What is Missional? (Missional Synchroblog)
Missional Sunday Morning
I got up from a good night’s missional sleep and ready for a missional day. Missionally showered with missional shampoo and headed out the door. Jumped into the missional SUV and exited the missional neighborhood – heading for the partially-opened missional church doors. Sang missional songs with the gathered missional people, listened to the missional sermon, partook in the Lord’s missional Supper, got a missional blessing, grabbed a fair trade missional coffee at the door, picked the SUV up from the missional parking lot and headed missionally home. I just love being missional.
Almost a year ago, I wrote a post called Missional Shampoo – it was a humourous comment on the use/misuse/overuse of the word “missional.”
After much research, product testing (on my kids…no animals were hurt in the making of this product), test marketing and focus grouping, I’m proud to release Newbigin’s Missional Shampoo. I’m profoundly convinced that this will be the best shampoo you will ever use. There is a real narrative behind this product – a wonderful story.
It would appear the use/misuse/overuse of the word missional has not improved in the ensuing months. Rick Meigs has challenged us to respond.
A Little Historical BG
Much of the missional conversation has been driven by Bishop Lesslie Newbigin’s response to the British culture he returned to in the mid-seventies. He’d been a missionary in India from the 30’s onward. To him, it was obvious that British culture was post-Christian. His response to the situation, in both books and as a speaker, provoked the Gospel and Our Culture Network, and impacted writers, professors, missiologists & practioners including Alan Roxburgh, Craig Van Gelder, Ed Stetzer, Darrell Guder, David Fitch, Alan Hirsch, Colin Green and others. (Note: The Gospel and Our Culture Network roots are in the UK – I’m primarily referencing its American cousin here.)
Guder edited one of the important early missional books from a North American context – Missional Church. Roxburgh and Van Gelder contributed chapters to this book and have written other books that contribute to the conversation. Fitch’s The Great Giveaway is an absolute must read. Stetzer has written and spoken extensively on the missional imperative. Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways is quoted constantly in the emerging/missional blogosphere.
It is also important to recognize the work of the late South African Missiologist, David Bosch. He has had a profound impact on the missional conversation.
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. [via Wikipedia – from Bosch’s book, Jesus, the Suffering Messiah, and our Missionary Motive]
So what is this “missional conversation” about.
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 – so sadly illustrated in this shot on Rick’s recent post. Missional stands counter to the attractional church model of Christendom.
I believe there are three aspects to this discussion. Missional is incarnational – in that we are to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in our neighborhoods – positional in that we are to move out and amongst, and relational – we are to love our neighbors, whether they ever darken the doorsteps of our church buildings or not – in fact, whether they ever even “become Christians”. Luke 10 provides a framework for that journey as we move into our neighborhoods – engaging everyone we meet – entering wherever we are invited – receiving hospitality and engaging in relationship – understanding that in C.S. Lewis’ words, Aslan IS on the move – and we are to follow Him.
Well, that is what missional seems to mean. But…
Do an Amazon search today on the word “missional” and you’ll get 999 product results. Google “missional” and you’ll get just under a million hits.
Missional has quickly become the latest buzzword. Christendom expressions of every form are applying the word to their “ministries”. It’s as if “missional” is some sort of “secret sauce” that will re-invigorate their church programs. We have come to point where “missional” may, in fact and in deed, mean nothing. Churches, that by any reasonable estimation are exclusively attractional – now call themselves missional. Their mission is to attract people to their church – which, to their way of thinking, must mean they are missional.
The Christendom reality is that we want people to come to us. We’ve built these great buildings (in some cases) and we want/need to get butts in the pews/chairs/theatre seating. We’ll do just about anything to fill those chairs – right up to and including Cirque de Soleil acrobats. We compete for the same audience as Hollywood and we’ll use whatever technique necessary to get that audience. Let me quote Dick Staub from his very good book, The Culturally Savvy Christian,
Many evangelicals who once had been rooted in a tradition of deep spiritual growth became obsessed with growth as measured by numbers of conversions and increased church attendance. Increasingly and often uncritically, they relied on technology and marketing to generate successful numeric and economic growth. The art and craft of marketing are built around appeals to self interest, offering individuals something they want and desire. Conventional marketing wisdom advocates taking the path of least resistance in order to achieve success. Christian marketers embraced this approach, mastering it in order to raise money and sell the gospel. The result was often a Christianity that, on the surface at least, looked and sounded as driven by a focus on the self as the rest of American culture. [Pg. 38. emphasis added]
We are so enmeshed in this consumer culture that we can no longer see it. Like fish, it is the water in which we swim. So the word “missional” just becomes one more marketing tool in our attractional toolbox to get people to the show. The consumer culture is so pervasive that I’m not sure many of us are even able to extricate ourselves from this world view. We can only attempt to understand missional through the attractional church model lens with which we view Christianity.
Let me end this rather long post with this short story from my recent non-missional church experience. We went to a service that honored a number of kids graduating from high school. It was a very good service with a good sermon from the pastor. But one of the things that stood out for me was his comment to us all of the importance of “going to church.” And by that, he did mean coming to the building.
Now, this is a man, who if you asked him whether “the church” was a building, would quickly set you straight. “Of course not Bill! The church is the gathered people of God wherever they gather.” But, I would suggest that our reality is that when we say “go to church” we mean go to a building. Whether we deny it or not, it frames how we think of the church. Church is a building – and we want you to come with us to it. Especially if our church has the best music, the greatest technology and the most comfortable seats. Oh. And how could I forget. The best coffee bar in the lobby or church food court – selling missional fair trade coffee, of course.
Here are some further resources for your What is Missional study:
At Allelon, I’ve produced a number of interviews that address the question What is Missional Church? Interview guests include Eddie Gibbs, Ryan Bolger, Craig Van Gelder, Pat Keifert, Bishop Graham Cray and Brian McLaren. The site also features David Fitch’s Church Planting via Missional Orders – that I shot during the Resonate Canada Cultivate Gathering at The Freeway in Hamilton, last fall. There’s also some great content featuring The Freeway’s Pernell Goodyear along with Alan Roxburgh; Training Missional Leaders – Part One and Part Two. (I think Part Two is the strongest.)
I also want to point you at a video Imbi and I produced prior to my involvement with Allelon, Three Churches and A New Age Mall with Alan Roxburgh – embedable on your blog from YouTube – a short and powerful indictment of where much of the church is today. It’s also available here on the Allelon site. (We rebranded the video as an Allelon Netcast after I began working with them.)
The conversations and stories in these video resources have helped frame my understanding of “missional.”