Last week I I began a series examining the posts from the recent missional synchroblog in which I participated with a total of 50 bloggers (plus a few unofficial entries) in an effort to describe the meaning of the word “missional.” The project was born out of a frustration with the misuse of the term, as expressed by several of us. This was also the impetus for the major series I undertook last summer on the subject. I had left it aside for a while, but am still hoping to revive my work on the topic for eventual publishing.
Duncan McFadzean begins by quoting Mike Frost from Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture:
..but we church best with those with whom we share a common goal or mission…..In fact I believe that our proper understanding of Christ (Christology) leads us into an appropriate commitment to mission (missiology), which forces us to develop the means of a common life together (ecclesiology).
He then elaborates,
To be missional is to live out the mission, the missio dei, which calls us to go into the world, as a function of God’s character as a sending and redeeming God. Missional is the description of the call of the church to love our neighbours, to make disciples, to be broken and poured out for others. …[B]y definition missional is a way of life that exists for others rather than for ourselves.
He then explores what this means for the church, which is summarized as bringing justice, pursuing deep and open community, and being missional in its worship. He personalizes what it means for him in his context before concluding, “Missional is critical to the church understanding its purpose, and to you and I grasping our purpose. What is missional? Missional is a call to a life of justice, a life of deep community and a life of authentic worship.”
Duncan emphasizes community, and introduces the theme of justice for the marginalized, which I appreciate in this context. Justice for the marginalized begins to flesh out a missional theme we’ve not yet described in our exploration, that of “other-ness” and reaching out to the “other.” I quite appreciated his summary statement describing a missional life. The theme of worship hasn’t had much discussion, but Duncan already qualifies that it must be authentic, and looks forward to songwriters beginning to take up missional themes in their lyrics. Actually, I think in this area he identifies a real need in the present worship scene.
Erika Haub‘s entry, “To dwell and to die,” is one of the most-linked in the series, and is definitely must-read material. She begins by quoting one of her professors at Fuller Seminary: “The crucifixion was the consequence of the incarnation.” Let that sink in. She then says,
If there is one element of “the missional church” or “missional theology” as I understand it that at once compels and terrifies me, it is the invitation to live an incarnational life. Philippians two tells me that my “attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” and then it describes the most terrifying emptying of all power, privilege and self-preservation imaginable. An emptying that leads to death, and not just any kind of death but one so humiliating and horrific that it would not have been discussed in polite company.
I think if there were one thing I would want us to remember today as we consider all things missional, it would be that as we talk about incarnational living and incarnational ministries and being incarnational wherever we live, we are talking about a way of life that leads to the cross. It did for Jesus, and if I read Philippians correctly, it should for us as well.
She tells the story of her church and their call to die “in the day to day, hour by hour choosing of other over self.” For Erika’s three-year-old daughter, “the cross is something terrifying; gruesome… [because she] understands the scandal of Jesus’ death, and I hope that those of us seeking to imitate an incarnate God really understand that that means following a crucified One.”
Erika’s post is one of those OMG posts that simply stands out and requires reflection. Again, this is not a technical academic treatment of the word, but a real life dirt-under-the-fingernails understanding, and I appreciate the way she links the incarnation to connecting with and serving the other in a sacrificial way. Hers contribution is therefore an outstanding practical description of incarnational living.
Kingdom Grace (nee Emerging Grace), creator of the famous missional posters succinctly describes missional in terms of a threefold paradigm shift: Out rather than In, With rather than For, and Us rather than Them.
Grace elaborates on each one, as the headlines alone may leave some confusion. An initial thought when reading the headlines might be, “You mean ‘them’ not ‘us’, right? Minister to ‘them’ and not to ourselves, right?” But no. The common unifying theme in her threefold paradigm shift is incarnational living. Out in the world, doing ministry with, as, and to those we are among. Us. If we don’t become as they are, we haven’t made the paradigm shift from ‘them’ to ‘us’. Us/Them language means not identifying with those we are among… it reflects a holding of the “other” at a distance. Grace’s post is brief, but she seems to strike the heart of this paradigm shift as one begins to reflect upon her three phrases.
Jamie Arpinn-Ricci begins by defining the gospel as “The Gospel is the glory of the Triune God made manifest in His work to reconcile every person to union with Himself, communion with others, to fullness of life, and to harmony with Creation, in the context of community for the good of all.” He then cites a series of lessons. First, “Missional is about implication, not application.” Then, “Missional cannot be understand apart from ecclesiology (or vice versa).” Thirdly, he cites his most important lesson: “Missional is incarnational.” To flesh out this third lesson he offers three points, beginning with community. Just as the triune God is social, so to must we share in genuine community. Next is contextualization, meaning “we must enter into the world around us in such a way that allows people to encounter Christ in ways that they understand.” Finally, to explain his point of being countercultural, Jamie says “we must recognize that the incarnational presence we are called to represent is not compatible with all aspects of our the world around us. …[W]e cannot and must not attempt to accomodate aspects of culture that would undermine the mission of God, but rather live boldly apart and even against them.”
