Has “Missional” Become a Self Congratulatory Word?

MissionalqI happen to like the word “Missional.”  It’s a great adjective describing the sent-ness of God and His people, or the sending language of scripture.  As early as 1934, Karl Hartenstein, a German missiologist, used this concept communicate that mission is driven by the very nature and character of God.  

According to Lesslie Newbigin and Jesus’ statements in the Gospel according to John, every Christian has been sent by Jesus with the gospel together in community to those in the surrounding culture for the sake of the King and His kingdom: “The Church is sent into the world to continue that which he came to do, in the power of the same Spirit, reconciling people to God.” Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you”  (John 17:18) (John 20:21).

Though the word “missional” has become a clay word and has likewise been co-opted by all sorts, it still drives what I think are critically important conversations and questions centered around the mission of God. 

Recently is a discussion about the word missional and its viable application in forming church, a friend said that it is a “self-congratulatory word.”  That struck me.

In my desire to be “missional” I’ve always had to guard against wanting to be part of what may be perceived as a self-approving mainstream network. Those missional folk, after all, tend to be very cool, hip, and trendy.  It’s easy to be plagued with destination disease when one “tries” to become missional.  The terminus becomes a pat on the back instead of Kingdom realization.  It’s very easy to assume that you’ve “arrived” when you’ve set the bar too low.  So, as difficult as it may be, I think it might be time to check our motives in the missional movement mania and decide if we’re just on a trajectory of self-congratulation or worse, settling for a Modus Operandi instead of Making Disciples. 

I think this would apply to my “organic” friends too.  Striving to be organic (total participatory, non-hierchacal, smaller, mobile, relational, non-institutional, and often more spontaneous,) can serve to board up our missio-boxes rather than be a spring-board for mission.  It’s tragic when open ended Kingdom processes become closed self approving systems. 

A couple of years ago I coined the term “Missiorganic,” melding the best of Missional & Organic thinking.  I don’t think the Missional Church Movement will succeed without biblically organic processes.  Likewise, I don’t think the Organic Church Movement will flourish without missional sent-ness.  I’m still trying to find my way through this fruit producing tension.  I don’t want to pat myself on the back for attaining a construct of my own making.  With these thoughts in mind, I have one question:

Has the word “Missional” become self-congratulatory word?  

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    1. I do think that the term “missional” is a self congratulatory word…in specific contexts. In Miguel’s context, a missionary on the field where every activity is evaluated in terms of its value-add to the mission itself, being missional is the mindset that one is on mission,all the time. In this case, by no means, is the term “missional” self-congratulatory.

      However, in many North American churches where the desire to be cutting edge too often means doing for church what being trendy is for the popular culture at large, “missional” is just the latest term/phrase that is used to sanctify personal preferences.

      I’m writing this from a city in the center of a Southern Chinese province where I’m visiting for a few weeks on business. I’ve visited countries in this region on dozens of these trips over the past decade and a half. I’ve spent a great deal of time with locals, believer and non-believer. I’ve spent considerable time with current and former missionaries. I’ve rarely heard the term “missional” used by these folks…because it would be like me talking about breathing. But if they do use it, like Miguel, it is used descriptively, not to grasp for acclaim.

      Over this same span, I’ve read more books and heard more presentations by “expert missiologists” than I care to remember. A significant number of them made claims that are not backed up by the facts on the ground. Some of them hold strategy making positions within mission sending organization while having spent very little (or no) time on the field. When these folks use the term “missional”, I don’t know what they mean. The cynic in me tends toward assuming that they use the phrase in order to sell books and/or to maintain an aura of authority on the subject. In this context, I would argue that, often, the term is used in a self-congratulatory manner.

      • I agree with Jonathan. I almost always cringe when I hear someone use the term missional. Even your own tongue-in-cheek definition, Miguel – “Those missional folk, after all, tend to be very cool, hip, and trendy” – indicates an identity that I think has actually damaged the “missional” health of the US church. When churches think that having a coffee bar or valet service or playing “secular” music as church begins make them missional, then we are WAY off-track. I’m finding myself, and my mobilizing colleagues, trying to redirect our pastoral friends to realize that “if everything is missional, then nothing is.”

        I”m hoping we get over ourselves – and this sad abuse of a word – and move on to doing the work God has left us here to do.

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