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“Missional” is a hard word to pin down. This Christianese adjective has 7 distinct meanings!

definition of missionalChristian culture has its fad words, just like any subculture. The term Jesus freak was pretty popular back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and then it disappeared for a few decades until D.C. Talk briefly resurrected the term’s popularity with their chart-busting single “Jesus Freak.” And then more recently the terms intentional and incarnational have held sway as buzzwords. Another buzzword that’s currently popular is missional.

The adjective missional has been around a while—I have citations going back to the late 19th century. But what exactly people mean by missional seems to change every 20 years. I have cataloged 7 different, distinct senses of the word. Its earliest meaning is basically to refer to “missionary work.” And its latest meaning has to do with the way Christians interact with non-Christians in a Western, postmodern culture. Scroll down through the very long definition below to see all 7 senses.

If you skip over the quotations in the definitions and just jump to the numbered definitions, I won’t blame you at all. There’s a lot of content below (and believe me, I have heavily edited it down as much as I can). However, if you’re curious about a certain sense of the word missional and you want to learn more about how Christians use the word in that particular sense, then you can look at the quotations and maybe check out some of the books that that usage of the word appears in.

I would also recommend that you scroll down to sense 7, the last one, because it’s the one that’s very popular at the moment.

And if you do nothing else, then just look at the roman numerals I, II, and III at the very beginning of the definition to get a broad overview of how this term’s meaning has changed over time and how it is frequently labeled a buzzword.

I have cataloged 7 senses of the word, but I’m sure that within a year or two we’ll see additional senses arise. Do you think there’s a sense that I’ve omitted and that should be represented here? Please post in the comments and tell me more about what the word “missional” means to you. And if you can point me to a quotation or a book, then all the better!

The definitions below are also available as a downloadable PDF.


missional adj. See various senses.

I. General etymology. II. Confused meaning. III. Status as buzzword.

I. The adjective missional in its various senses generally alludes to one or more of the following concepts: (1) the idea of “sending” or being “sent” (Latin missio); (2) a mission in the sense of the purpose of an organization; (3) a mission in the sense of a critical task; (4) the technical theological concept of the missio Dei (“mission of God”); (5) the idea that Christians are “missionaries” to their local communities and cultures.
II. Starting in the 1980s, Christians have occasionally remarked on the shifting and sometimes unclear meaning of the adjective missional: “The noun missioner and the adjective missional have come into current use to express shades of meaning not found in the traditional connotation of their representative near synonyms missionary and mission, used as both noun and adjective” (Dubose God Who Sends (1983) 35); “If you are confused by the term missional church, you are not alone—it’s so new that most Christians are still coming to terms with it” (Minatrea Shaped By God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches (2004) 10); “The word missional has tended, over the years, to become very fluid, and it was quickly co-opted by those wishing to find new and trendy tags for what they were doing, be they missional or not” (Hirsch The Forgotten Ways (2009) 82); “Missional is a relatively new word that continues to face some ambiguity in definition” (Plummer Forty Questions About Interpreting the Bible (2010) 325); “Given the current confusion regarding what the word missional means, I want to make clear from the outset what I have in mind when I use this term” (Tyra The Holy Spirit in Mission: Prophetic Speech and Action in Christian Witness (2011) 22); “So, the term missional is now being appropriated at a massive rate. But so very often this is being done without the foggiest idea of what it actually means” (Frost Road to Missional: The Journey to the Center of the Church (2011) 11); “There is something a bit odd about the word missional and the phrase Missional Christian. Even though more and more people are using missional these days, it’s grammatically a bit of a stretch…. Many dictionaries don’t list such a word” (Everts Go and Do: Becoming a Missional Christian (2012) 10); “Seemingly a dozen books come out each year with the word missional in their title, but a survey of these books reveals that the word has significantly different meanings and is used in different ways by different authors, organizations, and churches—leading to much confusion about what, exactly, the term missional means” (Keller Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (2012) 251).
Therefore it can be difficult to determine exactly what missional means in a given context. Sometimes the term will neatly match one of the 7 senses defined below. Other times the term will incorporate two or more of these 7 senses. And there is no doubt that the term will continue to accumulate new senses over time, and these new senses will be clearly understood only by asking the people using the term to clarify what they mean when they say something is missional.
