On Being A Missional Church

just a sofa“Missional” is a confusing term. For some, it’s only a marketing fad. For others, it is a rediscovery of the great commission.

Words matter. Definitions matter. Without clear terms, we can’t talk. Christians must insist on meaningful language. That is the goal of our feature called Definitions. With help from our readers, I’ve assembled this list around the theme “on being a missional church.”

Obviously, these links do not imply our 100% agreement. Rather, these are some articles that the Said At Southern community has identified as helpful.

What do you think? What does it mean to be a missional church?

Leave your thoughts in the comments or add a link to your own article.

How would you define a missional church?

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24 Responses to On Being A Missional Church

  1. Aaron says:

    Good roundup. Appreciated Trevin’s insights, hope to read a few of the other articles as I have time.

    Here’s some of my raw and random thoughts on the subject.

  2. Dave Crater says:

    You guys are way too enamored with the emerging church movement.

  3. Define “enamored.” If you mean that we love it and are wholehearted subscribers, you’d be wrong. If you mean we are anti-emergent and fundamentalistically rigid about it, you’d be wrong too.

    I’d say we view it nearly the same way we view the SBC: a good thing with serious problems in some quarters. The difference between it and the SBC: some of the major problems of the emerging church are gospel-killing.

  4. Dave Crater says:

    “Enamored” = clearly in sympathy with; using the same language as; criticizing the same people as; praising and citing as authority the same people as.

    “Fundamentalistically rigid” = more defensive of historic Christian doctrine, and less offended at error, than is fashionable or than I am comfortable with, or both.

    “Anti-emergent” = historic, orthodox, biblical evangelical.

    “Missional” = a vague, trendy word describing something having to do with spreading the Gospel all the time, but with modern, culture-savvy undertones and apparently containing content which the SBC, the most historically evangelistic and missions-driven denomination in the history of western Protestantism, still needs to be taught by young, hip guys who (with respect) have had to sacrifice little for the Gospel. Also no hint of this kind of trendy language in the writings of William Carey, Billy Graham, and other giants of world missions and evangelism since the Reformation.

    “Gospel-killing” = false, foolish, worldly, soul-killing.

  5. Dave Crater says:

    Correction: “less offended at error” above should be “more offended at error.”

  6. Dave Crater says:

    Lest you think the above too “fundamentalistically rigid,” this is from wikipedia.com’s definition of “missional living”:

    “In this usage “missional” has rapidly entered the lexicon of the growing emerging church movement whose participants have popularized the term, enabling participants in this movement to recognize each other across denominational lines. Different emergents may use the term with different nuances and connotations, but the term persists as essentially a postmodern alternative to the ecclesiology and missiology of Evangelical Christians.”

    You guys are celebrating and exploring the nuances of a term coined by the emerging church movement and which is, in the words of an on-line encyclopedia with no stake in the matter, a post-modern alternative to the missiology of evangelical Christianity.

  7. You guys are celebrating and exploring the nuances of a term coined by the emerging church movement and which is, in the words of an on-line encyclopedia with no stake in the matter, a post-modern alternative to the missiology of evangelical Christianity.

    It’s pretty obvious you haven’t read the blogs linked here much if you think that’s true. Especially the celebrating part.

  8. By “linked here” I mean the folks listed under “Students, Faculty, Alumni;” not the articles listed in the body of this particular post.

  9. Reid says:

    Missional is an adjective. What matters is the question “what is the mission?”

    Perhaps Dave you think that Evangelicalism is doing a great job with her mission…but in America, the church is in decline, more churches will close this year than open and some would just close their eyes and yell at the culture. Not a good mission.

    Many who associate with Emergent are heretical – Christians who believe in both contending and contextualizing the gospel in North America are not.

    I’m not sure of your logic – but simply because a word is not used by Carey or Billy Graham does not make it an evil or useless word.

  10. Todd says:

    “Lest you think the above too “fundamentalistically rigid,” this is from wikipedia.com’s definition of “missional living”:”

    Just a thought, getting definitions from Wikipedia (no matter how cool of a site it is) is highly problematic. I am guessing your profs don’t consider it a valid source in papers.

    While I know i am not SBC, I one who will defend the concept missional long before i would defend emergent. in fact, missional came by way of Lesslie Newbigin and David Bosch long before the emergent crowd grabbed on to it.

    yes, lots of strange stuff in emergent… but i would also say that about anything. just my two, non-sbc thoughts…

  11. Dave Crater says:

    Stephen: This strain is the most obvious case of what I refer to (celebrating is not too strong a word), but there have been others. No question there is good stuff also, but why syncretize the good with emergent nonsense?

