I hear it all over the place, and I’ve had pastors ask me to define “missional” and I’ve had college students say “that’s SO missional…” and so it’s time to take a quick look at the term and then at a new book by Don Everts, Go and Do: Becoming a Missional Christian.
I begin making a few negatives clear: missional is not a new, fancy, PC, shorn of its weaknesses version of the word “evangelism.” Neither is it equivalent to social justice, and neither is it what many missionaries do. And it’s not counter-cultural, anti-church churches or house churches or outside the box churches. Yes, “missional” has been captured by many who are former “evangelism” people who know this term is more acceptable. But this term has a special meaning, has been worked on hard by scholars like David Bosch, Lesslie Newbigin (picture), Darrel Guder, John Franke, and David Fitch, and I’d like to offer a brief sketch of what it means:
1. It’s about God’s mission in this world.
2. It’s about God’s mission in this world in Christ.
3. It’s about God’s mission in this world in Christ in view of the Age to Come/Kingdom of God.
4. God summons humans to participate in God’s mission by becoming oriented to God’s mission, to others, and to the world — in the context of the (local) church.
The result of this is very, very important: nothing can be called missional until the mission of God is defined, which means nothing can be called missional until it is connected to Jesus and the kingdom of God/the Age to Come, and nothing can be missional if it is not shaped through the local church. Missional gets its start when we discern what God is doing in this world and particularly what God is doing in our community and what God is calling the ecclesia to do in light of that big mission of God.
Don Everts, instead of defining God’s mission, in Christ, in view of the kingdom of God, states — rather well I think — that being missional is getting caught up in God’s mission. That’s good, but this only works if we get “God’s mission” defined well, which I’m not sure Everts does.
Everts sketches what the life of a missional Christian looks like, and he does this very well: he breaks it into Anatomy and Geography. This is an excellent primer on what it means to be other-oriented with a view toward (apparently soterian) evangelism. He contrasts the missional Christian helpfully with other “kinds” of Christians — like the Safe Christian and the Successful Christian and the Happy Christian.
For Anatomy, we are to have Sober eyes, Servant hands, Ready feet, Compassionate heart, and a Joyful soul. For Geography, we are to have a purposeful family, relational form of evangelism, in the context of a thriving church, carry out urban mercy (he focuses on city), and global partnerships. In each of these Everts sketches good and solid teachings, both from the Bible and even more so from his personal experience. We are treated to one good story after another of what it means to be other-oriented.
But in my estimation this book lacks the key ingredient of an eschatological orientation that frames what God is doing in this world, both required for one to call something missional, and the places to begin for that eschatological vision include 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, texts like Phil 2:5-11, and esp Revelation 21-22. When we ask What is God’s aim in all this? we begin to see what “missional” means. Until then, “missional” gets co-opted by other topics, however important, like evangelism.