On Being Non-“Missional”

Posted: July 3, 2007 in missional, theology

I am a believer is missional ecclesiology. For me, the issues and imagination of those talking, thinking and intentionally moving in missional ways, while not new, is exciting and necessary for the church as we enter into this evermore post-modern, post-Christian world. One question has been rattling in my head though, and interestingly Scot McKnight has been discussing it some over at his blog, Jesus Creed, and the question is this: Can a church be a missional church without using the word “missional”?

My hunch is that it  can be missional since folks throughout history have had missional imagination without the benefit of the word. Mother Theresa, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr., and some very good people scattered throughout all the churches I’ve ever been a part of were missional without knowing the term or caring to know it.

So here are some of my reflections about the benefits and deficits of using the word missional in existing churches. (Please note that some of these reflections piggy-back on one another.)


1. Missional keeps first things first. It helps churches know that for many of them the core of the gospel (missio dei) has not been their primary purpose. It gives them language to express a different imagination. This is particularly helpful for frustrated folks who want to get the church out of the pew.

2. Words matter. Various terms help use express specific things and may help churches vision missionality as something other than a new program or a new way of doing old things.

3. New words can have the hope of new connotations. Words like “evangelism” and “social action,” which are not nearly the whole of missional ecclesiology, but are often the result of missionality, have become offensive terms to some, both inside and outside the church. People have preconceived and often negative connotations that the term “missional” does not YET have.

4. The word missional leans toward mission. Missional hints to us that our ecclesial imagination should focus on “mission” which is better than “prosperity,” “favor,” and a lot of other theologically and intellectually bankrupt, yet popular, ways of viewing church.


1. People don’t like new sounding things. In fact, they don’t like them so much that when you present something that sounds new, they spend a lot of time discussing why it’s NOT new. You can spend so much time discussing whether something is new that you never get about dealing with reality and the big picture questions.

2.  Words and definitions give opponents fodder for criticism. When something becomes defined, it’s opponents can spend a lot of time seeking out ways to deconstruct and dismantle its validity. Then its proponents have to spend more time explaining and less time doing.You might notice that some academic missionl proponents seem to spend an equal amount of time defining and un-defining “missional”.

3. Adults only learn what they need to know. They don’t want to learn any new ways of being, just what effect is it going to have on them. Plus, people who are desirous of a “goods and services” church don’t want to hear a lot of missional talk, but will respond when they begin to see lives changed by missional living. (Granted some of this will be negative as a church begins to focus on the least and the lost, some people will say, “We don’t want to be involved with “those” people.”)

4. New words sound like new programs. We need to realize that when we speak about a new missional imagination for the church, it sounds to some as if the old imagination was wrong. Some will take that to mean that their ecclesial experience was bad or wrong, and people resent being made to feel that way. After a lifetime of being in community with a group of people, serving one another, and sacrificing for the church, it’s an awful pill to swallow when some old academic or young emergent or church planter comes along and says, “Now, were doing this.”

That’s just my take!

  1. Edward Fudge says:

    A great piece! I wish you would circulate it more widely (for example, to all our leadership teams at Bering).

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