I’ve been doing a series examining the posts from the collection of definitions in the recent missional synchroblog in which I participated with a total of 50 bloggers (plus a few unofficial entries). This exercise is perhaps becoming a bit of an appendix to the missional series I did last summer, doing an extensive consideration of the term.
Having completed a summary review and comment on each of the “official” list (excluding my own), I now turn to the “apocryphal” set of posts which appeared on the same day and referenced the synchroblog but which were not officially a part of it. The most complete set of these that I’ve encountered is Makeesha Fisher’s list, though it may of course not be exhaustive. Bill Kinnon and Makeesha Fisher both ended up doing two posts for the synchroblog, so I’ll include their respective prequel and sequel posts in this set. At the risk of getting longwinded, I’ll try to wrap this all in a single post.
Andrew (Hamo) Hamilton attempts to sum up the word’s status in his post title: “Missional: a ‘non-word’ that became a word… that is slowly becoming a ‘non word’ again?…” He contends that “missional church” would be a redundant term.
The irony is that ‘missional’ became a word as churches tried to reframe their core business and identity. Today we have ‘missional churches’, but the question you have to ask is instead of what?! Its like having a goal kicking football team or a brick laying construction company… I mean what other options are there?…
Its a frightening thought that for so long this was not an integral part of the church’s psyche – that for so long we forgot about the local arena only to see the overseas need. The current glut of missional speak is possibly an over-reaction to that period of neglect and if we really reflect on on it, then surely its somewhat disturbing to need to use the word ‘missional’ to describe our churches!
There are some interesting variations on the use of this word. As I talk with churches I hear of them doing ‘missions’ and immediately know it will be in a foreign country. I hear them speak of mission and it is local. And the word missional has become the adjective that everyone uses, even if they’re not actually missional.
Coming to an actual definition, he writes, “I usually describe ‘mission’ as whatever we do that demonstrates God’s love to the world’. And within that ‘evangelism’ is a kind of subset that involves communciating [sic] who Jesus is and what he has done – most often in words. I would say that evangelism is ultimately where mission takes us.” He speaks of his own return to using “missionary” as his “preferred descriptor.” It is “a loaded one to be sure,” he writes, “as it carries much baggage from historical perceptions of missionaries, but I tend to believe that if we can get people thinking and behaving like missionaries in their own backyards then we must be on the right track.”
Hamo’s return to the use of “missionary” is interesting in context of his contention that “missional church” is redundant. He would evidently see the church’s purpose as mission, the absence of which would perhaps fail to qualify a group as a church. Hence, contrary to my developing suggestion of alignment with the term “missionary” to come from missiology as distinct from ecclesiology, he can speak of church as inherently missional with missionary endeavours being the expression of the Missio Dei. (I’m putting a few thoughts and terms into his mouth that are not part of this post, but hopefully by being a long-time reader of his blog, I won’t misrepresent his position.) Though perhaps not linguistically consistent with what we’ve said so far, this would still be conceptually consistent, particularly insofar as it requires a very close alignment of the church and its purpose, essentially a “mission-shaped church.”
David Fisher takes on the environment as well as missional by saying that “going green” is a social justice issue, which makes it a missional opportunity.
I don’t thing David’s prime concern is to actually define missional here, but he does link it with justice, which is a theme we’ve encountered before in our exploration of the synchroblog posts.
Kent Leslie tackles postmodern apologetics.
The point is that while the world I grew up in was what we’d today call postmodern, the church I grew up in was most definitely modern. “Modern,” that is, following the Enlightenment ideals of scientific inquiry (even though Christian conservatives regularly disagreed with scientists on their conclusions), logical argument (particularly in apologetics), concreteness, absolutes, and certainty. The church didn’t just embrace these ideas; they assumed they were principles decreed by God.
He goes on to illustrate how typical apologetics don’t work in the postmodern milieu, and if anything, make matters worse. He then outlines four “scriptural conclusions about evangelism to our generation” by which he means to refer to postmoderns. Essentially, these equate to contextualization, the social nature of a Trinitarian God, and the power of story to make a bigger impact than “fundamentals.” By way of summary, he says that “missional churches suffer the same traps and annoyances that the other churches do… particularly if the missional Christians among them are actually successful in introducing people to Jesus.” and “You don’t have to be postmodern to understand the missional movement. It’s just using the examples we see in scripture to guide the way we do evangelism.”
What appears to be Kent’s definition of missional does not seem to dove-tail very well with our examination of it so far, viz. he seems to suggest that it amounts to “postmodern evangelism.” Even so, his discussion of the church’s approach to postmodern culture illustrates well the need for contextualization, the importance of story, and the need for understanding the “other,” all missional concepts we have encountered in our review of posts on the subject.