Jamie adds the concept of missional as countercultural into the mix of what we have so far. I appreciated the phrase that “Missional is about implication, not application.” — that is, it isn’t something we simply bolt onto our ideology, but something with fundamental implications for our lives if we are to fully absorb it. Adding to what is becoming a fairly resounding theme, his elaboration on incarnational expression is helpful.
Jeff McQuilkin writes,
I think we need to begin by swearing off the word “missional” as a label. Descriptive terms become labels when we stop using them to describe what we do and using them instead to describe who or what we are. And when a descriptive term becomes a label, meanings start getting confused, stereotypes start getting applied, and prejudices pile up until eventually we grow weary of using the word at all. …So whatever “missional” is, it needs to describe our actions and activities, not identify us as a type of group.
That said…here’s what “missional” means to me…
The word “missional” has to do with the mission of Christ. So I think being missional means simply to live from the heart of Christ’s mission. I think the way we do that is to participate in the ongoing mission of Christ, and to emulate Christ’s approach in fulfilling His mission.
Elaborating on this definition, he states the difference between missional and mission-minded as the approach or “the way things are done,” and contrasts incarnational and attractional. Concluding, he states, “being missional is more than an approach to ministry; it is something to be woven into the fabric of our life. It is seeing life, ministry and mission interwoven together.”
I’m a little intrigued by his analysis of the misuse of the term as a label — I think he may have something there, but I need to reflect upon it… the implication might be not saying “missional church,” and I’m not sure I could do that even though I’m not overly fond of labels. Once more, his emphasis is incarnational. In his concluding statement, he helpfully removes the duality between everyday life and ministry or mission, which is an important distinction.
John Smulo offers a few thoughts on how the term “missional” became overused and misused. He outlines seven stages through which the concept bore consideration, “sparked the imagination, passion, and dreams of many,” grew exponentially in the blogosphere and Christian media until “Popular Christian media, including some well known figures, demonized ‘missional’.” The term then started being “used and misused in a variety of ways,” and finally, “became chic.”
I checked, and “chic” means “stylish” or “elegant,” even “posh.” And a bunch of other things that dont’ seem to relate. I’m not so sure that missional has actually become chic, as I thought the term was still at the “used and misused” stage. If chic is the next stop, we are in some serious trouble with it! Otherwise, John’s progression is probably not too far off the mark, though he missed the co-opting and accusations of co-opting the term. I think somebody blamed Mark Driscoll.
Jonathan Brink hosted a synchroblog in April around a similar question. He roots missional in the Missio Dei, which he describes by quoting Jesus quoting Isaiah: “The Spirit of the lord God is upon me. For he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)” He notes,
It usually begins right where we live, with our families, and with our neighbors. It means tearing down the walls that separate us as human beings. It means taking the risk to let go of the victim role, or the anger that perpetuates the role of perpetrator. And once we do we “get to” participate in our own humanity, in our own restoration…and the restoration of the world around us. We get to see what is good, what is right, what is true, what is Jesus.
Before closing his post, Jonathan remarks as a “side note” that “The word missional is apparently now reaching ‘chic’ proportions… I would offer that just the fact that we’re using the word is almost an entirely new thought process in the Christian culture.”
I’m not sure if Johnathan is quoting John Smulo or if I missed something! I would concur that the word represents an entirely new thought process, but only insofar as it’s being used “correctly.” Some of the misuses of the word are applications of it to the old ways of thinking, such that the paradigm shift becomes murky and incomplete. Jonathan’s description of missional otherwise fits right in with the others we’ve been considering… incarnational identification with the people who we are among and concern for justice as seen in Isaiah’s messianic prophecy.
The summary list we began in part I is growing.
- the term missional is misused by many who don’t understand it;
- missional church is not the same as emerging church;
- simply adding the term doesn’t make it so;
- missional is incarnational;
- individual missional engagement, not just corporate engagement, matters;
- missional church roots itself in history by taking a long view of its engagement;
- missional church is in the hands of the so-called “laity”;
- missional is a buzz-word only to those who don’t have it in their DNA;
- missional engagement thrives in the context of third places;
- missional is a paradigm that should be innate to every healthy church;
- The missio Dei institutes the missiones ecclesiae;
- missional builds communitas;
- the mission is to extend the Kingdom of God;
- missional engagement takes place within the ordinary, everyday rhythm of life;
- missional seeks to bring justice to “the other”;
- missional is contextual, but also at times counter-cultural; and
- missional sees no dichotomy between mission and everyday life.
We’ll pause here and resume our trip through 50 definitions in the next post. We covered some good material in this installment, but once you’ve commented, be sure to go and read Erika’s post. If you’ve already commented, why are you still here?
Hi Brother Maynard!
Thanks for the great summaries and for your kind words about my post. I am coming out of a long week of being sick so I am just now getting the chance to read and reflect more seriously on the different contributions to the synchroblog. This series is helping me do that!