“Missional” is one of those really cool words. Its not like postmodern, now passé. Nobody ever really understood it anyway and yet still it was easy to get caught using it when we didn’t have any idea what it meant. Or biblical (or Biblical, depending on your publisher), where it sounds like it would be easy to stay on safe ground, but then someone might actually call you on it and make you look up and then go through the verse you were flippantly lobbing into a conversation or message.
Yep, Missional ministry, the missional church, and now missional youth ministry – what a great word. It’s still new enough it sounds innovative, and anyone can write it, preach on it, and few if any would ever challenge your use of it. A wide-ranging word that makes us look and feel better, and yet has so much breadth that you really can’t go wrong.
Unfortunately, though (and sorry to bring this up), there actually is an important and valuable conversation going on around the meaning of this word, and what it represents. People that are studying it in light of Scripture and church history are making some noise saying that the western church has drifted so far away from anything resembling God’s call to be missional that we can now barely recognize it.
To most, missional means that we as a group of believers do our Christian thing together and then go out and “be missionaries.” We basically have slightly modified the Western missionary movement by making the starting point us.
Here’s what it means to be a missional people:
- we try to live as “committed followers of Jesus” (meaning we go to church)
- we sing and pray and listen and teach kids and write checks
- we occasionally readjust our schedules to help someone in need, especially at Christmas, Thanksgiving and before kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday
- when we have a special program or event, we invite our “friends and neighbors” to “come” to us
You see, we’re missional, because we sometimes make the effort to look outside the walls of our church and attempt to bring people in; or, if they are too different, or distant, we help them out now and then. See, we’re missional.
The problem is that is not even close to what God has in mind when we say yes to the faith we proclaim. To be missional means that if we are “a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9), then our lives get turned upside down. We don’t “do” missions, we live, breath, plan, think, vote, spend, teach, read, watch, have sex, raise kids, and play video games as we follow Jesus Christ as he brings his kingdom into the world. We don’t bring the kingdom as “missionaries,” we participate in God’s kingdom work as “witnesses” (Acts 1:8).