Note: This post actually follows this introductory post.
One of the key issues in the missional conversation is the idea of mission itself. In fact, it is probably the key idea. And simply put, it means “going out.”
The problem is that missional means different things to different people. Missiologist Ed Stetzer likens it to a Rorshach test (you know, the one where they show you a random inkblot image and ask what you see in it). As Stetzer says, what you see in missional depends on your theological commitments. It is, in some strange irony, the hermeneutical union of authorial intention with postmodernity. When someone says, “I’m missional,” I ask “What does that mean to you?” or “What do you mean by that?”
Stetzer divides the idea into high missional, mid missional, and low missional. These divisions have to do, primarily as I understand them, with the relationship of the church to the Kingdom of God (KoG). Is the KoG coextensive with the church in this age? Does it overlap with the church in this age? Is it completely outside the church in this age? Evangelicals tend towards the first (low), while mainliners tends towards the last (high).
Almost all who use the word missional use it with reference to the missio Dei, the mission of God. (I say “almost all” because there are probably some who just see certain big names using it and jump on the bandwagon with no clue of what it actually means; but it sounds cool.) Some see the missio Dei as predominantly social in nature—the reformation of societal structures of injustice, oppression, and poverty. For them, this is largely unconnected to the church and the “word of the gospel” (as opposed to the supposed living out of the gospel through working for societal change). For them, this is the working out of the KoG apart from the church. They emphasize the horizontal relationships. They see salvation as more corporate than personal , the redemption of societal structures that reconcile people to each other rather than the redemption and reconciliation of lost sinners to God through Jesus (e.g., Brian McLaren).
Others see this as primarily (or at least equally) proclamational in nature, that the gospel must be proclaimed, not just lived. They would reject the saying, “Preach the gospel; use words if necessary.” They would say, “If you haven’t preached the gospel, then you haven’t preached the gospel.” Words, the message of salvation in Jesus alone, is inseparable from the mission. Most would quickly add that words alone are insufficient for the gospel, by which they would point to hypocrisy—that preaching the love of Jesus to the lost without living the love of Jesus around the lost is hypocritical and is not missional living (e.g., Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller). Such living ultimately hampers the proclamation.
For all, mission is a way of life. It is not something we do so much as something we are.
Some of the historic evangelism conferences of the 20th century addressed this issue of the relationship of the church and the KoG. Here is a brief summary of some of these conferences. Let me pick just one example from this chapter. At Madras in 1938, there was a strong emphasis that “church and mission are inseparable.” Missionary E. Stanley Jones objected to this on the grounds that it removed an “absolute conception” from which to live and serve in the world. For him, the KoG was absolute (perhaps ultimate) and the church was relative. The usefulness of this in understanding the issue is that most missional thinkers see the KoG as having priority over the church. The church is the sign or the instrument of the KoG (cf. Stetzer). It is not an end unto itself. It is a tool for something bigger.
I say that to say that a large part of “missional” deals with the conception of the KoG. In this sense, missional thinking is very similar to (though, IMO, not identical to) incarnational ministry: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Missional thinkers typically look to Jesus as the model for ministry (an idea that IMO is significantly flawed, which I will argue for later). We are at work in the world with God (on mission with God) to bring about the KoG just like Jesus. The mission is to work with God to bring about the Kingdom in some limited or small way now, looking for the consummation when God finishes the job, so to speak.
Thus, we are to live in the world like Jesus did, “showing and sharing” the love of God like Jesus did in his ministry. This incarnational focus becomes one of the driving forces of missional for many people.
The difficulty that we will address later is in properly assessing the present nature of the KoG and its relationship to the church.
So let me go back to the beginning of this post. To be missional is to be sent. I think that is an entirely biblical concept—that the church has been sent into the world to preach the gospel so that the church is built of the people who Jesus purchased with his blood. The reason that the church must go to all nations is because Jesus purchased people from all nations (cf. Matt 28:18-20; Rev 5:9).
But let me just jump to the end for a moment: The irony is that missional thinking is “new,” but in some ways really isn’t all that different from what many believe the church is supposed to be: a group of believers that comes together for worship, instruction, fellowship and scatters for evangelism.
Missional thinkers typically reject seeker driven models of ministry. The contrast they draw is between attractional and missional. The church, they believe, should be missional—going out to them; not attractional—asking them to come to us.
Alan Hirsch says it this way:
Missional represents a significant shift in the way we think about the church. As the people of a missionary God, we ought to engage the world the same way he does—by going out rather than just reaching out.