III. Since the late 2000s, Christians have frequently labeled the term missional as a buzzword: “One of the current buzzwords in what might be loosely characterized as the buzz marketing of the new and improved postmodern church is the adjective missional” (Raschke GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn (2008) 62); “The term ‘missional church’ and the research project were intended to stimulate a conversation, which is certainly what happened. But in the process, the word ‘missional’ became a cliché, a buzz word, a catch-all phrase that could mean everything and nothing” (Guder in Missiology XXXVII. (2009) 65); “The word missional has become an evangelical buzzword that has been the subject of much discussion in recent years…. The phrase ‘becoming missional’ is in danger of turning into a cliché” (Jones, ed. Perspectives on Family Ministry: Three Views (2009) 177); “During the last ten years ‘missional church’ has become a buzzword in the North American context and beyond” (Mortensen, Nielsen Walk Humbly with the Lord: Church and Mission Engaging Plurality (2010) 167); “In recent years, as I’ve mentioned, missional has overtaken emerging as the defining buzzword of cool Christianity” (McCracken Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (2010) 141); “The term missional (and its nearest kin missional church) seems to be in the ‘in’ word currently. In Christian circles everywhere people are using the word missional” (Synan Spirit-Empowered Christianity in the Twenty-First Century (2011) 529); “Currently, it seems almost impossible to attend any Christian conference without hearing the word missional. Recently, a Christian leader said to me rather dismissively, ‘Missional—it’s the latest jargon that everybody is using, yet nobody really understands. Sounds good, though’” (Quicke Preaching As Worship: An Integrative Approach to Formation in Your Church (2011) 143).
See also *–al words; *incarnational; *missiologist; *missiology; *missions; *theological-missional.
1. Having to do with the church’s worldwide evangelistic and missionary efforts, especially in parts of the world where the people have never heard the gospel.
This is “missional” in the sense of God “sending” (Latin missio) Christians into the world to share the gospel. This mission began in earnest with the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20).
See also *missions-minded.
1882 The Christian Monthly and Family Treasury for 1882 169 : Pope Gregory VII … issued a circular in which he called upon Christendom to awake to the deliverance of Greece and Palestine by the conversion of the Saracens. But the missional idea, though to be effected by force of arms, was foreign to the sympathies of the age. The summons met no response. 1882 Bourne The Heroes of African Discovery and Adventure 191 : We must mention the famous Bishop Tozer and his disciples, choristers, and flock, with the great tall house, topped with an irregular steeple, which forms their church. Bishop Tozer is called the “Missional Bishop of Central Africa” and by some the “fighting parson,” for on one occasion one of the rough natives could not be spiritually appealed to until he had first felt the superiority of the Bishop’s physical strength. 1907 Holmes The Age of Justinian and Theodora 687 : Several prelates, whose missional activities brought over whole districts and even nationalities to their creed 1972 McGavran, ed. The Conciliar-Evangelical Debate: The Crucial Documents, 1964–1976 (1976) 228 : The task now, however, as it seems to come up, is no longer simply one of missionary methodology but of missional theology. 1987 Am. Baptist Quarterly VI. 73 : The exciting missional adventure of planting new churches in an age of confused priorities offers a wonderful opportunity of calling people to the Lordship of Christ and to the newness which comes when the reign of God is recognized in our midst. 1990 Cousar A Theology of the Cross: The Death of Jesus in the Pauline Letters 153 : Readers are reminded of the missional context. The sufferings are not valued simply because of what Paul experiences and perceives about himself … , but for what they mean for the outreach of the church. 1996 Matson Household Conversion Narratives in Acts: Pattern and Interpretation 93 : Standing in the global context of Acts 10:1–11:18 are four stories of conversion, each of which prepares for and anticipates the conversion of Cornelius…. They also serve to widen the geographical parameters of the church’s mission in accordance with the missional program of Acts 1:8. 1996 Robert American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice 3 : The missionary men were supposed to devote themselves single-mindedly to disseminating the Gospel in preached or written form. The missionary women were expected both to assist their husbands in the primary missional responsibility of spreading the Gospel and to evangelize the women, teaching them of Christ.
2. Having to do with the programs, ministries, policies, or aims of a particular church (or denomination); having to do generally with what a church is doing.
