Friday is for Friends: AHH

AHH has been reading and occasionally commenting on the Jesus Creed blog since Fall 2008.  He lives in Colorado where he works at a government science lab, and he is ordained as an Elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  He is a little publicity-shy, but to find what the initials stand for and other info, you can see his website here. We are looking for more submissions from you for “Friday is for Friends.”

The Missional Inigo Montoya

One of my favorite lines from The Princess Bride comes when the
swordsman Inigo Montoya, after witnessing several events his boss calls
“inconceivable,” says, “You keep using that word.  I do not think it
means what you think it means.”

I had an Inigo Montoya moment at church recently.  In a series of
sermons on a new expression of vision that I find promising, one Sunday
was devoted to the phrase “Missional Outreach”.  The sermon examples,
while representing good ministry (how someone had invited the speaker
to Fellowship of Christian Athletes long ago, kids being invited to
meet Jesus in our High School ministry), included nothing I recognized
as “missional.” 

In fact, the speaker said something at the start like
“serving our neighbors is good, but it’s not what I’m talking about
today.”  This reinforced my feeling that, at many churches, “missional”
gets applied to anything directed at non-Christians, including “come
inside our structures to meet Jesus” programs that are the antithesis
of the ideas in The Missional Church. 
I wanted to say “I do not think
Missional means what you think it means.”


Am I wrong in wanting to reserve “missional” for the ideas described for example on www.friendofmissional.org?  How far can the word be stretched?  Has it been stretched so much that it is no longer useful?  Is different language (like the “exile” metaphor) needed to replace or supplement “missional”?

This experience got me thinking about other Christian words that seem to have lost their meaning.  Words like “creation” (spoiled by fundamentalist pseudoscience, perhaps making a comeback with “creation care”) and “Evangelical” (often seen as a political label, although I still hope it can be reclaimed).  I remember as a new Christian in the late 70s avoiding the term “born again” in an attempt to avoid guilt by association.  Some now avoid calling themselves “Christians” for similar reasons.  Maybe these are just words, but words are a large part of how we express our faith.

How hard should we fight to reclaim tainted or misused words?  

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • RJS

    The question about reclaiming words seems unanswerable, we are but part of a giant always morphing community using the words.
    But I also think that the distinction between missional and attractional is wrong. A church cannot prepare people to go out unless it invites them to come in and provides community and training on the inside. A church cannot adequately prepare its own to go out unless it provides a base of strength from which to go.
    A church as a social club for insiders is wrong. A church that eliminates social community, meeting together, and inviting others in, the name of serving the poor and being “missional” has nothing to offer.
    The early church was missional — and family and community. People wanted in because they loved each other and loved others.

  • http://derek4messiah.wordpress.com Derek Leman

    Hilarious and memorable illustration from Princess Bride (a true classic).
    I did not know about friendofmissional.org and I appreciate the link. It puts in few words a lot of helpful paradigm shifts that are beneficial for me to think about.
    Derek Leman

