Some people, when they use the word “missional,” have in mind a robust ecclesiology drenched in God’s redemptive purposes for the world. Others use it as a catch-all term to lend credibility to what they happen to be doing. After all, who wouldn’t want to be missional? It sounds like a good thing to be.
One of the things I loved about Dallas Willard’s contributions to the Ecclesia National Gathering this year was that he never once said the word “missional,” yet everything he said resonate so deeply with what I think about when I say “missional.” He wasn’t caught up in the terminology, but was focused instead on the realities of what it means to be God’s people in the world.
And this is the trouble with words generally: it is so easy to use the latest terminology to simply baptize whatever we are already doing as legitimate, instead of deeply examining the assumptions, prejudices and pitfalls of our current system/model/theology. This oftentimes happens with this little word “missional.”
For some people, being “missional” means sitting at home and reading the right kinds of blogs, and nothing else. For other people, being “missional” means being a good neighbor or helping people out when they need it, but never really being part of a Jesus-centered community where they can live together on mission. Others add a component to the church programming and call it “missional,” and others change nothing and simply use “missional” as the new way to market the current church programming.
David Fitch recently asserted that we care far too much about our pet terms for the church being co-opted by other groups, and it reveals a basic insecurity about what it is we’re participating in. If it is truly a move of God’s Spirit, then we don’t need to worry about others using the word “missional” wrongly. If it’s just a faddish term used to sell books, well then we don’t need to worry about that either.
Ultimately, whether we use the word “missional” or not, all of this stuff has to be about Jesus. Maybe a good question to ask is, “Do I love being ‘missional’ (however you define it) more than I love Jesus?” If we do, I think we’re in trouble. If living missionally is not rooted in humble worship of and consistent discipleship to Jesus, it’s just the United Way with a cross in the logo. (By the way, nothing against the United Way at all. Just saying the church is something deeper than a social action organization). In being “missional,” are you driven by your love for Jesus or your anger about how churches “don’t get it”? Do you look forward to worshiping with the church, or just to those activities that make you look “missional”?
This has turned into a bit of a rambling rant, but one more paragraph: I like how Alan Hirsch, in his book The Forgotten Ways, roots the missional church in the gospel: the foundational principle in his framework is “Jesus is Lord.” You can’t be truly “missional” without specific reference to Jesus, because it’s his mission we’re participating in. And has we move forward in mission together, we find we are surrounded by the church: the worshiping community of God filled with students of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news in word and deed. And you don’t have to call yourselves “missional” to do it. Just get on with it.