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Who isn’t missional?

6 June 2013

Fifty years ago people were saying things like “The church is missionary by its very nature”. Now they are saying things like “The church is missional by its very nature”, as if they are saying something new.

Is this anything more than playing word games?

I hadn’t thought about this for a while, but it was sparked off by reading a blog post here, which said, among other things:

Tony Jones has a great reflection on his blog today about labels such as “neo-Reformed,” “Emergent,” and “missional.” It comes in response to the intriguing “Why This Book?” video put out by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw to promote their new book Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier.

Tony writes,

“[Missional]‘s a term that basically anyone can use for what ever purpose they want — from a stalwart Southern Baptist neocon like Ed Stetzer to an Anabaptist pacifist like David Fitch. And then you’ve got the neo-Barthian camp like Darrell Guder and John Franke. They’re all ‘missional,’ and so are a dozen church planting networks like TransFORM, Forge, and the Parish Collective.

“So here’s a test. Imagine a Christian leader saying this: ‘I’m not missional.’

“No one’s going to say that. Not a PC(USA) pastor, and not a PCA pastor. Not a just-war Augustinian, and not an Anabaptist pacifist. Scot McKnight will say he’s missional, and so will Brian McLaren. So will the pope. So will I. …

So who isn’t missional?

Well, all the people who used to need to be told that “the church is missionary by its very nature” for a start.

This was sparked off by a discussion on Facebook on the relation of the pastoral and missionary (or missional) aspects of the Church. In the course of the discussion Fr Andrew Stephen Damick said:

When I said by implication that pastoral care was about making disciples of Christ, I didn’t also say that *only* pastoral care does this. My comment was in response to your remark that “Mission, is simply making disciples, and it isn’t necessarily tied to ‘Pastoral Care’.” That is, I was asking why you seem to think that pastoral care might be something *other* than making disciples of Christ.

Anyway, I think I may be getting a better idea of what you meant by “missional,” but it seems that your use is mainly “fulfilling the Great Commission,” which would then mean that you’re saying “A Church that isn’t fulfilling the Great Commission isn’t fulfilling the Great Commission.” But that still leaves me wondering what the actual content of that is.

Perhaps your quibble with NewSpring and crew isn’t so much that they aren’t “missional” but that you disagree on what the Great Commission is about. (I imagine they might claim to be “missional.”)

So I’m still wondering what the need for the new term “missional” is. Is it a specific interpretation of the Great Commission? The text is “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” What does that mean in “missional” terms that’s *different* from how it’s been interpreted up until now? (By whom?) And do “missional” types place a big emphasis on baptism? It certainly seems prominent in Christ’s words.

I’m kind of an English language geek, and of course I have a professional interest in these things, so whenever I see a new word being put forward, especially being given theological weight, I want to know exactly why this new word is needed and nothing else sufficed before, and I also want to know exactly why there is a theological warrant for something that is supposedly new. (As an Orthodox Christian, I am self-consciously suspicious of everything new.)

And then he added a link to the article I quoted from above. And as another English language geek, and a missiologist of sorts, I too have an interest in these things.

Again, going back fifty years or so, someone defined mission as “What the church is doing when it isn’t sitting in its pews” (and yes, many Orthodox churches in the West also have pews nowadays).

And, as Fr Andrew Stephen points out, “making disciples” is part of the pastoral task of the Church, as well as part of its missionary/missional task.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. 6 June 2013 12:15 pm

    On the whole I think you will find that “missional” means in evangelical and Pentecostal circles what “missionary” meant in the examples that you gave in the past, that is moving churches away from an inwards focus to engaging the community in mission. The clumsy term “missional” probably became popular because the term “missionary” in these circles was usually restricted to work overseas.

    Ironically, “missional” has become another evangelical sub-culture, even amongst those who no longer regard themselves as evangelicals but continue to be obsessed with speaking to evangelical audiences. It has quite a large industry, with books, DVDs conferences, and courses and its own cadre of celebrities, Now, there is even great inward looking debate over what constitutes missional or not.

  2. 28 June 2013 1:15 pm

    Truth is the only thing that isn’t “missional” – purely because it has no need to convince anyone of itself. It simply IS.

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