Prologue to Missional Discussions

kinnon —  March 1, 2010 — 17 Comments

Ed Stetzer has rightly become concerned with how the word “missional” seems to have become a buzz word – rather than an actual theological term with legitimate meaning. To that end, with a number of colleagues, Ed set up missionSHIFT to explore how best to frame our understanding of “missional.” A number of us, who were part of the What is Missional Syncroblog? that Rick Meigs (The Blind Beggar / Friend of Missional / Missional Tribe) instigated, began talking with Ed about how blogdom could aid this discussion. This first post, instigated by Rick is the beginning of that “bloggers live aid”.


David Fitch once said that most missional thought leaders “emphasize incarnational forms of church over attractional; the church as Missio Dei over mission as program; organic forms of missionary living in neighborhoods over ministry set in a building.” Yet many others seem to add the term to the current program they are attempting to promote or make cool sounding. As Ed Stetzer noted, “The word missional is used to bludgeon legalism and antinomianism alike. To some it is a sign of freedom from all established forms of the church and to others it is a degeneration into syncretism with the world.”

So, do we abandon the term and move on? Not yet, because the concept behind missional is really big and words help us when we can agree on their definitions— or at least we can agree what we mean when we use a word.

Over the next few weeks, we want to discuss how “missional” happens in our lives and in the life of the church. It will be discussed here as well as at other places including the blogs listed below. As the conversation moves forward, we hope you will move from blog to blog and offer insights from the scriptures and how you see missional happening in your local community.

By doing this, we can all be a part of a specific missional conversation. As many of you know, there are several working toward a “Missional Manifesto” that will be rolled out as a part of the missionSHIFT conference on July 12-15. The intent with the manifesto is to say, “This is what we mean when we talk about being missional.” It is not the manifesto’s intent (or within its ability) to say this is what everyone should think or say about the term, but reflects a hope that it will help us all be clearer and more mission-shaped in our own thinking and practice.

Conversation on the grassroots level is important, so be sure to join in here and at the other blogs and let’s see where God take us. Here is the team that will be leading the conversation:

Rick Meigs: The Blind Beggar
Bill Kinnon:
Brent Toderash (Brother Maynard): Subversive Influence
Scot McKnight: Jesus Creed
David Fitch: Reclaiming the Mission
Tiffany Smith
Jared Wilson: The Gospel-Driven Church
Jonathan Dodson: Creation Project

So for the sake of conversation today, leave a comment about with your own 1-sentence definition of “missional.” And, in the weeks to come, we will be addressing certain points or issues in the missional conversation that need consideration and perhaps clarity.



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.

17 responses to Prologue to Missional Discussions

  1. As I wrote in my Missional KISS post at the end of January, I would define “missional” at its core level as, (using Peterson’s translation of John 1 for the first sentence),

    The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. And that is what He is calling us to do.

  2. The only thing I would add to your definition, Bill, is the purpose of that move into the neighborhood (from 1 Corinthians 9):

    … to become just about every sort of servant there is in our attempt to lead those we meet into a God-saved life.

  3. Nice Josh. I like that.

  4. The best one-sentence description of missional I’ve seen is from Brent Toderash, “Live your faith, share your life.”

  5. Ed recently said that missional “heads into the neighborhood to tell people about Christ.” But that smacks of JW. Perhaps missional lives and serves IN the neighborhood, without an agenda of “us and them” religious conversion, but with great hope that Spirit will gather and transform. In this sense, missional is a push-back against the idea of “conversion” as a market transaction – against the idea of “Jesus sellers” in a secular marketplace.

    Missional might also be the transformation of institutional religious processes into something deeply human, organic, and interpersonal. We’re seeing this kind of transformation unfold as the global church begins to connect freely via social media, less constrained by clergy-centric / stage-centric / institution-centric identity and ideology.

    Call it missional or organic or relational — whatever you call it, I think it represents a LOT of people realizing a need to drop their inherited religious polarizations (converter / convertee, etc..) while freely and even recklessly living out God’s love and empathy in us, towards all people – becoming more authentic and intimate with their community and with the very heart of Christ.

  6. Excellent thoughts. While I have my gripes with the “missional community” I really resonate with this. I posted some meager thoughts over in my space.
    link to

  7. “Mission is not something the church does as an activity; it is what the church IS through the mystery of its formation and memory of its calling. The church is God’s missionary people.” (Roxburgh and Boren, 45) Run it through Eph. 3 works well (and maybe add Romans 8). Mystery, Memory, Mission!!