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    I don’t think the term “missional” has lost its usefulness. I agree with RJS in that the “either/or” of missional/attractional is wrong. But it is not an untrue distinction as a matter of emphasis, focus, etc.
    As one small example, I’ve heard the following from pastors that I respect, but are/were firmly in the grip of an attractional approach:
    “It’s all about Sunday morning.” (Talking to his staff about where to focus their energies.)
    “This is just the main net God is using right now.” (As to why we were pulling leaders from other ministries to assist with the Sunday service.)
    This interview with John Maxwell in Rev! magazine highlights an important part of the important distinction between missional and attractional approaches:
    Rev!: What would you do differently if you were starting over today?
    Maxwell: I’d have a lot less church; I’d have less programs; I’d have less services. I’d have a lot less of everything.
    Rev!: Why?
    Maxwell: As a pastor I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but one of my major mistakes was thinking that life revolved around the local church and what we were doing. For example, if you were a member of the church, you had to have a ministry in the church. That was a huge mistake. I had high-capacity people in my church doing things that were pretty mundane for business people. If I had it to do over again, I’d have people doing a lot more ministry outside the church, in their workplace or in their community or in their volunteer organizations. I’d find out where they had the greatest influence and make their ministry where their greatest influence was, not confine it to a church. Huge mistake I made. And I didn’t see it until I was out, but I was too inward. I had a lot of high-capacity people who were probably never “salt and light” like they could have been. I’d change that immediately if I went back to the local church. I’d be much more into how we influenced the community and a lot less into “How can I get everybody onboard with my church and with my program?”
    Rev!: What advice would you give a new pastor today?
    Maxwell: Don’t spend all your time inside the church. It’s so easy. This was a mistake that I made in a church like Skyline, a large church where I could literally do church things with church people in a church atmosphere my entire life, and no one would know the difference or think I was doing something wrong. I could immerse myself in that culture and go nowhere else, and people, in fact, would say that I’m an outstanding pastor. . . The greatest way to enter the pastorate might be for every pastor to be a bi-vocational pastor for the first five years they’re a pastor. I kind of like the idea that you start your pastoral ministry by having another job. I think it makes you prioritize what you’re doing in your church a lot better. . . .I just think the more I withdraw from the marketplace or from the community and immerse myself in the church, I think the greater the possibility becomes that I won’t be relevant to that community. So for a new pastor I’d say…always do things in secular community where faith isn’t being expressed. Penetrate instead of separate.

  • http://www.danwilt.com Dan Wilt

    “Reformation,” “secular,” “missional,” “Christian.”
    Words are the stuff that the postmodern questions are based around, wherever the stories words create may be manifest.
    “Usefulness” is indeed the key to using a word well, for a long or short period of time. The term “missional” is aiding many Evangelical churches in turning a page psychologically, that may indeed dilute it from its intentional meanings in your corner of the world.
    If it is helping, start a website on “missional” that spends it’s entire content defining it. Then, go viral so we all rise to your perspective, and evangelical churches can reference that site at their board meetings.
    Feeling missional toward breakfast right now,
    Dan

  • http://everybrokenthing.net/Altered_Jesus.html Lance

    Hmm.
    Small world. Good day to stroll across a new website.
    I attended First Pres when Dr. Oerter was, “The man.” We’d always park across the street in one of the state’s largest liquor stores (parking is at a premium in Boulder – you have no idea). Often we’d see the homeless strewn around and about the store, recovering from a Saturday’s day long binge. Some actually sober enough to ask for a handout. It was so easy to pay a “leave me alone” fee and head on in to “Church.”
    Not once did I hear mention of them and Christ’s mission (I am sure words were used, I just didn’t make the connection).
    Not once did I invite one in with me or stay outside with them and practice “Church” right there on the street.
    I cringe, now, thinking about all the opportunites God threw right in front of me only to leave them outside waiting to be defined.
    Thank God I finally found a dictionary.

  • AHH

    Lance @5,
    Actually, this church (despite its vocabulary problems and other problems) is doing some good ministry these days with the people you mention. A meal on Saturdays during the cold months, coffee, clothes, interpersonal ministry, etc. And there are other ways (like partnership with a local low-income elementary school) we are being “missional” — it just seems to happen mostly as grass-roots efforts rather than as part of any church-wide vision to be truly missional (as I understand that word).
    And I partly agree with RJS about the missional versus attractional distinction. I don’t think we should see that as an either/or. If a church is entirely driven by trying to be “attractional”, it probably is not carrying out its part in God’s mission (especially not in a post-Christiandom locale). But I think there is nothing inherently wrong with making church programs attractive (or less unattractive) as long as it is not an end in itself but instead serves the ultimate goal of faithfully being a part of God’s mission.

  • RJS

    AHH,
    I think that we should be missional – and I really like the quote that T has with the idea that many pastors might benefit from a bivocational approach – at least for awhile.
    What I think gets lost a bit in the missional lingo is the fact that most of us are “bivocational” as full time Christians working in often rather hostile secular environments. Some of the inward directed “attractional” programs actually provide a necessary relief and recoop. Cutting these “self-centered” programs in favor of even more outward directed mission is cutting a lifeline.
    So we need balance.