Pat Loughery tells a story about the Celtic Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne. Excerpting a few paragraphs:
Iona first sent a delegation under the leadership of Corman, who met with miserable failure and retreated to Iona with his tail between his legs. At the team meeting discussing the failed mission, the historian Bede writes that Corman said that the Angles of Northumbria “‘were ungovernable and of an obstinate and barbarous temperament”. A young monk, Aidan, spoke up, saying that Corman should perhaps have begun more simply, giving them spiritual milk instead of meat as Paul might say, and that Corman had been too aggressive in his mission and his expectations.
Whether the Iona monks received this word from Aidan as spiritual wisdom or as the brashness of a young punk monk is unknown, but they immediately commissioned Aidan a bishop to Northumbria, and sent him with twelve other monks to Oswald’s people.
AIdan worked tirelessly in the surrounding countryside, building relationships with the local people and individually nurturing their faith. He nearly always walked from place to place.
When he encountered people, he engaged them in conversation, asking them to tell him what they believed. Only when invited to share his own beliefs would he respond.
His simplicity of lifestyle was recognized by his peers and by historians as well. When served a feast, he would give food to the poor. When his monastery was given money for support, he would use it to buy freedom for slaves in the local slaving village and then offer to teach the redeemed slaves how to read. Many of these freed slaves continued to live in Aidan’s monastery or entered the priesthood.
He leaves the interpretation of his story of Aidan to the reader, but says, “The monks of Lindisfarne were directly responsible for the conversion of the Angles and the Saxons to Christianity. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that Aidan converted England with this approach to mission.”
Although Pat doesn’t directly tackle a missional definition, his story of Aidan does illustrate an approach that many have viewed to be missional, and the themes we have seen in our survey emerge. Aidan wasn’t directly concerned to provide a gospel presentation up front, but served others simply, building relationships and becoming acquainted with them in their “other-ness.” I rather enjoyed Pat’s entry here, as it illustrates a historically documented missional approach in a decidedly pre-modern context… illustrating what is seen to be the timeless nature of this approach, one which transcends time and culture.
Dave Faulkner considers “Missional Church In Traditional Church Contexts.” He begins by “defining missional church as an incarnational approach to mission. Mission is inherent to the nature of the Trinity, because love reaches out beyond itself to others.” Coming to the central question of his post, he writes,
This presents an enormous challenge to those of us rooted in a Constantinian tradition of church. The long term effects of making the church not only respectable but ‘official’ has affected more than the ‘established’ traditions of church, and even – I would venture to suggest – many of those rooted in the Radical Reformation. ‘Official church’ at its worst treats all citizens as default members of the church. Even without that scandalous assumption, it makes church a natural place to go for rites of passage. It has cultivated a mentality that people ‘come to church’. This leads to ‘attractional’ models of church, where we implore people to ‘come to us’. It also leads to a truncated view of ministry, purely of the pastoral and teaching offices, because if everyone is already a Christian, that is all that is needed.
Therefore missional church raises questions of the nature of the church, of models of mission and of church leadership.
Farther along, he writes that “Missional church… affirms the epithet of Emil Brunner that ‘The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.’ Mission is the nature of the church. We don’t simply engage in mission in order to maintain our numbers: we participate in the mission of God, because that is our spiritual DNA.” He observes that we are called to engage in the world, showing God’s love and aiming “to earn the right to speak about Christ and his claims on people’s lives in the world, rather than at guest services or seeker-sensitive worship.” He notes that “by elevating [pastoral roles] we marginalise the apostolic call to church planting and networking across Christians, the prophetic call to bring God’s word to the world and the evangelistic mandate to call people to discipleship.” and concludes, “For me, then, this is a call to expand our notion of ordination (if that is what we practise) and leadership.”
Dave’s post is specifically tied to an institutional church model and explores one aspect of how such models need to adjust to accommodate missional theology. As missional envisions a priesthood of all believers and expects each individual to be personally engaged, the role of the pastor or professional clergy shifts somewhat. In this observation and in his definition, he echoes some of the themes we’ve been seeing, but with an included practical implication for a particular context.
Peter suggests an example of the overuse of the word in a context where it will be talked about a lot more than it will actually be practiced. He ends with the quote, “preach the Good News always, use words when necessary.”
Peter raises a good point… as someone has observed, “When all is said and done, hopefully more will be done than said.”
The great challenge for the Church today is to come to grips with the death of Christendom. The Church no longer holds the priviledged position it once did in society. It is no longer assumed that all – or even most – are formally affiliated with any formal religious structure. While church attendance was once the norm, it is now the exception.
In those days, the idea of mission for the average Christian in the developed world wasn’t about much more than opening the doors. Build your church. Open the doors. People will come.
“To be missional,” he writes, “is to turn our vision outward, to acknowledge the end of Christendom, to see that there are people far and near who do not know the Jesus we meet each Sunday in the breaking of bread.” He continues, listing several characteristics of missional as he sees it.
Malcolm’s post points out clearly what was the impetus for the beginning of missional conversation — the end of Christendom. It was the realization of this single fact that caused us to notice that our old methods had stopped working… but we’d been practicing them for so long that some major changes were in store as we sought to recover a new old method.
