Now that you are in Philly for Christmas, I have a recommendation to make — and it’s about my only recommendation for Philly: if you get to Chestnut Hill, go to Chestnut Hill Coffee Co and have a cup of latte — and I’ll pay for it when you get back to school. I promise you — the best anywhere around.
Yes, you are right that “missional” is one of the emerging movement’s favorite terms and, yes, you are right that there is no official definition. But, I think I could take a stab at describing how it is used and maybe answer the question you ask about whether they are really saying anything new and valuable with this term. I will answer these last two questions first.
No, it is not something new; the emerging movement didn’t invent this term but they have undoubtedly given it a new currency. But, yes, this is a valuable insight and I’m so glad the emerging movement Christians are doing their best to find their way into a “missional” worldview.
So, what does “missional” mean?
Sorry if I sound like a teacher, but I’ve got a few points. First, missional is not something we have but something that God is and does. God is a Trinity and missionally the Father and the Son and the Spirit are directed at one another in never-ending love. And this never-ending relational love within God — it’s pretty cool if you think about this very long — extends from God into God’s creation so that creation itself — check out Romans 8 sometime or even the last few chapters of Revelation — is drawn into a loving relation with God. God is, to use the words of a famous thinker (David Bosch) is a “God-for-people.” That same person calls all of this the missio Dei: the God of Mission and the mission of God. Is it important to begin with God? Yes, very much so. Why?
Second, to be missional means to join in the mission of God; it means to participate with God in what God is doing in this world. It means we don’t have to decide what it means to be missional; it means we have to understand what God’s mission is and join in that very mission. I think this is exciting — and it transforms us from being those who generate God’s mission to those who simply fellowship in God’s mission. It’s about like taking a ride on airplane — we don’t supply the power or the direction; we participate in it.
Third, we are missional both in presence and in performance. We are to be God’s missional presence in our local community and we are to perform God’s mission by extending it to our community. We are this and we do this.
Fourth, God’s mission is holistic: as God called Israel to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength (sound familiar?), so we are summoned to participate with God in restoring humans in that love for God. We are summoned to help others love God in heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Emerging Christians are annoyed that far too often God’s mission is reduced to evangelism; and they know that many times evangelism means only restoring people to God but not also to themselves, to others and to the world — in heart, soul, mind, and strength. So, many of us prefer to describe the Church’s task to be “missional” rather than simply “evangelistic.”
Yes, it is true: many who like “missional” don’t do a lick of “evangelizing.” But, if God’s mission is to restore all creation to himself so that all creation brings glory to God — imagine all creation standing up for a big clap for God — and make sure you get the trees swinging their brances and the leaves fluttering in praise to God — if you can imagine that, then you know that anyone who talks about “missional” but not about restoring humans to God, others, and the world (evangelism) is missing the big point.
And, yes, missional (so I think) reshapes our focus. Instead of trying to see how many people we can gather into our church building every Sunday morning, missional folks reach into the community. They especially reach out to the unchurched and the anti-church. Why? I’m not sure, but I’m convinced of this: the emerging movement has a special soft spot for those who have been burned by the Church, who have been hurt by the Church, and it wants to provide a safe place for those who need to know that God’s’ grace extends to them, too. Not to the exclusion of anyone, but clearly having a soft spot for those folks.
All of this means — and this is my last point — that being missional shapes everything we do. To quote TSK, we are defined by our mission more than by our worship.
Hey, I’ve got another quote from TSK that I want you to know about: “We are people flowing in the stream of God’s go.” Pretty good, don’t you think? Not only pretty good, but also deeply challenging.