Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Just Define Missional for Me

Missional.jpgAlan Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren are onto something: in their new book called Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One (Allelon Missional Series) ,  they avoid the “define it and then we know it (and can control it)” approach to the term “missional.” 

To see what is going on, we need to get inside an idea and gain a new imagination. Definitions aren’t enough — that’s their contention.
They contend the standard set of ideas isn’t enough: “a church that attracts, worships, equips, and then sends” is how “missional church” is often understood. So, they contend the “missional church” is not any of the following eight ideas (though these can be part of the missional church):


1. Not churches that emphasize cross-cultural missions.
2. Not churches that use outreach programs to be externally focused.
3. Not churches in the church growth or church effectiveness movement.
4. Not churches that are effective in evangelism.
5. Not churches that have a clear missional statement with vision and purpose.
6. Not churches that turn churches around to become relevant to the wider culture.
7. Not churches are return to the ancient and primitive ways.
8. Not churches that form new formats for people who don’t like traditional churches.
But definitions are tricky and they have massive influence. In the biblical imagination, definitions are not the norm; the authors don’t define terms. What do you think of this idea? (Is he being a retriever here? That is, are they doing to terms what they refuse to do with how the people of God work?)
Jesus’ term “kingdom” suggests and points but it does not define. Here is their major contention:  “Scripture does not so much define reality as invite us onto a journey in which we discover the world God is creating” (39).
The missional journey leads us to the missional river which has three currents:
We’ll look at these three terms next week.
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posted December 11, 2009 at 9:00 am

The Bible may not “define” terms but it leaves us with images we can quickly grasp, such as lilies that toil not neither do they spin. The Bible is pretty concrete. Frankly, I’m not happy or comfortable with the –and I think it’s an emerging church (though I know the “emerging church” is “over”) –idea that “all of these things just can’t be defined … ” that can potentially contain a seed of arrogance. Again, I understand the impetus against empirical slicing, dicing and control. Well, the jury is out … I will await further posts.

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Brian McL

posted December 11, 2009 at 9:05 am

I think one of Roxburgh’s big concerns is that the church too often defines itself pragmatically. The missional church, from the beginning, has resisted this. One of the most helpful ways to understand missional church for me comes from Craig Van Gelder (a contributor, with Roxburgh, in Guder’s Missional Church). He says (in The Ministry of the Missional Church): the nature of the church leads to the activity of the church. In long-hand: the church is, the church does what it is, the church organizes what it does. Van Gelder is concerned that most American churches define themselves in terms of what it does or how it organizes itself, not in terms of its nature. Roxburghs list of 8 insufficient definitions all focus on activity, not nature.
So any definition must begin with the nature of the church. Roxburgh has attempted a definition in The Missional Leader: “a missional church is a community of God’s people who live into the imagination that they are, by their very nature, God’s missionary people living as a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all of creation in Jesus Christ.” Again, his empahsis is on nature and not defining activity.
I think he’s on to something. By the way, how does this challenge a popular definition of the church where the Gospel is rightly preached and sacraments rightly administered. Are those activities?

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posted December 11, 2009 at 11:07 am

Thanks. That’s very helpful.

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Mark Baker-Wright

posted December 11, 2009 at 1:46 pm

So, yet another blog that “defines” missional by pointing out how “missional” people hate being defined.
This is neither new nor, quite bluntly, especially helpful. If “missional” can’t (or won’t) be defined, why even bother using the term?

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Scot McKnight

posted December 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Mark, come back for this theme Monday because, so it seems to me, he gets very close to defining “Missional.”

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John W Frye

posted December 11, 2009 at 4:43 pm

I think the idea of to define in order to control rightly is resisted by missional church thinkers/practitioners. We think that if we have the definition, we have the thing defined in our grasp, and then under our control. Our era has done to “church” what 1st century Judaism did to “messiah”– warped it. Church is an energized reality that can reveal and define itself–so mystery and mission.

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ron cole

posted December 11, 2009 at 6:22 pm

I don’t like definitions, they tend to be too static…and become closed. They are certainly helpful. But the danger is the we’ve ” arrived ” scenario. and who’s in and whose out. If there was something that captured the imagination of moving, of growing into something but never having arrived. Sort the idea, the imagination of the early Christian church being called ” The Way.” Jesus being called The Way, captured imaginations, and was something you had to be part of, and to practice to be able to define, and yet still not capture it all. But, we do love our definitions.

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posted December 11, 2009 at 8:21 pm

Part of what I think Roxburgh (and other missional thinkers) is up too, is a push back against the pragmatism of the modern church & church growth movement which says; ‘give me the three steps to being church/following Jesus.’
‘Missional’ is not a model of church, or a style, etc…
It is mostly a posture.
It is about our approach/attitude towards the world, shaped by the good news of God & God’s Kingdom, which all informs the church.
That’s an ongoing journey for a community of faith… we are never ‘done’ until the consummation of the Kingdom.
And I think Roxburgh (& others) fear that the term ‘missional’ is being co-oped by those who say… ‘just let me check the ‘missional’ box for my church & move on!’

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posted December 12, 2009 at 12:05 am

All I know is that unless “missional” includes in it a mission for people who don’t know Jesus yet to know Him as Savior – and place saving faith in His work on the cross and then join Him on mission to others – I don’t believe it is truly “missional”. The book of Acts is an extremely missional book – that to me, really demonstrates missional and a passion for people who don’t know Jesus yet. I’d love to see more attention to defining “missional” by more than only the gospels.

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posted December 12, 2009 at 7:00 am

The book of Acts is missional, a testimony to the power and mission of God, but it doesn’t seem to provide much guidance for how the churches go on being missional in their local environment day after day, year after year, through all stages of life. Most of us are not called to be itinerant church planters or charismatic preachers. We have only little tidbits of information about what happened in the churches themselves, and mostly centered on Paul or other dealing with problems and providing occasional exhortation.
The gospels provide no direct model either – they relate a special time, place, and happening. There is much teaching we would do well to engage and take seriously.
I wish we had a book in the NT that told us how to integrate the teaching in a local church context in a missional fashion. As we don’t, we struggle forward. (Although even if we had such a book in the canon we’d probably argue about it.)

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John W Frye

posted December 12, 2009 at 7:11 am

Dan (#9),
I agree with RJS (#10). While I appreciate your heart for the lost and you see an aggressive church in Acts taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, there is a world of difference between “evangelism” and “missional.” Evangelism rightly cares about lost people, missional concerns the lostness of all creation, yes, of course, including people. Think of the church as an energetic, risk-taking *reconciling* community working in light of Jesus’ redemptive mission to “reconcile all things to God: (Colossians 1).

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Scot McKnight

posted December 12, 2009 at 8:44 am

Dan, I agree with both John and RJS about the meaning of “missional.” The word is more than evangelism and incorporates evangelism, but the term is now being used in a special way for what God is doing in this world — and cosmic redemption in light of the creation mandate of Gen 1:26-27 as well as the consummation of creation in texts like Rom 8:27 as well as the climactic visions of Revelation chart this path — and is a word that is to be distinguished from evangelism.
But, if your concern is that there are too many concerned with “missional” because it gets them off the hook for evangelism, I agree with you. It’s not an either/or but a both/and.

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