1971 Year Book of the Am. Baptist Convention 251 : We called objective 5 “missional action.” Missional action is a new term for old phrases such as “the task of the church.” … Under our guidance, local congregations went at “missional action” in varied ways. 1972 The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1972 ¶826 : The aims of the Council on Ministries are: to provide a continuing means for representative lay people, clergy, and administrators to study our ever-changing missional needs, to determine priorities, and to adjust emphases between sessions of the General Conference. 1973 Theological Education Fund Learning in Context: The Search for Innovative Patterns in Theological Education 56 : The missional task of the Church is to serve man and honour God. By definition, Church mission implies that the Church is in action. It is in continuous actualizing process. 1975 Rosten Religions of America 181 : In the 1970s there are strong movements toward giving women their due place in the administrative and missional life of the church. 1976 The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1976 ¶1005 : The council shall … make changes in missional priorities necessitated by emergencies or by other significant developments. 1977 Lindgren, Shawchuck Management for Your Church 49 : Every church must answer the missional question of what it purposes to do, and every organization within the church must be clear as to why it exists and what it expects to accomplish. 1980 The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1980 ¶803(8) : Missional Priority: A missional priority is a response to a critical need in God’s world which calls for The United Methodist Church’s massive and sustained effort through primary attention and ordering or reordering program and budget at every level of the Church, as adopted by the General Conference or in accord with ¶1006. This need is evidenced by research or other supporting data, and the required response is beyond the capacity of any single general agency or Annual Conference. 1981 Jet (13 Aug.) 15 : If the United Methodist Church is to remain one of the country’s most racially diverse Protestant denominations, more minority ministers must be recruited and enlisted by the church…. That sentiment was expressed repeatedly at a recent convention of church leaders in Kansas City, Mo., Strengthening the ethnic minority local church is the denomination’s single missional priority for the 1981–84 quadrennium. 1981 Thomas Children in the Worshipping Community 40 : Ability to think historically, in sequence and in relationships, opens up the whole matter of church history and tradition to the older child. The church year, its festivals, and the special missional characteristics of the particular church can be understood by the child and proudly accepted. 1985 Goen Broken Churches, Broken Nation: Denominational Schisms and the Coming of the Am. Civil War 46 : Denominationalism flourished as a unique produce of the American experience…. It was (and is) primarily purposive, or missional, operating as “a voluntary association of like-hearted and like-minded individuals, who are united on the basis of common beliefs for the purpose of accomplishing tangible and defined objectives.” 1988 Nelson, ed. Congregations: Their Power to Form and Transform 209 : He links regular weekly visits with the unchurched, newcomers, constituents, and members by both clergy and laity to “concrete missional objectives” and “corporate, dynamic worship” as key elements in congregations that are spiritually alive. 1989 Shockley Campus Ministry: The Church Beyond Itself ix : Five Missional Priorities for the Future: Evangelism as an educational task; The recovery of vocation; Education for world citizenship; Ethnic minority ministries; Issues of human sexuality. 1990 Foltz Religious Education in the Small Membership Church 160 : The purpose or missional objective statement tells why a church exists. 1991 Carmella Houses of Worship and Religious Liberty: Constitutional Limits to Landmark Preservation and Architectural Review 000 : In both functional and visual aspects, the house of worship reflects and influences all dimensions of a religious community’s life—its primary theological principles, its liturgical practices, its faith renewal movements, its doctrinal development, its missional goals, and its identity. 1994 Brackney The Baptists 52 : In the Fundamentalist Baptist movement … pastors are highly authoritarian, creating the total program for the congregation and completely determining the theological and missional profile of a church. 1997 Okholm The Gospel in Black and White: Theological Resources for Racial Reconciliation 179 : This is the text of the 1972 ministry statement of the congregation of Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., which has served as a missional purpose for that congregation for much of the past twenty-five years.
3. Having to do with a church’s activities in serving the poor or addressing social injustice; having to do with an understanding of the church’s God-given responsibilities in these areas.
