Understanding “Missional” Continues

kinnon —  August 21, 2007 — 1 Comment

Ed Stetzer continues his series on “Missional” at his new Lifeway blog;

…as the term has grown in prominence, it has also grown in opposition. In some of the places I have spoken, I have specfically been asked to not use the word “missional,” as it is a “liberal word.” (I am not sure how a word gets an ideology, but that is another story.)

Now, before you get offended by their concern, there is a reason. Obviously, their concern has not pushed me away from using the term, but it is helpful for us to understand their worry… and it might be a surprise to know the problematic history that causes some evangelicals to reject the word “missional.” And, the word “missional” is much less important than the emphasis it brings.

Ed unpacks the issue around the “Missio Dei” understanding of some – and how it has caused others to stumble regarding the word “missional”.

Brother Maynard also continues his near book-length discussion of “missional” in his series highlighted in today’s post, Missional Interlude, with Post-Christendom Considerations. Referring to insight from Earl Creps, Brother Maynard says,

…we need to understand that all uses of the word “missional” will incorporate some notion as to the church’s relationship to culture and the way in which theology reflects upon it. I think there’s an important notion here which may have been subtly observed, but bears specific mention to make it obvious: all uses of the word “missional” imply a theological framework which includes an understanding of the church’s relationship to culture. As these are not universal, they remain part of the nuance, but if descriptors of these nuances are missing, the definition will be incomplete.

In my post, An Attempt @ Understanding Missional, I pointed to a video conversation between Al Roxburgh and Craig Van Gelder on What is Missional Church?, part of the Allelon WiMC? video series. Craig has published a short excerpt at Allelon from his new book, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit, that furthers the “Understanding Missional” conversation:

The missional church conversation is being popularized largely by the fast-becoming seminal work published in 1998, entitled Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. This volume is the product of six missiologists who spent two years in intensive discussions attempting to develop a shared argument about the very nature of the church. They sought to explore how the discipline of missiology (understanding God’s mission in the world) is interrelated with ecclesiology (the study, ology, of the church, ecclesia). The result was the construction of a missional ecclesiology, or in short hand, the concept of the “missional church.”

This conception of the church is now catching hold among church leaders and congregations across a wide range of denominations. The missional church discussion is capturing a basic impulse within many churches in the United States (U.S.) that there is something about the church that makes it inherently missionary. But it is clear that confusion still exists over what the term missional really means. Some appear to want to use it to reclaim, yet one more time, the priority of missions in regard to the church’s various activities. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding continues the effort to define a congregation primarily around what it does. The concept of a church being missional moves in a fundamentally different direction. It seeks to focus the conversation about what the church is—that it is a community created by the Spirit and that it has a unique nature, or essence, which gives it a unique identity. In light of the church’s nature, the missional conversation then explores what the church does. Purpose and strategy are not unimportant in the missional conversation, but they are understood to be derivative dimensions of understanding the nature, or essence, of the church. Likewise, changing cultural contexts are not unimportant, but they are understood to be conditions that the church interacts with in light of its nature or essence.

There is a growing literature about the conception of the missional church that is now becoming available. But there is still a need to make more explicit the connections between the church’s nature in relation to its purpose and strategies for ministry and also to explore how it engages changing contexts. It is not uncommon for persons to ask, “So, what does a missional church actually look like?” This is a fair question, and to date there has been little research and writing in this area with the exception of the 2004 Gospel and Our Culture series publication Treasure in Clay Jars. There is a need to develop a more focused understanding of what Spirit-led ministry looks like in a missional church.

I look forward to producing a number of Missional Church stories that are in the works @ Allelon. Our first such story on The Freeway in Hamilton, Ontario should be up later in September. And I can’t point too often at this edition of the Roxburgh Journal with Pete Atkins, which my blogging buddy, Brad Brisco calls “an excellent interview.” Brad’s blog is a worthy edition to your RSS reader. (My opinion: Google Reader is the best.)



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

One response to Understanding “Missional” Continues

  1. Bill, thanks for the shout out. As you have said I would highly recommend this clip with Roxburgh and Akins. It is well worth the 30 minute investment.


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