as a vocation. With this in mind, a missional church sees each believer as an active direct participant in engaging the world around them in missional ways.
This all came up again for me as I was reading Alan Roxburgh’s article, What is Missional Church?, particularly the section “Missional Church – What it Doesn’t Mean!” Here I found some of the same sentiments as I had expressed, reminding me why I had connected with Alan earlier last year. His description of what does describe missional church is equally helpful, and he shares part of his story along the way. In a similar vein, Mark Priddy has just republished a piece by Dave Dunbar (PDF) that I mentioned the other day discussing When Missional is Not Helpful. Dave cautions against the presentation of missional as the next BIG THING™ in the spirit of those who have THE ANSWER™ all figured out… because there’s room on the conversation for all stripes and types. If you haven’t read either article, I would recommend them both.
The balance for me is to seek an explanation of missional that is inclusive yet does not depart from the essentials of what it is to be mission-shaped, as we have described it already.