1969 Christianity and Crisis (23 Jun.) 183 : The world cares little whether Christians are all together; it cries desperately for our insights into and efforts toward ending racism, imperialism, militarism and other forms of human exploitation…. I feel the decision [to disband the United Christian Movement] highlights the desperate need for clearly focused missional communities at the local level, communities that are truly ecumenical in their commitment to this struggle. 1978 Birch, Rasmussen The Predicament of the Prosperous 117 : In the Christian tradition, we have affirmed that humanity is called not only to acknowledge its sinfulness, but is also called to renewal, creativity, and reunion. The church has understood itself as a missional community called by God to help reunite broken creation. 1980 Nichols Footsteps in the Sea 96 : Renewed churches across the country and the world … are seriously addressing themselves to the task of fulfilling the missional requirements of Jesus. Wherever such churches have turned their attention toward their community and the world with need-serving compassionate ministries, there has been an enthusiastic response on the part of the people. 1982 Krass Evangelizing Neopagan North America 66 : If we are to be faithful to Jesus’ intention, and to what the Spirit is saying to the churches in their missional involvement with the physically poor, then we have to recognize this: the gospel comes first to the actual poor. 1985 Birch What Does the Lord Require?: The Old Testament Call to Social Witness 76 : The community of faith when it participates in brokenness is especially judged because it is charged with the missional task of enabling and promoting justice and wholeness. The implication for the modern church is that we cannot simply point to the brokenness of the world but must confront the brokenness of our own lives and communities. 1989 Wilke Signs and Wonders: The Mighty Work of God in the Church 76 : Equally difficult was the missional outreach to the very poor, Spanish-speaking neighbors in the colonias. Health care needs are immense in Matamoros, so the church formed two health clinic/preaching stations. Their young doctors volunteered time, and lay pastors served the preaching points. 1998 Guder, ed. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America 135 : The missional church is called not only to demonstrate healing among its own members but also to be a peacemaker and justice-maker in the world. 1998 Bagwell Preaching for Giving: Proclaiming Financial Stewardship with Holy Boldness 31 : We need to remember and affirm that many of today’s finest colleges, universities, hospitals, homes for orphans and widows, retirement centers, and ministries for the poor had their origin in the missional outreach of the church. 2000 Lovin Christian Ethics: An Essential Guide 94 : A missional church may call for many other kinds of action too. Injustice that exploits people and puts their lives and labor at the service of masters they did not choose calls out for change, no less than the choice to serve false values and limited goals with a devotion they do not deserve. When a missional church takes action against injustice, this is also a way of proclaiming faith in God. 2001 Wiseman And Now … Next Door and Down the Freeway: Developing a Missional Strategy for USA/Canada 35 : Articles championing social justice and discussing the plight of the poor appeared in the Herald of Holiness. To minister among the poor was central to the missional identity of the church. 2004 Barrett, ed. Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness x : A missional church is a church that is shaped by participating in God’s mission, which is to set things right in a broken, sinful world, to redeem it, and to restore it to what God has always intended for the world. 2009 Henard, Greenway, eds. Evangelicals Engaging Emergent: A Discussion of the Emergent Church Movement 235 : The definition of missional among some emerging churches deemphasizes the evangelistic aspect of that mission in favor of social transformation, and that change of emphasis seems to be linked to their vision of the kingdom. 2010 Stetzer, Rainer Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations 68 : Missional churches seem to speak more of unserved peoples rather than unreached peoples. As we engage to deliver justice, we must also deliver the gospel regardless of anyone’s status in a culture. 2012 Hammett, Merkle, eds. Those Who Must Give an Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline 190n1 : Jonathan Leeman has also challenged us to consider that many proponents of the term missional fill that term with objectionable meaning. He argues that some people using the term missional emphasize social justice in a way that fosters a new liberalism. 2013 Putman, Harrington, Coleman DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples 13 : Churches in the missional category are sometimes referred to as social justice churches.
4. Having to do with God’s mission or purposes; having to do with any of various interpretations or applications of the technical theological concept of missio Dei (Latin for “God’s mission” or “the mission of God”).
See also *missio Dei.