    Reid: The evangelical church is not doing a great job, but part of the reason for this is too many people caught up in emergent “missional” trendiness instead of holy living and solid, historically and biblically grounded evangelism. Nobody’s closing their eyes and yelling at the culture. Far too many are gaping wide-eyed at the culture, wanting to be like it and accepted by it. The Gospel doesn’t need to be contextualized. The cultural context needs to be Gospelized. Just because a word is not used by forebears does not mean it’s bad, but when a whole new concept of “missional” living is dreamed up that was entirely foreign to the greats who sacrificed their entire lives to promote the Gospel, a touch of discernment ought to tell us that perhaps we are off-track. As this strain exists to tell us, “missional” is not just a word – it is a way of life and church. It is trendy emergent lingo that says, “I have caught the emergent spirit. Have you?”

    Todd: No, Wikipedia is not a good source for research papers. It is a largely reliable quick reference resource entirely appropriate for blogging.

  12. Tony Kummer says:

    To quote myself (is that vain?):
    Obviously, these links do not imply our 100% agreement. Rather, these are some articles that the Said At Southern community has identified as helpful.

  13. Dave,
    I think you are dealing primarily with straw men. Of course the gospel must be contextualized. You have to do it every day. Let me illustrate.

    What language do you use to talk about Jesus? Answer that and you are contextualizing.

    What does your church worship service sound like, look like, etc.? I am guessing it has a certain culture, musical style etc. that is influenced by wester european/mid 20th century American culture. I am guessing it looks nothing like a 1st century church in Antioch, or a 16th century church in Switzerland.

    It is facile to think that you don’t contextualize. Non Christians must understand what we are saying to them. Of course I agree that we are to live holy and create gospel cultures within the cultures of the world.

    Hudson Taylor took heat in his day for adopting Chinese, dress, food and language in his China Inland Mission. People today are taking heat for adopting post Christian America’s dress, food and idiom. Nothing has changed. Many hold on to a form that is not dictated in Scripture, is informed primarily by the dominant culture (white, western european culture) and then think people compromise for “not doing church the right way”

    Many go too far and become worldly, others do not go far enough into culture and they reach nobody. Those churches are dying off today and closing there doors each year by the thousands.

    There is a faithful middle way – to preach the unchanging Gospel in the changing cultures of the world. Forming cities with cities where a kingdom culture is born and church people live as indigenous missionaries in the post Christian west.

    You can see my essay on Missional here
    http://www.jacobswellnj.org/2007/06/missional.php

    Thanks guys – there are no “good old days to return to”, only faithful followers in every age past. They lived in this present age (fallen and under the dominion of darkness) and preached the gospel in their time as we must in ours.

  14. No question there is good stuff also, but why syncretize the good with emergent nonsense?

    I don’t think you’ll find much of this at all within the Said @ Southern “family.” Many of the folks who have written on this issue have also written about the errors of emergent. I’m not sure where you’re getting this “syncretism” tack.

    Missional does not equal emergent, and one would be wise to realize that before throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  15. Dave Crater says:

    Tony: The “these links do not imply our 100% agreement” can justify anything. Do you see Al Mohler exploring what it means to be “missional” on his blog? R.C. Sproul? John Piper? Nobody talks like this outside the emergent movement and those drifting emergent but reassuring themselves they aren’t.

    Reid: Your “you have a culture in your church, therefore you are contextualizing” can also justify most anything. We both know “contextualization,” like “missional,” refers to an entire movement and mindset about missions, not just involvement with the normal, healthy aspects of culture that come with being human. Smug dismissal of historic western civilization as “white western European” (a curious rejection of one culture alongside your eager embrace of contextualization in postmodern culture) is a hallmark of that movement and mindset.

    Stephen: You are in denial, brother. Trevin Wax has linked to a glowing piece he wrote about “the new buzzword” (missional), and Tony gathered the links above, obviously with the goal of helping everyone learn to be missional.

    Look, you guys are grown men who can decide for yourselves how you’re going to live and minister and what it means to be faithful to God, and I don’t get any pleasure out of disagreeing. It doesn’t make any difference to me whether your blog is half-faithful, half-emergent. If that’s your game, knock yourselves out. But I had to say something in the hopes of helping some Southern brothers develop a little more discernment. Last word is yours, if you wish.

