What does ‘missional’ mean, anyway?

10 core components of being missional

Jan 6, 2015 by

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“Missional” is a strange new word I, and others in Houston, use a lot these days. But what do we mean when we say “missional”? For starters, it might help to contrast it with the classic understanding of mission.

Foreign missions has to do with a sender (local congregation or mission agency) sending special people (missionaries) to a special place (over there!) to do special things (missions).

That’s not what missional living is all about.

Missional language invites us to imagine a new sender (God) who sends all people to the places they already live to restore all things. No longer do we compartmentalize super Christians who respond to God’s call to go and second-class Christians who choose to stay. The concept of missional living infuses the very definition of “normal Christian” with the call to partner in God’s shalom project right where we are by doing the very things Christ would do if he were living our lives. It invites us to imagine things differently: God, the gospel, the time we are living in, the location we live in, and the ways we’ll spread and live the good news.

So when I say “missional” here are 10 core components of what I mean:

10. The core of the core of missional living is the missio dei (the mission of God). The “sender” is no longer church, but God, who sends the Son, Spirit, and all followers into the world to join what God is already performing. All theology is viewed through this missio dei lens. Placing mission at the core of theology broadens our vision to see God’s loving restoration for all creation — things on Earth, and things in heaven.

9. The assumption of missional living is post-Christendom. We are living in a new epoch in which we can’t take the Christian-ness of culture for granted. Rather than assuming the culture is Christian and therefore all that is needed is to slip a new evangelized soul into an otherwise Christianized cultural glove, missional sees culture itself as no longer “Christian,” and understands that significant portions of western Christendom have always been antithetical to Christianity.

8. The energy of missional living is outward. The church is no longer an “attractional” body but a sending body. God is already present in every human community, which is itself filled with assets and expertise. Thus our ministry is performed with people and never to them. Missional projects partner with and follow the lead of those we’re called to love. This allows us to resist classic missions which too readily lends itself to patronizing and patriarchal colonialism, replicating patterns of the “sending” culture.

7. The locations of missional living are the places where we live, work and play. Locations are no longer the “special places” associated with foreign mission, but our context, our relationships, our cities. Missional thinking is thus radically contextual rather than universal.

6. The duration of missional living is sustained, consistent, long-term relationships over time rather than one-off events or projects. By mentoring, and relocating into the neighborhood we are called to restore, are exceptional examples of this component.

5. The instrument of missional living is we not me: a community approach rather than the sending of individuals. Missional communities such as congregations or missional covenant groups act as a sign and foretaste of gospel for those they are called to love.

4. The goal of missional living is the restoration of creation, including people. Christ followers demonstrate the gospel by seeking the common good, interpreting their actions with words. Missional views restoration — of both souls and systems — as one and the same project of partnering with God. It’s not a new word to describe old actions — for most but not all of us. And because the goal is for all creation, it means that our context is intimately connected to the global village. War, fair trade, oil . . . all these issues are both global and local, what some call “glocal.” Fine examples include 19th century Evangelical’s social concerns, Germany’s Confessing Church, the Anabaptist movement, the Community Development Association movement, the black church’s role in liberating America in the 1960s and infrastructural/economic development overseas.

3. The mobilization of missional living is of every person to join what God is doing. Missional living is a new movement to equip the laity, returning to the people what never should have been taken: ministry. Every Christian and person of good will is special and sent by God into ministry through vocation as much as volunteerism to bring restoration to our locale and global community.

2. The promise of missional living is transformation. God’s quest for the Peace of the city and salvation of humanity reveals a breathtaking love for the world God created and is recreating. It is loving restoration of both what is broken and those who are lost. God’s missional promise that “I am making all things new!” is intimately connected to the “abundant life” that Jesus promised.

1. The new normal of missional living is that everyone is called to be a disciple not just a church member. Daily discipleship to Jesus in a community on shared mission is normative Christianity. Following Jesus is both an invitation and a deep challenge.

What would you add? How does your faith community speak about or live out missional?

Marty Troyer is the pastor of Houston Mennonite Church: The Church of the Sermon on the Mount. He blogs at The Peace Pastor, where this first appeared. 

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