1983 DuBose God Who Sends 129 : This, as we have observed, is the missional impulse. As impulse compels expression, the missional purpose comes to fruition. As our very being is constituted of the divine mission, so the full flowering of who and what we are can only come in the living out of the divine missional purpose. 1993 Senn The Witness of the Worshiping Community: Liturgy and the Practice of Evangelism 74,75 : We must clearly understand that baptism is initiation into a community which is called to participate in the mission of God…. Connecting baptism with the church-year calendar would reinforce its missional dimensions. Baptism at Epiphany would proclaim God’s adoption of new sons and daughters who will be identified with the mission of his only-begotten Son. 1998 Guder, ed. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America 222 : When we consider the structures of the missional church, our task is to apply the theological understandings rooted in the missio Dei to the church’s structures. 2000 Grenz Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era 322 : Viewed as a missional community, then, the church finds its central qualities in the mission of the triune God. The church’s true nature as a community sent by God arises from its mandate to be the bearer of the divine mission in the world. 2004 George Called As Partners in Christ’s Service: The Practice of God’s Mission 6 : Jesus identifies himself as the “one sent by the Father.” His missional identity is explicit and compelling: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4:34). Jesus emphasizes his equal partnership in God’s mission: “My Father is still working, and I also am working” (5:17)…. Jesus accomplished his unique part in missio Dei, but God’s mission is not yet completed. God is still at work in every nation of the world. 2004 Greenman, Sumner Unwearied Praises: Exploring Christian Faith Through Classic Hymns 145 : In recent years one popular way to maintain this distinctiveness has been to say that mission is not ours but God’s, the missio Dei, and that the Church is inherently “missional” by nature because it reflects God’s own essentially missionary nature. 2005 Gibbs, Bolger Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures 52 : I definitely see Revive as missional, although that’s in terms of participating in the missio Dei…. It is God’s mission we are participating in, and it is not something we can come up with on our own. It is about participating and cooperating with God’s mission. 2006 Sanders in Bailey, ed. Pursuing the Mission of God in Church Planting 25 : Missional then, no matter what noun it is modifying, must qualify the meaning of that noun by referencing God’s mission as defined by Scripture. More specifically, missional limits any noun that it modifies to the temporary mission task of the Church to make disciples of all ta ethne for God’s glory and worship … Therefore, a local church is missional when it intentionally pursues God’s mission for His glory among all peoples by following His patterns and His ways of expanding His kingdom. 2008 Van Gelder, ed. The Missional Church and Denominations: Helping Congregations Develop a Missional Identity 189 : The missional church movement challenges churches to look deeply and honestly into what God is up to, to imagine how we might bring the best of our gifts to that mission, and to offer our lives and our church as a living sacrifice in that mission. 2008 Driscoll, Breshears Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods 220 : It is important to define the characteristics of a missional church. We propose the following eleven marks as being those that identify a missional church, one that is on God’s mission to make disciples of all nations. 2009 Croft, Mobsby, Spellers Ancient Faith, Future Mission: Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Traditions 17 : We are God’s fellow-workers, God’s allies in mission to the world. The word people are using to capture this idea—that we are called-out-so-we-can-be-sent-back-in—is missional. Sadly, it’s already become a kind of buzzword in many settings. 2010 Cole Organic Leadership: Leading Naturally Right Where You Are 10 : These leaders are missional, engaged in the world as partners with God in his redemptive mission that targets all of human experience, not just church life. 2010 Mortensen, Nielsen Walk Humbly with the Lord: Church and Mission Engaging Plurality 108 : To be sure, the emphasis on the “missional church” with its accompanying shift away from a narcissistic ecclesiocentrism to a focus on God’s mission in the world is a healthy corrective to the Christendom tendencies of the church. 2010 Hesselgrave, Stetzer MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium 24 : A missional ecclesiology is biblical, historical, contextual, praxeological (it can be translated into practice), and eschatological. With reference to the church, the term sees the church as the instrument of God’s mission in God’s world. 2012 Zscheile, ed. Cultivating Sent Communities: Missional Spiritual Formation 6 : By “missional church” I mean a church whose identity lies in its participation in the triune God’s mission in all of creation. 2012 Bradley From Memory to Imagination: Reforming the Church’s Music 135 : The term missio Dei, “mission of God,” is best used to describe the meaning of the term “missional.” 2012 Keller Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City 251 : Before the term missional exploded throughout the Christian world, it was primarily used in mainline Protestant and ecumenical circles in a manner closely associated with the Latin phrase missio Dei. The phrase was originally coined to convey the teaching of Karl Barth about the action of God in the world.
5. Having to do with Christians engaging with the people of their surrounding community in order to invite them to come to church and to share the gospel with them; having to do with the ways a church is active in its community.
