Missional Living: What is Missional Anyway?

Last week, I posted a summary of the 8 classes I’m writing to assist new Christians begin to grow up in Christ. In our study of what it means to live missionally, we’re looking at Scripture, theology, philosophy, and praxis with the goal of not just seeing where God will place us, but also acting on what we hear.

What does it mean to be missional anyway? Is this just a buzzword that pastors and church leaders use now but that will fade away like other fads in the church? 

In its simplest definition, “missional” is “missionary” in adjective form. Part of the reason for moving from the term “missionary” is its connotations with colonialism, which brought European/American culture to foreign nations with the gospel in the early 20th century and before. Being a missional church means the exact opposite of this: it means learning the “language” of the culture and contextualizing the gospel for the culture. In this way, missional churches and people know that God chooses to work in every culture, to meet people where they are at, just as He did in the person of Jesus Christ.

Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson write in Comeback Churches that missional churches have these characteristics: they are incarnational, indigenous, and intentional.

They are incarnational in that the church is the “body of Christ” representing the presence of Christ in the community. It is not stuck in its building. Like Reggie McNeal says, the church is the people of God, a who rather than a what.

They are indigenous in that the people are firmly rooted in the surrounding culture. Worship is meaningful not only to church people but also to unchurched people. Rather than a church filled with people who live much like the world but look different, indigenous churches are the exact opposite: filled with people who live differently but look the same.

And they are intentional in their decisions about worship styles, times, locations, methods, and attire, based on the context. Churches are intentional about moving beyond their preferences so that the cultural gap, as Hirsch mentions, does not continue to widen.

Brian McLaren calls himself missional in his book A Generous Orthodoxy. He defines it as a third way, an option unlike conservative missiology (Jesus as a personal Savior) and liberal missiology (social justice)–though I think it can actually encompass both. Missional churches are people who meet needs and serve the world. They take seriously both halves of God’s promise to Abraham: I will bless you and make you a blessing to the nations. According to McLaren, the church’s mission is “to be and make disciples of Jesus Christ in authentic community for the good of the world.”

In So Beautiful, Leonard Sweet contrasts the APC church (attractional, propositional, and colonial) with the MRI church (missional, relational, incarnational). Sweet is saying something by keeping missional with relational and incarnational. He puts the three together in these ways:

Missional is the mind of God, relational is the heart of God, and incarnational is the hands of God.

Relating to the Nicene Creed: We believe in one holy, catholic, apostolic church. In other terms, an apostolic church is made up of sent out people (missional); a holy church is a relational church, loving God and loving others; and a catholic church is an incarnational church, as the word “catholic” means both universal and variant.

To be missional in today’s church world, it seems, is to be defined by what you don’t do just as much as by what you do. Those who seek to be missional also seek to distance themselves from former ways of communicating the gospel (and for good reason). The Incarnation of the Son of God is the defining event, equally important as His death and resurrection, in guiding how we go about partnering in God’s mission in the world.


Posted on January 16, 2015, in spiritual formation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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