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Missional, the latest word game


We love our words, especially the ones that make it to the buzz category. When we lay claim to them we cast ourselves as practitioners of the latest trends, the hippest movements, the coolest variations. Right there in the lead is the relatively new term "missional", the in-word reference point for denominations, groups, congregations, or individuals with a strong missions orientation. Drop the word "missional" in a group or session or conference setting and you're ushered to the head table. To be considered "missonal" is to be among the new breed who have broken out of the confines of maintenance church and have entered the inner sanctum of beyond the walls mission. Glory!

Trouble is, few churches or individuals are actually "missional". Go ahead, look it up. There are dozens of articles, blogs, research papers, and other tomes that address the confusion associated with our use of the word "missional". I've read several pages of explanations and still haven't found a clear, concise, and specific definition of the word "missional". And of course, this is one of the trip wires associated with using the language of pop culture, even pop religious culture. It's definition is relative, the liberal twist that shapes everything so we can conveniently fit into it. The most straightforward definition was one I discovered at gotquestions.org. Go ahead laugh. Their explanation may not be sophisticated enough for us moderns. But, it did meet my clear-consise-specific parameters. In their simple way they spoke of "missional" as---

"Missional” or “missional living” are Christian terms that in essence describe a

missionary lifestyle. Being missional includes embracing the posture, the thinking,

behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to reach others with the message of

the gospel.

Oops. You mean to be "missional" we have to adopt the lifestyle of a missionary. Well, there are variations in the ways the term is used and it has been modified downward to broaden the application of such a power-packed yet narrow understanding. The people at www.patheos.com define it as---

Missional means participating with God in what God is doing in the world.

Alan Hirsch wrote a great deal of commentary about our use of the term "missional" and our eagerness to be associated with this new movement toward a hurting world. He wrote---

A missional community sees the mission as both its originating impulse and its

organizing principle. A missional community is patterned after what God has

done in Jesus Christ. In the incarnation God sent his Son. Similarly, to be

missional means to be sent into the world.

Most of us would affirm such a statement in our next church business meeting. But, in my mind, it is still somewhat soft, a definition that could overlay every church in America. I was in a church recently whose media elements defined them as a "missional" community. But, when the four circles were drawn around the church, they could not identify one single member or participant who lives inside the one or three mile circles of their busy suburban area. They gave to international missions, led a summer mission trip to South America, supported North American missions through the denominational system, and gave to several local missions enterprises, state and association missions included. But, their day to day ministry bypassed the mission field down the street. How in the world could they be "missional" when they over-looked the Jerusalem Jesus had sent them to influence.

If missio dei is to be our theological guide in identifying our mission character, the term "missional" must be redefined to include being sent into the world as Jesus was sent. He said---

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I

am sending you.”

John 20:21, ESV

Jesus was so surrendered to his mission that he spoke only God's Words, pursued only God's will, and sought only God purpose in his daily life. From the cross he announced that he had finished the redemptive mission the Father had given him (John 19:30). If we're going to use terms like "missional", we should be anchored to the model he gave us, and nothing less.

Being trendy won't matter when we reach the finish line. Jesus said---

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but

the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21, ESV

That seems more "missional" to me.


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