Is "Missional" the Best Word?
Has the word "missional" lost its meaning? Erik Raymond defends the original definition.
To say that there is significant deployment and discussion of the word “missional” is an understatement. With the discussions there are also opinions; some people love the term and others, well–not so much. As I listen, read, and watch the discussions I am concerned that we may ultimately whiff (swing and miss) on a very important opportunity. From my chair, the miss comes on both sides.
Let me disclose up front that I like the term “missional.” You are doing well if you can adjectivize and deploy a noun that is central to your organization. Being missional is bound up in the Christian’s response to a missional God. God the Father sends the Son to accomplish redemption for his people, sends the Spirit to apply what Christ has done, and then sends the people of God into the world to make and train disciples (Jn. 20.21; Gal. 4.4-6; Mat. 28.19-21). In short, being missional is responding to the gospel by living faithfully as a Christian (it can be broken out to be more than this, but it is not less).
Now onto my concerns:
1.) With those who impugn the term “missional.”
I have had the opportunity to sit down with a fairly prominent critic of the missional movement. His issue was with methodology. He felt that many within the movement were espousing pragmatic, calculating principles that undermine biblical teaching.
As I listen to this type of concern I am conflicted. Some of the observations have merit; it is worth evaluating everything we do to make sure we are not compromising the Scriptures. At the same time there is an initial burden, and initial emphasis upon mission that gets missed. You see the irony here; we toss out the missional movement’s emphasis upon being faithful because we don’t like how they are going about being faithful. If the reaction to their reaction overlooks the problem of reaching people in a largely post-Christian culture then we miss a great opportunity. We should at least be grappling with the issues at hand before smacking-down the methodology.
*Before you blow up what folks are doing and how they are doing it make sure you understand why they are doing it. You may not agree with the methodology but there is value in observing how God may be leading and teaching them.
*Take personalities out of the equation and evaluate biblically. A lot of the things I read and hear seem to come from people who have issues with various personalities rather than ministries. I am not glossing over moral qualifications here but simply assuming these are good, if you don’t like someone’s personality you may still benefit from the big idea behind their ministry.
*Don’t miss the opportunity to rejoice in biblical fidelity and gospel advance because you don’t like the methodologies of some people. If the ones who are criticizing this are not themselves fostering a missional environment then perhaps their methodologies (or even foundations) are unbiblical.
2.) With those who love the term “missional.” I have two big concerns here.
First, I am concerned the term missional could become just another buzzword. Forbid it that we toss around the word to sound important, cool, authoritative or whatever. The word has to mean something.
Second, I am concerned that all of the missional talk fails to account for all of the missional walk. The mission of the church is to make and train disciples (Matt. 28.18-21). By in large the missional movement has worked very hard to emphasize the first half (evangelism, contextualization), but it has, in my view, not adequately accounted for the other half of the equation (training disciples to obey). If by missional all you mean is thoughtful and faithful evangelism then this is a problem. However, if you anchor your missional emphasis in the mission of God and you don’t also emphasize the training of disciples then you are missing the mark.
A follow-up concern to this is with the next generation of missional leaders. If they have not been properly trained in the faith then they will abrogate their calling to maintain sound doctrine. Soon missional would unload its theological significance for social significance. This has not worked out well for liberalism.
*Make missional more about identity than style. Missional will not be just a fad if people are actually doing mission. The missional movement must outlive flannels, faux-hawks and Mumford and Sons.
*Emphasize the fullness of mission. Don’t be just pro-birth, be pro-life. We want to see non-Christians won to faith in Christ and then taught to obey him. Don’t neglect disciple training for disciple making. We have to do both (Matt. 28.19-21). If you are going to root the word in the mission of God then you have got to be faithful to the mission of God. I like what Keller said here:
I’d say you haven’t discipled someone if they only have been equipped to evangelize and bring people to church. If they are truly discipled, they must be motivated and equipped to love their neighbors, to do justice and mercy. And they also must be equipped to integrate their faith with their work, namely, to engage culture.
*Listen to critics and evaluate what you are doing. The critics may just be onto something.
In summary: I like the concept and the practice of being missional. However, if it is going to last then it must expand and fill-out the biblical framework it intends to promote.