1983 Callahan Twelve Keys to an Effective Church 2 : “Missional” refers to the fact that in doing effective mission, the local congregation focuses on both individual as well as institutional hurts and hopes. 1987 Hopewell Congregation: Stories and Structures 17 : The gospel the congregation witnesses to other groups is more likely encountered in those groups’ own settings than imported from our parish home. Given such a perspective, missional words and actions would spring … from the promise that God is already in Christ reconciling the world of each group … that our local church is privileged to approach in mission. 1989 White The Protestant Tradition: Traditions in Transition 151 : The original reasons for the formation of the Methodist tradition in worship were missional. John Wesley faced the problem of reaching unchurched masses in the new industrial and mining centers of England. 1989 Wilke Signs and Wonders: The Mighty Work of God in the Church 75 : Like the proverbial chicken and the egg, it’s hard to say which came first, church growth or missional outreach. The congregation’s approach to evangelism is to urge—really urge—the laypeople to invite their friends, their working associates, and their neighbors to church. 1998 Guder, ed. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America 135 : The missional church works in the world to show God’s love and compassion to others outside the church. God’s love is too great to be kept only within the church; it has to be shared. 2001 Dean, Clark, Rahn, eds. Starting Right: Thinking Theologically About Youth Ministry 86 : Mark suggests that “missional” youth ministry primarily engages in evangelism, since its goal is “reaching youth for Christ.” 2006 McKnight “What Is the Emerging Church?” (27 Oct.) : The central element of this missional praxis is that the emerging movement is not attractional in its model of the church but is instead missional: that is, it does not invite people to church but instead wanders into the world was the church. It asks its community “How can we help you?” instead of knocking on doors to increase membership…. It wants to embody a life that is other-oriented rather than self-oriented, that is community-directed rather than church-oriented. 2007 Kimball They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations 56,239 : I think of the Jesus who appeared to his disciples and said that they have a mission not to create an inwardly focused community and to complain about the world but rather to go out and with the power of the Spirit live missional lives, bringing the light of Jesus to others…. I know several pastors who are creating missional cultures in their churches, encouraging their people to befriend those who are outside the church and draw them into community with those who are following Jesus. 2007 Metzger Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church 126 : This missional orientation will include greater attention to what we wear and how we relate to the community around our church if we wish to have a sacramental and salt-and-light presence in the community. 2008 Volkman Assessing Missional Orientation: Observing Biblical Community 70 : In practical terms, a missional church might seek to involve as many, or more, people to be serving out in the community as those serving inside the church walls. 2009 Wrenn Innovative Planning: Your Church in 4-D 54 : The missional movement among churches emphasizes going beyond the church walls to make disciples, meeting people where they actually are, to meet their needs with the Gospel of Christ. 2010 Stetzer, Rainer Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations 67 : One North American church’s Web site recently identified their ministry as missional, which they proceeded to define as “reaching out to the community to invite them to come.” 2011 Hirsch, Ford Right Here, Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People 50 : The missional posture requires a go-to-them approach.
6. Similar to the immediately preceding sense, but this sense has the added meaning that the Christians are engaging with the people in their community by deliberately participating in the local culture.
When people use senses 6 and 7, they sometimes also figuratively refer to Christians as being “missionaries” (see *missionary 2) in their local communities and local cultures. Sometimes they even figuratively refer to their neighborhoods and workplaces as “mission fields” (see *mission field 2).
See also *missional community; *missional dating.
1991 Van Engen God’s Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church 141 : In this new arena of the Church’s nature we found that some “new words” better expressed what the Church is because they demonstrate what the Church is becoming in its missional calling to the world. Thus the Church emerges from its Center, Jesus Christ, moves into the world, and there finds dynamically described its marching orders for a missionary presence in the world. 1993 Westing Create and Celebrate Your Church’s Uniqueness: How to Design a Church Philosophy of Ministry 162 : The church is in existence to penetrate the city, not to build the church…. Christians are trained and equipped ultimately to penetrate culture for Christ. It sees itself as a missional church where the pastor leads the congregation to make an impact on society. Church services are conducted in a more professional fashion that has the visiting unsaved person as a major focus…. Christian nurture would take place in services other than the Sunday morning worship service. 1999 Van Gelder, ed. Confident Witness, Changing World: Rediscovering the Gospel in North America 243 : I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop early Monday morning enjoying the taste of coffee, listening to the buzz of the Boomers getting their lattes before tackling the bridge to downtown Vancouver. This is my little missional context. I sit with laywers, real estate salespersons, builders. 2006 Stetzer Planting Missional Churches 19 : Missional means adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound. Think of it this way: missional means being a missionary without ever leaving your zip code. 2006 Hsu The Suburban Christian: Finding Spiritual Vitality in the Land of Plenty 193 : I am still figuring out what it means to be part of the particular suburban community of Downers Grove. I have hardly begun to grasp what it means to consider myself a citizen of Chicago. But I am learning to have a wider, missional perspective on matters both local and global. 2007 Hagey In Search of the Church 196 : Let me try to describe a missional church. It is focused outward rather than inward, so that the Sunday gathering is not seen as the main event. It is engaging with the culture around it without being absorbed by that culture. 2008 El-Faizy God and Country: How Evangelicals Have Become America’s New Mainstream 229 : The emergent groups … emphasize what they call “missional living”—mixing with the world rather than isolating themselves behind church walls. 2008 Hansen Young, Restless, and Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists 149 : He sees great promise in the missional approach because church members share the mission to take the gospel outside church walls. Men who like softball play in city leagues. Women who like stamping join clubs. 2010 Driscoll, Breshears Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe 354 : To be missional, a church meeting has to fit the culture it is in rather than being a subculture imported from another time or place. 2011 Frost, Hirsch The Leap of Faith: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure, 204 : We might have inadvertently given the impression that you needed to … move to the darkest part of the Amazon to be missional, but we firmly believe that it takes courage to simply say yes to the requests and invitations of our neighbors. We firmly believe the mission field is in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Bangalore, India, but it’s also in your next-door neighbor’s shed or the local Burger King. We’ve seen people finding their mission field in a bar in Birmingham, England.
