A Simple Definition of Missional
Lately being “missional” has become the new buzzword in Christianity in the West. We have missional church, missional community, missional bible studies, and even missional worship services.
I love everything that being missional is about. I probably use the term more than most people. But when we use the word missional so much that it can mean anything we want it to mean, I think we start to create confusion that is unhelpful. In some camps, missional has come to mean anything that is new, trendy, or designed to reach a younger crowd. And while missional is new, trendy, and does reach a younger crowd, not everything that does these things is missional.
We get the word “missional” from the Latin phrase “missio Dei” or “mission of God.” The idea behind the phrase is that God has a mission that He has been pursuing from the beginning of time to reclaim humans who have wondered away from Him. God, who is the ultimate missionary, has been coming to humanity to turn them back toward Himself.
God’s mission then, takes its ultimate form when Jesus left Heaven and came to Earth to announce and embody the Kingdom of God and suffer, die, and rise again to purchase our entrance into that Kingdom. Jesus’ leaving the Father’s side and embarking on mission is our key to understanding what “missional” really is.
Missional means we leave where we are to spread the good news of the Kingdom where people are.
The truth is we cannot be missional if we don’t leave and go to people. Missio Dei is also where get the word missionary from. So we shouldn’t be surprised that missional embraces the idea of leaving our home or place of comfort behind. It means crossing boundaries, whether those are our neighbors of another race across the street or they are national boundaries as you enter a foreign land.
But another truth about being missional is that we have to speak and spread the Good news. Certainly Jesus did good works. He healed the sick (supernaturally). He cast out demons. He welcomed the poor and the outcast. All of these were displays of the missional God’s heart of love. But all of these signs pointed to a God who wanted a relationship with humans. Jesus came to proclaim the good news that God’s Kingdom was near.
And so being missional means leaving where we are and going to the lost. It means doing works that point to the Kingdom* and declaring the nearness of God’s Kingdom that people can enter into. It’s both.
But your church isn’t missional if it’s not going to where lost people are. Missional is not waiting for lost people to come to you. It’s going to them. Your community isn’t missional if it’s not talking to lost people about the nearness of the Kingdom, no matter how often you hang out at the bar or the local coffee shop. Your Bible study is only missional to the degree that your group goes and shares Jesus with people far away from him. The other things you add the word “missional” to?
Well…you get the idea.
I’m not arguing you stop being missional if you use the word. Instead, let’s direct our effort to doing the things that are truly going out to where lost people are and doing and speaking the words of Jesus.
That is truly missional.
*I would argue that one component that the “missional movement” typically misses is doing the works of Jesus that way that Jesus did them. Healing the sick typically becomes taking care of their physical needs. Jesus laid hands on blind people and they saw. In my mind, this is truly missional.