Question: "What does it mean to be missional? Should Christians be missional?"
Answer: “Missional” or “missional living” is a Christian term that in essence describes a missionary lifestyle. Being missional includes embracing the posture, the thinking, behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to reach others with the message of the gospel. The term “missional” gained its popularity towards the end of the 20th century with the influence of Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, and others, as well as the Gospel and Our Culture Network. Their basic premise is that all Christians should be involved in the Great Commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).
Essentially, the idea of being missional teaches that the church has a mission because Jesus had a mission. There is one mission which says that the “missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true church.” Yet there has been some confusion regarding the term “missional.”
Alan Hirsch, one its proponents, says that “missional” is not synonymous with “emerging.” The emerging church is primarily a renewal movement attempting to contextualize Christianity for a postmodern generation. “Missional” is also not the same as “evangelistic” or “seeker-sensitive.” These terms generally apply to what he calls the “attractional” model of church that has dominated our understanding for many years. Missional is not a new way to talk about church growth. Although God clearly desires the church to grow numerically, it is only one part of the larger missional agenda. Finally, missional is more than social justice. Engaging the poor and correcting inequalities is part of being God’s agent in the world, but should not be confused with the whole.
Hirsch also says that a proper understanding of missional living begins with recovering a missionary understanding of God. By His very nature God is a “sending God” who takes the initiative to redeem His creation. This doctrine, known as missio Dei is causing many to redefine their understanding of the church. Because the church is comprised of the “sent” people of God, the church is the instrument of God’s mission in the world. However, most people believe that missions is an instrument of the church, a means by which the church is grown. Although Christians frequently say, “The church has a mission,” according to missional theology a more correct statement would be “the mission has a church.”
Though many churches have mission statements or talk about the importance of having a mission, where missional churches differ is in their attitude toward the world. A missional church sees the mission as both its originating impulse and its organizing principle. It is patterned after what God has done in Jesus Christ, that is, to be missional means to be sent into the world; not to expect people to come to us. This idea differentiates a missional church from an “attractional” church.
The attractional church seeks to reach out to the culture and draw people into the church. But this practice only works where no significant cultural shift is required when moving from outside to inside the church. And as Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, the attractional church has lost its effectiveness. The West looks more like a cross-cultural missionary context in which attractional churches are self-defeating. The process of extracting people from the culture and assimilating them into the church diminishes their ability to speak to those outside. As a result, people cease to be missional and instead leave that work to the clergy.
Missional represents a significant shift in the way one thinks about the church. Being missional means we should engage the world the same way Jesus did—by going out rather than just reaching out. Missional means that when a church is in mission, it is then the true church.
According to Dave DeVries, author of “Missional Transformation: Fueling Missionary Movements that Transform America,” there are five biblical distinctives that form the foundation of a missional perspective:
• The Church is sent by Jesus Christ (John 17:18; 20:21, Luke 9:2; Matthew 28: 19–20; Acts 1:8)
• The Church is sent with the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:18, Ephesians 2:16, Colossians 2:14, 1 Peter 2:24, 2 Corinthians 5:17–24)
• The Church is sent in Community (Acts 2:42–47; 5:42; John 13:34–35; 1 John 3:16–17)
• The Church is sent to every Culture (John 1:14; Matthew 20:28; Acts 17:22–34; Luke 5:29)
• The Church is sent for the King and His Kingdom (Matthew 10:7; 25:34; Luke 4:43; Revelation 11:15–17; Jeremiah 10:7; John 18:36)
So, the question is asked, “Should Christians be missional?” Fundamentally, missional theology is not content with missions being a church-based work. Rather, it applies to the whole life of every believer. In truth, every disciple of Christ should strive to be an agent, a representative of the kingdom of God; and every follower should try to carry the mission of God into every sphere of his life. We are all missionaries sent into the world.
There are many ways we can do this as we’re each individually blessed with certain talents and skills to utilize to the glory of God. Jesus has told us in Matthew 5:13-16 that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world . . . to let our light shine before men.
And, finally, in light of this idea of being “missional,” we can best sum it up with the words of the apostle Paul: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God . . . and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17).