  8. John, I agree that there is an aspect of pushback implied by missional — against “evangelism” that has no cost, separated from living among and with.. demonstration and declaration held together, but demonstration always undergirds and precedes.

  9. Posted this on Rick’s blog too. My definition: Going where God goes and doing what God does.

  10. I like the many short descriptives … they are definitely helpful for their big-picture insights. However, since I come from the Planet Detailia instead of the Planet Thematica, may I offer my one sentence paradigm definition of the holistic missional movement?

    “The holistic missional movement is the radical (i.e., radix, at-the-root) and intentional integration of all seven separate ‘projects’ that have been adopted individually or in an incomplete combination by various other movements claiming some connection to being ‘missional’ – the theological perfection, cultural incarnation, experimental ecclesiology, deconstructive journey, mystical existence, prophetic imagination, and covenant place projects.”

    (I know that’s a very long sentence, but I did take an awfully big breath and typed very fast after all, and if you say it all and type it all in one breath, it must be “legal,” right?!)

    I’d already planned to post on this subject before Easter to expand this definition into a description of ways that denominations, ecumenical groups, and ministry collaborations integrate around one or more of these projects — and the problems that typically happen when they don’t include all seven. So, there it is, a view from my planet, for what it’s worth …

    P.S. Posted on Rick’s blog also.

  11. OK, one sentence, too hard… I’ll just say that “neighborhood” scares me. It works in the developed West because the needs are largely urban and there’s enough food to go round – the great social need is generally to care for the urban poor.

    But 50% of the world is rural, urbanisation in many places is unfortunate, 1 billion (and rising) are starving, there’s not enough food, and agriculture is in all kinds of strife. What “missional” looks like shouldn’t just get defined by the West. I’m increasingly seeing a desperate, urgent need for “missional” to engage with issues of food security, sustainable agriculture, rural needs – “the word became flesh and blood and moved into Galilee”.

  12. Len, I wrestle with this. The hardest NT passages for me are those that talk about “sheep and goats” / “shaking the dirt from your feet and leaving town” / etc… These seem so contrary to love that forgives 7×70 – a prodigal-like love that even includes enemies. SO contrary.

    Stetzer seems to be furthering this binary-colonial-missionary mindset of “we that have Truth” crusading into a neighborhood to convert “those that don’t have truth.” We’re already IN the neighborhood (physically-local, and virtually-global – thank you Mick). We can’t “shake the dirt” and walk away. We are far more like “them” than professional-institutional religion would have us believe.

    Of all people (!), Norman Lear wrote a very thoughtful (perhaps “missional” confession) piece in yesterday’s Washington Post religion section, called “A church for people like us.” I hope you enjoy it:

    link to

  13. I was listening to Alan Hirsch’s talk this morning (from Rick Meigs’ link) and came away with a fresh reminder: Those who are Christ followers join him on his mission to plant the seeds of the Gospel, trusting that the Spirit will raise of churches from those seeds.

  14. I’m excited to see the formation of this. I can’t help hoping every time. 🙂 No one sentence definition from me though – I can’t improve on many of the good ones already. But I am looking forward to hearing more about this.

  15. Mick… Really good thoughts about the danger in westernizing any definition of missional. This westernizing happens when we attempt to define what it looks like instead of what it is. So when you note that you’re “increasingly seeing a desperate, urgent need for ‘missional’ to engage with issues,” you are looking for outcomes, i.e., what it looks like. Specific outcomes or reflections of the missional life are based on the context of one’s neighborhood. So to repeat what Len noted above, missional is not an activity, it is what the church IS.

    I often say that missional describes what happens when you and I replace the “come to us” invitations with a “go to them” life. A life where “the way of Jesus” informs and radically transforms our existence to one wholly focused on sacrificially living for him and others and where we adopt a missionary stance in relation to our culture. It speaks of the very nature of the Jesus follower. Out of this missional life comes contextualized concerns, like helping urban poor, sustainable agriculture, rural needs, and how the gospel is communicated.

  16. Bill… regarding being missional (or not)… I wonder if you have seen/heard the rant by Mr Driscoll regarding the movie ‘Avatar’?

  17. Really? One woman and how many men?

    And are any of those men of a color other than pasty pale?

    So … exactly how missional will this be?


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