Arnau van Wyngaard takes the view that “missional church” is a tautology. He writes,
I maintain, however, that all churches should then be missional, because not being missional would imply that a church is not obedient to what Jesus expects from the church! (Is a non-missional church still church?) My understanding of “missional” would be a certain mind set within the church (or even a certain part of the ministry of the church) which focusses [sic] on those outside the church.
As he expands on the idea, he explores contextualization, then as he draws to a close he notes,
Missional churches are set apart from “non-missional” churches by the way in which they become involved with the community. And then I often think of the words of the emperor Julian (the Apostate) who once wrote in anger:
“These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.
“Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.”
This is the type of thing that could happen if a church becomes missional.
We have encountered this sentiment before, that a non-missional church is by definition dysfunctional, but I quite appreciated Arnau’s quotation of Julian the Apostate. A bit wry, in the best of ways.
Makeesha Fisher makes a reappearance on the list, stating an opposing view to Alan Hirsh’s, namely that “emergence often needs to occur before the paradigm shift toward a mission shaped faith can form.” She writes,
[The] question of salvation is one example. If one holds to traditional evangelical notions of “how salvation occurs” (for example), living a truly mission shaped life is almost impossible in my experience. Making a missional paradigm shift is very hard when you believe the number one most important job of all Christians is to get people saved and by saved you mean “into heaven”. And the idea that our job is to get people saved comes from certain theological understandings of very core issues such as the atonement, what is the kingdom?, etc. that must be engaged/challenged (emergence) in order to understand and embrace the missional paradigm.
I honestly believe that a HUGE reason why missional is getting misunderstood or distorted or co-opted is BECAUSE these very people are holding onto certain theological understandings without examining them…without engaging. They’re taking their current beliefs about salvation and subsequent notions of evangelism and trying to paste on a missional label which ultimately equates to trying to stuff a size 9 foot in a size 6 shoe.
All of this to say – I think the question of “how do we get there?” is a good one and I genuinely believe an engagement of WHAT we believe has to occur. Perhaps a good place to start for folks trying to wrap their brains around missional is with their theology. Maybe this paradigm isn’t clicking because your theology just doesn’t fit. In which case, I’m not suggesting you have to change your theology necessarily but you might need to explore the possibility of dropping missional from your vocabulary because like a too small pair of shoes, it’s gonna cause you pain.
I quoted a fair bit of Makeesha’s post and hopefully kept the gist of her argument intact. Notably, what she is describing is the fact that “missional” is a theological word, as we have observed. Its use in contexts that have not adopted the attendant theological positions has largely led to the confusion now surrounding the term.
Bill Kinnon gets an extra mention because he accidentally misfired and set his contribution loose a week early. We’ve already considered the one he wrote for the actual synchroblog day, but the earlier “prequel” post is worth adding into the mix here. The post contains numerous links to additional material as Bill bemoans the overuse of the word and then offers a bit of history of its usage and background concepts from Newbigin to the GOCN, Alan Roxburgh, Craig Van Gelder, Ed Stetzer, Darrell Guder, David Fitch, Alan Hirsch, Colin Green “and others.” He references Guder’s seminal work which popularized the term, and finally invokes Bosch: “Mission is, quite simply, the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus, wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to belie. It is good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world.” Coming to a definition, he writes,
To quote Eugene Peterson, it’s about,
The Word (who) became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.
Becoming missional means we realize that Jesus has “moved into the neighborhood” and we are to follow him. It stands in stark contrast to church buildings that say, come. …Missional stands counter to the attractional church model of Christendom.
He continues with an examination of how we are so enmeshed in consumer culture that we can no longer see that culture as identifiably distinct, nor can we see the ways in which it has permeated attractional church as, essentially, a marketing program.
Bill’s post makes a sharp and significant contrast between attractional and incarnational models of church. I think this might actually be (surprisingly) the first mention of Guder in our survey, but his analysis of consumer culture in church is astute, and recurs a number of times on Bill’s blog. Essentially, this is an observation of how “missional” is not a fad buzzword or latest program, but reflects incarnational living. In addition to these insights (many of which touch on themes we’ve aready seen), Bill’s post is worthwhile even just for the list of links he includes.
This post has gone long, but we’re at the end of the list now. Our summary list now stands 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 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 (contrast society);
- missional sees no dichotomy between mission and everyday life;
- missional 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;
- the missional life is likened to that of a pilgrim, an exile, or a vagabond;
- missional engagement relies on the Holy Spirit;
- missional community is covenant community;
- missional rejects the dualistic thinking of seeing a dichotomy between secular and sacred;
- missional is inclusive and accepting of others;
- becoming missional out of traditional requires careful leading through (paradigm) change;
- 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 not merely a substitute for “missionary”;
- missional sees God’s work as larger than the salvation of the church;
- missional sees the church as a centered set rather than a bounded set;
- missional is a way of life;
- missional church is mission-shaped church (church is organized and defined by its mission); and
- “missional” is a theological term with a specific set of theological implications.
Have I missed anything? Next up, a final post synthesizing the list and capping off the series.