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Missional or missionary?

20 May 2012

I’m still reading about the Missional Church, which to some extent seems to have replaced the Emerging Church, so it seems that the term has emerged (sorry!) from the same circles, or at least that the circles overlapped, or used to.

What I haven’t managed to discover, however, is how the “missional church” differs from what used to be called the “missionary church”. So I’m hoping that someone, perhaps more than one someone, who knows the difference, will read this, and explain the difference for me.

Of course someone might ask what I understand by “missionary church” and that is not all that easy to explain. Someone once asked what the church is doing when it isn’t sitting in its pews, and I think that’s getting closer.  Except, of course, that I don’t think proper churches have pews in the first place, and that the presence of pews is a prima facie symptom of a sedentary church, which is pretty well the opposite of a missionary church.

So the difference is in part the difference between the gathered church and the scattered church.

A friend of mine, John Davies, a retired Anglican bishop now working in Wales, observed that

In England  –  and in Wales  –  if you ask a priest how many people are in the parish,  the reply will be something like ‘15,000 people’ –  the population of the area.  In USA,  Canada,  and in much of S Africa, the reply will be something more like ’70 families’  –  i.e. the number on the church roll.

That was something I noticed when I was studying in the UK 45 years ago, and that way of seeing things made me think that the Church of England, back then, was not a missionary church, because it would regard the 15000 people as part of its pastoral responsibility, or at least the pastoral responsibility of the parish priest. The parish priest was the “curate” (or “curator”), having the “cure of souls” of all those living within the parish boundaries. And back in those days part of the pastoral responsibility of the parish priest was to pay pastoral visits on all those 15000 people. “A house-going parson means a churchgoing people”, they used to say.

And this way of looking at things made me think that the Church of England failed to distinguish between pastoral and missionary work.

It seemed to me back then that a missionary church would see the 15000 as the mission field of that parish, and the 70 families as the mission team. And part of the job of the parish priest would be to train and equip the mission team.

That’s not all there is to it, of course, but that can give a rough idea of what I understand by a missionary church. And seeing it in that way was one of the reasons I opted to major in missiology rather than in pastoral (or “practical”) theology.

So my question is, how does the “missional church” differ from that?

 

 

 

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 20 May 2012 6:49 pm

    No, that’s pretty much it. “Missional” as vocabulary comes out of post-Christendom, mostly English-speaking western contexts (N. America and Aus/NZ). I haven’t heard the term “missionary church,” but that’s probably because in N. America, at least, “missionary” connotes someone traveling alone to a foreign land, and usually has colonialist implications. But the basic ethos is just as you’ve described, though maybe with a bit more fleshing out that “mission” includes both evangelism and social action, which in the US have generally been opposed.

    On missional/emerging, there is a lot of overlap in the States. Probably many people who consider “emerging” too theologically liberal (in a US modernist/fundamentalist polarization context) would embrace “missional.” I think both are aspects of a wider move away from Christendom and Constantinian church/state/culture alliance to a more “missionary” (in the best sense, though the word is not used), servant posture more familiar to Anabaptists and some of the monastic orders.

    • 21 May 2012 3:22 am

      So you see it as primarily a geographical thing — that “missional” as an adjective qualifying “church” is used primarily in N. America etc?

      But James Hopewell’s article Ghostly and Monstrous Churches was written from a North American viewpoint, and is, in effect, a survey of literature on the topic, showing changing attitudes. There was a report by the International Missionary Council (IMC) with the title The missionary structure of the congregation, and Hopewell distinguishes between “a missionary structure for a congregation” and “structures for missionary congregations”. So it seems that “missional” means pretty much the same as “missionary” in the sense in which Hopewell is using it, and that the terms are thuis more or less interchangeable in that context.

  2. 20 May 2012 10:22 pm

    I read Van Gelder’s “The missional church in perspective” a few months ago, and since I’m still somewhat following the emerging church conversation (or at least what I perceive to be the emerging church conversation, in dialogue with people like Steve Knight en Brian McLaren), I’d say one difference is that in the North American context those who opted for the more progressive emerging conversation (McLaren etc) are more keen to engage Liberation theologies and critical social theories than the actual missional conversation (Van Gelder, Guder etc).

    • 21 May 2012 3:30 am

      Hmmm… so perhaps I’d better read Van Gelder, then. But what do you think of Travis’s point, that, “missional” and “missionary” are the same, and the difference is geographical — or is it a generational thing, and that “missionary” was the 1960s term, while “missional” is the 21st-century term?

  3. Irulan permalink
    21 May 2012 11:57 am

    Travis’ remark en passant re colonial sensitivities is surely a factor in our preference for the term “missional.” But, is God no longer a missionary God?

  4. jazzgoat permalink
    23 May 2012 3:40 pm

    I don’t see Missional as having replaced Emergent. Whilst they are related there seems to be distinct and separate threads of “Missional”, “Emergent” and “Emerging”. Following Ed Stetzer’s definitions I think there are three basic categories 1. Relevants 2. Reconstuctionists 3. Revisionists.

    Relevants tends to be “Emerging”. People like Mark Driscoll drawing on those wishing to do ministry to post-moderns whilst remaining theologically conservative like Carson, Keller etc.

    Reconstructionists/Missional types tend to be more academy based. Good examples are Alan Hirsch, Darrell Guder, Alan Roxburgh, Van Gelder and Leonard Sweet. The Missional movement I think can be loosely traced to the work of Lesslie Newbiggin and others as part of the GOCN http://www.gocn.org

    Revisionists might be seen as the “Emergent” types. Difficult to categorise but could include McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball and Rollins as the philosopher of the movement?

    Having attempted some typology here I am aware of the ambiguity and fluidity with which the terms are used especially in the blogshere.

    I would be inclined to agree with Steve that the differences between “missionary” and “missional” are generational rather than geographical

    • 23 May 2012 8:33 pm

      Sorry, I don’t seem to have expressed myself clearly.

      I didn’t think that “missional” had replaced “ermerging”, but rather that “missional” had replaced “missionary” and that the replacement seemed to have been initiated by emerging circles, or those close to them.

  5. 23 May 2012 4:31 pm

    I don’t see “missional” and “emergent” as the same thing. There is a great deal of complexity surrounding definitions on these terms and several sets of people competing for them. In Ed Stetzer’s definitions he notes three basic categories 1. Relevants 2. Reconstuctionists 3. Revisionists. Essentially he views Revelants as Emerging, Reconstructionists as Missional and Revisionists (whom he has most difficulty with) as Emergent.

    Emerging or Relevants are guys like Mark Driscoll essentially reformed doing ministry to post-moderns whilst remaining theologically conservative like Carson, Keller etc. Peter Rollins calls it “A way of putting video projectors in your church, having candles and knowing the latest bands.”

    Missional or Reconstructionists tend to be more academy based. Good examples are Alan Hirsch, Darrell Guder, Alan Roxburgh and Leonard Sweet. The Missional movement can be loosely traced to the work of Lesslie Newbiggin and others as part of the GOCN http://www.gocn.org

    Emergents or revisionists could include McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball and Peter Rollins as the philosopher of the movement?

    These terms tend to get used interchangeably and I recognise that the there is a great deal of ambiguity and fluidity.

    I think to tack on to Steve’s comment that the issue between missional and missionary is generational and not necessarily geographical. Missionary is a term I try to avoid at all costs.

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