If anyone’s been counting carefully through the previous eight posts, they’ll notice two things. First, there are more than 50 ways to define missional. At least, there are more than 50 posts on the subject which have appeared in connection with the June 23rd synchroblog which got this whole mess going. Secondly, the astute observer will notice that I’ve skipped summarizing one of the posts — my own. I’ll rectify that today, and then carry on with some kind of synthesis of everything else that’s been said in this little adventure. Oh, and my apologies to anyone who’s getting tired of the Blues Brothers image… I don’t normally reuse my post images, but I thought I’d try a unifying image for this series as a visual tip that they go together.
Missional Soup is what I called my own contribution, a tip to the fact that the word has got just about everything mixed into it by now. In offering a definition, I went back to the missional series I had done previously to define the word. As I wrapped up the series, I noted that there is
a “battle” going on for the word “missional.” Indeed, some within the missional conversation are already wanting to abandon the word in favour of “mission-shaped” or any other term which is less in dispute. As it stands, the word is in danger of being lost. Some would want to co-opt the term and apply it to existing attractional evangelistic programs, robbing the word of its subversive power. …By co-opting the term and changing its emphasis, churches who do not wish to make such fundamental shifts in their thinking can apply it to a program [without actually adopting missional theology].
My short-form definition was to note that missional is a recovery of the church’s raison d’être.
…to be missional requires the adoption of two central tenets.
- The church’s purpose is to be mission-shaped, meaning that all that it is and does reflects upon and is born out of its single mission, the Missio Dei (”God’s mission”).
- The church’s ministry is to be incarnational, not only corporately but individually as well.
Remove either of these aspects, and missional has been robbed of its theological impact.
By way of explanation, I said that the church is organized around and by it’s purpose, the Missio Dei, and that the church is sent to engage with the “other” in accordance with the sending nature of a Trinitarian God. Citing my previous work on the subject, I offered a definition of “missional church:”
A missional church is a gathering of missional people who are engaged together in the Missio Dei. …Consider whether the goal of church planting is to establish the presence of church or to establish a church, and it may be discerned to what extent the effort is a missional one.
Many of the aspects of my definition are covered in the corpus of posts we’ve looked at, though it omits a number of characteristics with which people have imbued the word. This is to be expected based on my approach last year to the creation of my definition… my question was what aspects are so essential to the term that their omission would negate it? At that time (as now) many were adding their own ideas and emphases to the term. While these emphases and attributes are often good, they sometimes had no bearing on the term missional… such as an evangelical commitment to inerrancy.
I have added one item to our summary list of characteristics derived from the group of posts, which I now reorganize under five headings, as follows:
- 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 a buzz-word only to those who don’t have it in their DNA;
- “missional” is a theological term with a specific set of theological implications; and
- missional is not merely a substitute for “missionary”;
- missional is incarnational;
- the missio Dei institutes the missiones ecclesiae;
- the mission is to extend the Kingdom of God;
- missional sees God’s work as larger than the salvation of the church;
- missional church is mission-shaped church (church is organized and defined by its mission);
- individual missional engagement, not just corporate engagement, matters;
- missional is a paradigm that should be innate to every healthy church;
- missional builds communitas;
- missional sees no dichotomy between mission and everyday life;
- missional rejects the dualistic thinking of seeing a dichotomy between secular and sacred;
- missional community is covenant community;
- missional church is made so by the individuals who participate;
- missional sees the church as a centered set rather than a bounded set;
- missional church is in the hands of the so-called “laity”;
- missional engagement thrives in the context of third places;
- 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 (contrast society);
- missional engagement relies on the Holy Spirit;
- missional seeks new metrics for “success”, over against numerical measures of attendance or adherents as is more common in attractional or institutional churches;
- missional encounters need not result in gospel proclamation;
- missional is a way of life;
- missional church roots itself in history by taking a long view of its engagement;
- missional church gravitates toward narrative theology and toward the gospels, particularly the Sermon on the Mount;
- the missional life is likened to that of a pilgrim, an exile, or a vagabond;
- becoming missional out of traditional requires careful leading through (paradigm) change;
- missional is inclusive and accepting of others;
- missional attempts to transcend relegation to a specific era such as pre-modernity, modernity, or post-modernity;
Nature & Purpose
Values & Perspectives
If we can take this list a step further, we may attempt to synthesize some of the overlapping concepts and arrive at a description which addresses all five of the above headings. In this way, we might propose a definition at which the group may said to have essentially arrived, even though it may not express perfectly how any one member wishes to express it. I now proceed with caution ;^)
(1) The term missional is often misused, and is not synonymous with the emerging church and is not merely a substitute for “missionary”. Seen by some as a “buzz-word” or latest fad, this view most often represents a misunderstanding of the term, similar to those who simply prepend the term to existing programs. Properly understood, this does not make the programs “missional,” as there is no resonance to the term in the DNA of those who use the term in these ways. Fundamentally, “missional” is a theological term with a specific set of theological implications.
