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What is a Missional Church?

March 26, 2008

there are an unbelievable number of labels for churches today. of course, there are the old stand-by denominational names. let’s not forget names like conservative, liberal, fundamental, evangelical, etc. then there is the latest generation of monikers. these carry descriptors like purpose-driven, seeker sensitive, emerging, emergent, and – one of the latest names – missional. a church can, and probably should, be more than one of these. over the course of a few scattered posts, i am going to share some thoughts and answering some questions related to the term “missional church”.

the term “missional church” is only about ten years old, but there are hundreds of thousands of hits on google for the term. with that many web pages related to the term, it is anybody’s guess as to how many definitions there are for it. since everyone seems to be taking the liberty to define it how they see fit, i think i will do the same. i am finding it difficult to boil it down to just a few words. the origins of the phrase seem to be in discussing missio dei, or the mission of god. perhaps by the end of this post, i can cobble something together.

i wish i could avoid describing missional in negatives, but i am going to start there. one thing missional is not is missions. missions has been a program or a department within the local church. missional is a descriptor for the local church. it describes the whole church body.

there are many church leaders who describe themselves as missional. what they mean by that varies by leader. one hallmark of missional seems to be gaining consensus. this is the idea that being missional should focus on the kingdom message of jesus as recorded in the synoptic gospels. this does not take into account the other teachings of scripture. in the march issue of christianity today, todd billings describes it like this: “hearing (brian) mclaren and others, the kingdom often sounds like nothing more than a set of ethical activities in which anyone – christian, muslim, or atheist – can participate. the centrality of jesus christ himself can be eclipsed by the ethical ‘message of jesus‘.” i love the idea of being missional, but not at the sacrifice of the truth of the word of god. it seems you can be in any faith tradition, keep that doctrine (or no doctrine at all), and be missional. many who claim the term missional say that traditional church has focused on doctrine to the exclusion of the rest of the mission of god. i cannot argue with that. most missional churches focus on the earthly aspects of the mission of god to the exclusion of evangelism, discipleship, and solid doctrine. the truth is that it is not an either/or, it is a both/and. i contend that you cannot be missional without embracing both aspects of the role of the church in the world. i would like to clarify something. i love the term missional church. i think it is what god has called the church to be. i do not like the meaning most missional churches give it. it seems to focus too narrowly on good works. if we are to truly be missional, we must be about sharing the good news of the savior, teaching true doctrine, and meeting the needs of those around us, both within and without the church. that is to be missional. missioal should be the sum of what the church is.

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