7. Similar to the immediately preceding sense, but this sense has the added meaning that such cross-cultural interaction is actually part of the church’s core mission—that such cross-cultural interaction is part of the church’s reason for existence. In addition, this sense almost always refers to cross-cultural interaction by Christians who live in Western, postmodern cultures.
People who use the term missional in this sense frequently point to Lesslie Newbigin (1909–1998), a missionary and *missiologist, as the originator of the various concepts associated with this sense of the term missional; interestingly, Newbigin never used the term missional in any of his books.
The term missional was widely popularized in 1998 with the publication of Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (see citations for 1998 and 2005b), edited by Darrell Guder and co-written by a team.
Regarding the choice of the term missional in that book, Guder later made these two comments: “We needed, somehow, to find a way to talk about the fundamentally missional nature of the church without using terms freighted with all kinds of baggage. By proposing the term ‘missional’ we wanted to claim the right to define what it means” (in Husbands, Treier, eds. The Community Of The Word: Toward An Evangelical Ecclesiology (2005) 114); “Our little group of missiological researchers … wanted to find a way to summarize the implications of the classic consensus statement advanced by Vatican II in both Lumen Gentium and Ad Gentes Divinitus: ‘The church on earth is by its very nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, it has its origin in the mission of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ By adding the suffix ‘al’ to the word ‘mission,’ we hoped to foster an understanding of the church as fundamentally and comprehensively defined by its calling and sending, its purpose to serve God’s healing purposes for all the world as God’s witnessing people to all the world” (in Princeton Seminary Bulletin XXVIII. (2009) 252).
Some commentators have suggested that the term missional is an attractive word choice partly because it allows Christians to talk about the church’s work in the world while avoiding traditional terms such as missions and missionary work that are alleged to be encumbered by dated or simplistic understandings of the church’s role in the world. See, for example, the Guder quote in the paragraph above (“freighted with all kinds of baggage”) and these comments: “The term missional … probably reflects a kind of post-colonial embarrassment about the term missionary, which has too often been associated with a colonial version of Christianity” (McLaren A Generous Orthodoxy (2005) 115,116); “The term ‘missional’ is gaining currency, and has been used in hopes of avoiding the typical reductionism associated with the adjective ‘missionary’” (Barram Mission and Moral Reflection in Paul (2006) 179).
See also *emerging-missional church (EMC); *emerging-missional conversation (EMC); *missional church; *missional conversation.