  16. Dave Crater says:

    From John MacArthur’s latest book, “The Truth War” (Thomas Nelson), in an appendix called “Why Discernment Is Out of Fashion”:

    Where are the men and women today with the courage to stand alone? The church in our age has abandoned the confrontive stance. Instead of overturning worldly wisdom with revealed truth, many Christians today are obsessed with finding areas of agreement. The goal has become *integration* rather than *confrontation*. As the church absorbs the values of secular culture, it is losing its ability to differentiate between good and evil…It is interesting to speculate what the church would be like today if Martin Luther had been prone to compromise…Sound doctrine divides, confronts, separates, judges, convicts, reproves, rebukes, exhorts, and refutes error. None of these things is very highly esteemed in postmodern thought. But the health of the church depends on our holding firmly to the truth, for where strong convictions are not tolerated, discernment cannot survive.

  17. Actually, Dave, I don’t think you wanted to “help us learn discernment” at all. I think you went off half-cocked when you saw the word “missional” and that seminary students and alumni were putting together a collage of posts on what the subject means. Part of discernment is being able to define something before being able to adequately and Scripturally analyze it, and that is exactly the point of this post. Tony said nothing about “learning to be missional,” that is something you yourself have read into it.

    What you’re failing to see is that many of us here at S@S are the ones who are going to be answering this “emergent” stuff. Not Mohler, Sproul, or Piper (though each has had something to say at some point). It’s this generation that will be taking the stand you think isn’t being made by our being willing to examine a concept critically. And that’s a valid way to take a stand for the truth. Or were people in the history of faith like John Owen wrong to critically examine positions they thought might be suspect?

    I think you need to take a step back as well as a deep breath, and actually pay attention to what’s being discussed before commenting further.

  18. Dave,

    I’m not sure you are reading what I have actually written. You are lumping everything together into broad categories without listening to what is said. I personally love the works of Mohler, Sproul and Piper – you are obviously fearful of things that I am not saying. I have as much concern as any about Emergent but I don’t want that group to cause people to reject good missiology (how we do missions) because others have chosen to embrace heresy.

    Stephen, thanks for encouraging us to engage in understanding and discernment.

    Praying for our future – that we would be faithful and concerned with communicating the gospel to real lost people.

  19. Dave, here is a helpful read that has the needed balance:
    http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/vision.php

  20. Stephen says:

    and how much time have you guys spent debating the church while someone else spent today investing the gospel in the millions who don’t know Jesus?

  21. Trevin Wax says:

    I had hoped that this post would elicit healthy discussion on how we can best be missionaries to our postmodern culture. Instead, it seems the post has been mired in discussion of whether or not the term missional is “emerging” or not.

    With all due respect, Dave, it is a logical fallacy and an unfair accusation to assume an argument that goes something like this. A likes B. C also likes B. Therefore, A and C are the same. It would be fallacious for you to say, “Baptists believe in the Trinity. Catholics also believe in the Trinity. Therefore, Baptists are Catholics.” This is the type of argument you have used against those who contributed to the missional post, including me personally. “Trevin Wax uses the term missional. The Emerging Church also uses the term missional. Therefore, Trevin Wax is Emerging.” This is poor reasoning at best, and an unfair accusation at worst.

    I am not willing to concede terms like “missional” to the Emerging Church alone. There is value in this term.

    What you see as compromise is actually a fight to keep a good word from being claimed exclusively by what is fast becoming a theologically leftist movement.

  22. hey everyone, just wanted to say this in response to Trevin’s last comment. Don’t let the concept of good missiology be only an emergent idea. And, i say this as someone who has a foot in the emergent world (listen, i believe in the centrality of christ for salvation, the bible is my primary authority for faith and practice so let’s not get too scared).

    being a missionary is what we are all called to do. if you moved to India you’d learn their culture, learn what make them tick and teach them about Jesus and incarnate the gospel to their culture. heck, that’s what Jesus did in the culture he incarnated.

    you don’t have to like emergent. in fact, being emergent / emerging or liking emergent or even slightly respecting emergent is really irrelevant.

    Most of these papers (at least mine cause i haven’t read them all) are most concerned about being a faithful and distinct witness in the world that we live. that takes some major discernment…

    I’m only still in this conversation because my paper is one of the ones listed and i am wondering whether the critics have even read any of them…at least one…

    I love that we’re all so passionate about the gospel… after all we are all part of the body who profess faith in a
    risen savior…

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