(2) Most important to an understanding of the term “missional” is that it views the very purpose of the church as participation in the Missio Dei, the extension of the Kingdom of God, which is larger than just the salvation of the church. The church is organized and defined by its mission (it is mission-shaped), and participants are sent incarnationally, just as a Triune God who is by nature a sending God. In practice, this is contrasted against attractional models of church.
(3) Seeing no dichotomy between mission and everyday life (secular and sacred), missional churches or communities see themselves as centered rather than bounded sets. These covenant communities are described as missional based on the characteristics and practices of the participants together in the Missio Dei. As such, missional engagement builds communitas and sees the missional paradigm as one that should be innate to every healthy church.
(4) Missional church de-emphasizes the role of professional clergy, placing itself in the hands of the so-called “laity” with a reliance on the Holy Spirit. Taking place within the ordinary everyday rhythm of life, missional engagement thrives in the context of third places, seeking to interface with and bring justice to the “other.” Such encounters need not and do not always result in gospel proclamation. Missional church exists as a contrast society, but at the same time contextualizes itself within the cultures where it exists. Given these fundamental changes in praxis, missional church seeks new metrics for “success” over against numerical measures of attendance or adherents.
(5) Missional engagement is a way of life in which the church roots itself in history by taking a long view of its engagement. Likened to that the life of a pilgrim, an exile, or a vagabond, missional life is inclusive and accepting of others and attempts to transcend relegation to a specific era such as pre-modernity, modernity, or post-modernity. Missional church gravitates toward narrative theology and toward the gospels, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. Becoming missional out of traditional requires careful leading through a significant paradigm change.
This fivefold description could of course be further massaged to reflect the ways in which some of these implications derive from and reflect upon one another, but presenting it in the foregoing fashion should make it easy to see how each point is derived. I daresay some further brevity might also be achieved. Strictly speaking, some of the characteristics could be described as background or praxis-oriented material which might be stripped from a formal short definition, but already I think we can see a good deal of clarity as to the meaning of the term. I have previously distilled that I believe to be the twofold heart of the term, with all other descriptors flowing out of or informing these two points. For example, the use of third places is a missiologically strategic way to engage with the “other” and to interface with one’s neighbour. The concept therefore fits very naturally into a discussion of missional engagement… but it is not an inherently missional practice, since not everyone who frequents a third place has missional intent. Conversely, not all missional method requires the use of third places.
Still, if I were personally to attempt a distillation of the idea of missional into something short and pithy, I might just come up with a line I’ve used often enough before… “Live your faith. Share your life.”
So, now that I come to the end of my synthesis of the missional synchroblog, I am aware of a couple of areas which have been left untouched, and some depths yet to be plumbed. But what of the summary thus far… agree, disagree? Fair, or misrepresented? Complete, or lacking? How so?