1994 Sweet FaithQuakes 189 : “The two men were far apart in their theology and I wondered how they got along. They were cut off from other preachers and thrown closely together. One of them said to me, ‘We get along fine. We do not talk theology. We talk cars.’” The postmodern church, if it is to be a missional church rather than an institutional church, needs to learn “car-talk.” 1994 Brownson in International Rev. of Mission (Jul.) 479,482,485 : Two realities are readily apparent to Christians as they examine the present situation of Christianity in its North American context…. We must recognize that our current crisis, in many respects, is a legacy from the enlightenment. Here the writings of Lesslie Newbigin have been formative…. I call the model I am developing a missional hermeneutic, because it springs from a basic observation about the New Testament: the early Christian movement that produced and canonized the New Testament was a movement with a specifically missionary character. One of the most obvious phenomena of early Christianity is the way in which the movement crossed cultural boundaries and planted itself in new places…. A missional hermeneutic begins with the assumption that the mode in which God is present among the faithful is irreducibly multi-cultural. 1995 Bosch Believing in the Future: Toward a Missiology of Western Culture viii : The purpose of this series is to probe these developments from a variety of angles with a view to helping the church understand its missional responsibility to a culture in crisis…. The series examines modern/postmodern culture from a missional point of view. 1998 Guder, ed. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America 4,11 : This missional reorientation of our theology is the result of a broad biblical and theological awakening that has begun to hear the gospel in fresh ways. God’s character and purpose as a sending or missionary God redefines our understanding of the Trinity. 2001 Keller “The Missional Church” (Jun.) : When he [=Newbigin] returned to England some 30 years later, he discovered that now the Western church too existed in a non-Christian society, but it had not yet adapted to its new situation…. The church in the West had not become completely “missional”—adapting and reformulating absolutely everything it did in worship, discipleship, community, and service—so as to be engaged with the non-Christian society around it. 2001 Jones Postmodern Youth Ministry: Exploring Cultural Shift, Creating Holistic Connections, Cultivating Authentic Community 70 : Being missional, learning the culture—dare I say it’s what Jesus himself did? … Groups like the Christian Community Development Association promote the concept of “relocation” as critical to effective urban ministry and discipleship. Relocation means living in the community you serve in order to best know its people and their needs. 2001 Brewer Postmodernism: What You Should Know and Do About It 67 : In a “missional” context, the Church exists primarily to make disciples of its community, which necessitates personal evangelism. This must be the mission and the purpose of the local church if it strives to become a mission outpost within a postmodern society. 2002 Webber The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World 135 : “The missional church among the younger evangelicals”: What I have found among the younger evangelicals is the rejection of the modern Western model of the church and its relationship to culture. 2003 Frost, Hirsch The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church 229 : The missional church is a sent church with one of its defining values being the development of a church life and practice that is contextualized to that culture to which it believes it is sent. 2003 Webber Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community 129 : The missional church rejects the association of Christianity with American values and the association of the church with entertainment, marketing, and corporate business models…. This emerging church calls for honest, authentic faith that seeks to be church in the way of a more radical discipleship. 2004 Barrett, ed. Treasure in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional Faithfulness x : A missional congregation let’s God’s mission permeate everything that the congregation does—from worship to witness, to training members for discipleship. It bridges the gap between outreach and congregational life, since, in its life together, the church is to embody God’s mission. 2005 Gibbs, Bolger Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures 59 : Emerging churches take up this challenge, creating 24-7 missional communities that seek to express the kingdom in all they do. 2006 Smith Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? 9 : Current discussions in the church—from emergent “postmodern” congregations to mainline “missional” congregations—are increasingly grappling with philosophical and theoretical questions related to postmodernity. 2007 Stetzer, Dodson Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too 4 : In its simplest form, the term “missional” is the noun “missionary” modified to be an adjective. Missional churches do what missionaries do, regardless of the context…. If they do what missionaries do—study and learn language, become part of culture, proclaim the Good News, be the presence of Christ, and contextualize biblical life and church for that culture—they are missional churches. 2009 Reid Evangelism Handbook: Biblical, Spiritual, Intentional, Missional 6 : The missional shift will help believers see the importance of living Great Commission lives 24/7 as opposed to thinking of church as a place. 2009 McNeal The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church 000 : We’ve got to take the gospel to the streets. This is the only appropriate missional response to the collapse of the church culture…. I am speaking of an intentional 24/7 church presence in the community, not tied to church real estate. 2009 Addison Movements That Change the World 30 : When we hear the word “missional” the focus tends to be on mission in a first-world postmodern context. 2010 Samson Love Mercy: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey from the American Dream to the Kingdom of God 55 : Missional has become quite the buzzword, and there are as many definitions as there are ways to make bread. Here’s mine: I look at my whole life as a mission from God. My life isn’t divided between church and the real world, so everything I do ought to further the kingdom of God here on earth. It’s a bit like thinking of yourself as a missionary/relief worker in your own hometown. 2010 Hesselgrave, Stetzer MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium 24 : Following L. Newbigin and others, a church that is missional understands that God’s mission calls and sends the church … to be a missionary church in its own society. 2010 Lawrence Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry 205 : Being missional is not the same as being committed to missions, or being missions-minded. Being missional is a way of thinking about the church. 2011 Goheen A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story 4 : At its best, “missional” describes not a specific activity of the church but the very essence and identity of the church as it takes up its role in God’s story in the context of its culture and participates in God’s mission to the world.
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