  • BenB

    AHH,
    I really like this post, and I think it’s incredibly important right now. I believe my own church (Church of the Nazarene) is struggling through what it means to be missional right now. We’re finally starting to focus on “making disciples” but I wonder if that language even “means what they think it means” at this point.
    I have found that the best way to reclaim language is to use it. Language itself is a product of evolution and words and language derive out of the context of communities. The way we use words dictates what they mean. So it isn’t as much that these terms have “lost” their meaning… as much as the meanings have definitely been tainted (I liked your word choice).
    I spend a lot of time with people, and I always find that I have to define and qualify my terms when speaking about Christianity with non-Christians because our terms are so mixed up. However, people seem to be willing to accept new definitions.
    I think using the term missional correctly, and explaining that meaning when we are using in a context which misuses the term… as well as living out what we mean, will all work to reclaim that word.
    Words are associated with realities, to some extent. Giving people a concrete example of what means when they use a term like “missional” is the best way, imo, to reclaim the word.

  • MattR

    Great thoughts AHH.
    This is a tough one… because even in the comments I see several different definitions of ‘missional’ at work.
    I feel like this is a larger problem of our co-modified/consumer culture… even as a new word become useful, at the same time it’s being co-opted to justify the existing structure/program.
    So if we threw a word out every time that happens, we’ll just keep having to find new terms… we need to be able to pick and choose our battles.
    A few more thoughts to RJS and others… it’s helpful to understand the definitions of ‘missional vs. attractional.’
    My understanding… When some (like Frost & Hirsch- ‘Shaping of Things to Come’) began using those terms they did NOT mean ‘if you are missional, you will not care about the internal community or structure of your church.’ Instead it was used to describe the posture of the church towards culture… our recent history has had a Christendom/attractional attitude, which = we are in charge, therefore the world should come to US, on our terms… ‘if we build it they will come.’ Missional describes a posture that = we are missionaries in our own land, and called to go to the world, on its terms, being a loving presence and embodying the Gospel.
    Missional vs. Attractional is NOT about whether we should have programs or community or internal structure… rather it’s about HOW a church might do all of those things and more.

  • RJS

    MattR,
    That is helpful description.

  • MattR

    Glad if it helps RJS.
    Also, to answer the question ie: ‘missional.’ I think it still can be a useful term. I like Hirsch’s designation ‘missional incarnational.’ It further clarifies what we’re talking about, an incarnational stance towards ministry in culture.
    I also like what Alan Roxburgh has said (who helped write the book on missional church, literally!… ie: ‘Missional Church’); it’s not about the latest buzzword, gimmick or program, or even about ‘evangelism’ per say (or social justice for that matter)… it’s about how the Gospel engages culture… in other words, what is God up to in the world? and how do we as God’s people participate with him in our particular context?

