What is missional?

The word missional – some love it, some hate it – has launched a thousand ministries, blogs and new church plants.  It has also spawned and mutated into a thousand differing strains of various orthodoxy.  And then for many I speak with – it is a word they may have heard but are not sure what to make of it.  So what do I mean when I speak of “missional”?  Might I suggest a 3-fold missional paradigm:

Missional in theology: this is the most critical aspect and the one which grounds and gives shape to all others.  It is not primarily I who am missional, it is God.  The Bible is the story of a missional God who acts and speaks in order to save and redeem a people for Himself – this act is foreshadowed in the nation of Israel, fulfilled in Christ, continued in the church and one day will be consummated when Jesus returns.

The Bible is the story of God redeeming and restoring a world and a people in rebellion against Him.  To become a Christian is be caught up into this Story of God who is making all things new through the Cross of Christ.  Being a Christian is intrinsically missional because the story of our God is a missional story of rebellion, rescue and renewal.  Becoming a Christian is not simply a ticket to heaven when I die, it is more than that.  It is now being caught up in the Story of God – a story that is all about God’s great plan of restoration and renewal.

Missional in identity: as a result we find our identity in being caught up in this story.  We are exiles in this land, citizens of another Kingdom.  We live here as representatives of the great King.  We believe that in Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit the Kingdom of God has broken into our world, now in part and secretly – one day in all it’s fullness and splendour (Mark 4)

We live now as those who are caught up in the life of that Kingdom.  Our primary identity is no longer defined by our cultural markers of language, race, wealth or status.  We live now as a member of God’s people – citizens of that great Kingdom (1 Peter 2:9-12).  Living now as a sign, foretaste and instrument of that great Kingdom (1 Peter 2:12; 3:15-16).  We have been redeemed in order to become a part of God’s new people, who are a witness (in word and life) to the glory of our great King.  Our identity is an outflow of our theology and by virtue of who God is and what he is doing in the world, that identity is profoundly missional.

Missional in lifestyle: At it’s base definition missional means “thinking like missionaries”.  We approach our lifestyle asking questions like: Where should I live?  What job should I do? How much money should I earn? How much should I work?  What should I do with my time?  Who should I spend my time with?  Where do I shop?  Where do I have my hair cut?  Where do I drink coffee?  We approach our lifestyle not exclusively as consumers but as missionaries.  As our identity is an outflow of our theology so our lifestyle is an expression of our identity.

I once heard Tim Chester outline 2 differing approaches to the lifestyle.  Many Christian approach life like this 1) what lifestyle do I want? 2) what job do I need to support that lifestyle; 3) where do I live that is convenient for that lifestyle and that job; 4) where is a church ministry close to where I live?

Tim suggests rather we invert that process 1) what ministry is God calling me to? what church is doing that/will help me do that?; (note: your vocation may be your ministry – i.e. social worker, doctor, artist etc)  2) where must I live to enable me to do that ministry/ be a part of that community; 3) what job do I need to support this;  4) what lifestyle will that afford me.

Extra: You may be interested in reading The Missional Manifesto – framed by among others Tim Keller, Ed Stetzer & Alan Hirsch.

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7 thoughts on “What is missional?

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