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    I was part of a PCUSA discussion last October that involved middle governing body executives and the General Assembly Council (of which I’m the vice-chair). We had Darrell Guder in to lead discussions. People were all over the map. As a term that encapsulates an idea and inspires folks to action, I’m not sure how useful the term is.
    Here is my question: Which mission? I been blogging through John Stackhouse’s Making the Best of It. He identifies four commandments:
    Creation Commandments
    The Cultural Mandate – We are given the task of exercise dominion … bringing all creation, including human culture to its fullness. We are to be about the business of transforming matter, energy, and data from less useful states into more useful states even as we care for the natural order.
    The Great Commandments – “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor as your self.
    Redemption Commandments
    The New Commandment – “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, Just as I have love you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn. 13-34-35) There is a way are to engage each other as community that attracts others into our community.
    The Great Commission – We are sent into the world to make disciples and baptize them into the new community.
    Much of the missional critique is that we have fallen into an exclusive focus on a twisted version of The New Commandment and need to become outward focused in our mission. I get a sense with many who talk about missional , that we are still heavily oriented to the Redemption Commandments. Even when we talk about being out in the world, I get a sense that what we are primarily talking about is how to obey the Redemption Commandments in contexts outside the four walls of our church. The Creation Commandment, especially the cultural mandate, is absent. Some of the new emphasis on “creation care” goes a little bit into the cultural mandate, but it is anemic at best.
    To be more specific, I think balancing debits and credits, designing a fall line of sweaters, selling industrial pressure gages to manufacturing entities, taking a customer’s food order, reading water meters, etc., is integral to being missional. The Creation Commandments are transcendent. They are from before the fall and continue on into the new creation. The Redemption Commandments are temporal and end with the consummation of the new creation. Redemption is about personal salvation, yes, but it is also about redemption of the entire created order. We have subtly transformed a mission to redeem people and the cultural mandate into a mission where people and the cultural mandate are in service to the Redemption Commandments and the edifices (figuratively and real) we’ve built around them.
    I don’t think missional, as I most often here it used, goes far enough.

  • Barb

    In “Missional Church” edited by Guder, I found these concepts:The church’s mission is to represent the reign of God as a “sign and foretaste” and as its “agent and instrument.” AND that the way the church is to represent the reign of God is as its community, its servant, and its messenger.
    my point is that unless we seek first the Kingdom of God we really don’t can’t carry out God’s mission.

  • MattR

    My last comment went to moderation… not sure why.
    I think the term missional is still useful.
    Maybe, like Alan Hirsch suggests, we should qualify it… ‘missional incarnational.’ That describes more the posture towards ministry in culture.
    Michael W. Kruse @11…
    My answer is: missional includes all of your categories, but also gives them a different perspective.
    I like how Roxburgh describes it (who was an author in ‘Missional Church,’ literally helped write the book on missional!), my paraphrase: It’s not about the latest buzzword, or program, or even evangelism (or social justice, or ‘cultural mandate’)… the question is… what is God up to in the world? and how do we participate with him, in our particular context.
    It is a question of how the Gospel engages culture, and specifically in our own city and neighborhood.

  • MattR

    Sorry… something happened here :)
    posted twice. #11 & #14 similar thing.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Matt R #14
    “It’s not about the latest buzzword, or program, or even evangelism (or social justice, or ‘cultural mandate’)… the question is… what is God up to in the world? and how do we participate with him, in our particular context.”
    The operative word here is mission: “a special task given to a person or group to carry out.” God gives us the mission. Mission functions at many levels. There is mission in terms of the culturally-transcendent overarching narrative God has communicated to us. Then there is the response to this mission within our culturally and historically bound contexts. There is no discernment of “what is God up to in the world? and how do we participate with him, in our particular context” apart from the culturally-transcendent narrative. Without reference to it, “what God is up to” is just an inkblot test of our impressions and proclivities.
    Cultural Mandate, Great Commandments, New Commandment, and The Great Commission are not buzzwords or programs but explicit culturally-transcendent mission given to us by God that are to drive all we do in our particular contexts.

  • MattR

    Michael W. Kruse #14,
    I think we agree :)
    … to me, you sound like most of the missional people I know.
    I would agree, there should be no discernment of our role and response apart from the “culturally-transcendent narrative”- the story of God and God’s redemption and restoration of humans and all creation.
    I also agree… “Cultural Mandate, Great Commandments, New Commandment, and the The Great Commission” are all great ways Scripture describes God’s mission… and thus ours.
    My point- all of this was included in my understanding of the term ‘missional.’ Start with God, and God’s mission, which you described very well, and then ask ‘how do we join that in our particular context.’
    The missional theology guys, in my understanding, were just trying to express this in a way that says, God’s narrative and mission are ‘out there,’ in the world… not only ‘in here’ in the church. SO we need to understand both; the big picture (which you describe) AND how that plays out in our context. You need both.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    “I think we agree.”
    Well darn! Where’s the fun in that. :)
    “You need both.”
    Bingo!


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