10 Myths About the Missional Church

Funding the Missional ChurchAt the recent Funding the Missional Church conference, organized by JoPa Productions and held in Minneapolis, Tony Jones gave a presentation on his “10 Myths About the Missional Church.” In classic David Letterman style, here they are:

  1. Missional is trying to put the conventional church out of business — Not so, says Dr. Jones.
  2. Missional is anti-denominational — Many of us were surprised to hear Tony say this, but he clarified his personal position: “I am anti-denominational, for theological reasons.” But what Tony thinks is not what typifies all of the missional church, thank God! (grin)
  3. Missional is a new way to “do church” — “Missional is a thorough-going theological re-evaluation, a thorough-going rethinking of church, what it means to be a disciple of Christ. … Everything should be re-thought in view of missional church.”
  4. Missional has a spokesperson — Tony affirmed the broad spectrum of theological voices in the missional church conversation, which is the philosophy of this blog, as well.
  5. Missional doesn’t appreciate church history — “Missional is more of a pastiche, a mosaic, a re-appropriation of church history in a different kind of fashion.”
  6. Missional is confined to the American church white guys — Tony on the role and place of hipster Gen Xers: “There is that strain in the movement, but you can talk to anybody who’s gone to other places, talk to Brian McLaren, and you’ll meet people who say they’re going through the same things. … [They say,] ‘We’ve been doing missional the whole time, now how do we partner in this thing?’”
  7. Missional does not believe in authority — “The hermeneutical authority, the authority in the community to interpret the sacred text, set the agenda, set the rules, decide what happens in the church, the dynamic is different. … Missional is saying some of those dynamics are changing, it’s becoming more crowd-sourced, more open-sourced, more participatory.”
  8. Missional is a reformation of evangelicalism — Tony stated that mainline denominations are “just as involved in this.”
  9. Missional only appeals to young people — The evidence overwhelming points to the contrary. This missional shift is very much multi-generational.
  10. Missional is lipstick on a pig — Tony decried those who are wringing their hands, just imagining that missional is a “last-ditch effort to save what is unsalvageable.” The missional shift is much more than that.

Check out my curation of the tweets, pictures, and links from the Funding The Missional Church conference on Storify!

As “a thorough-going theological re-evaluation,” Tony pointed to some of the major implications of missiology on other theological questions:

Tony Jones

"Everything should be re-thought in view of missional church."

  • the doctrine of God — What do we think is the nexus of divine/human action? How are we perceptive of God’s activity in the world? Are we even capable of doing that?
  • kenosis — the self-emptying of God in the crucifixion; is this a/the model for missional engagement?
  • the Messianic secret — Pointing to the passages where Jesus urged people not to tell others about him, Tony posited, “The job is telling people about the good things Jesus is up to in the world, but Jesus is saying to do the opposite.”
  • the doctrine of imago Dei — What are the implications of this on our missional engagement?
  • sacred/secular dichotomy — Tony asserted, “There aren’t ‘thin places,’ every place is a thin place.”
  • the doctrine of the Trinity — “A reinvigoration of trinitarian theology has affected the missional movement. … If your church is fundamentally relational, then perhaps it is not fundamentally liturgical or eucharistic.”
  • the doctrine of revelation — “How do we know where God is up to stuff in the world? That’s a question that I can’t so easily answer and some of you are more attuned to that than me.”

What do you think of Tony’s 10 myths? Would you add more to this list? What about the theological implications? Do you agree? Disagree? What would you add?

  • http://www.anglobaptist.org Tripp Hudgins

    I assume you guys are familiar with these folk: http://missionalchurch.org/ They have been doing some good work for a long time.

    • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve Knight

      I am familiar, Tripp. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/henryimler Henry Michael Imler (@henryimler)

    Can we add “use the word ‘Missional’ in every other phrase they speak and write”?

    • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve Knight


  • http://www.nextreformation.com len

    Are there still “thin places?” What theological work informs this question -

    • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve Knight

      Great stuff, Len! Thanks for sharing that link. I’ve heard good things about the “Thin Places” book. I need to check that out.

  • http://www.eliacin.com Eliacin

    oh brother… these seems to be taken out of the archives of polemics about Emergent church stuff.

    • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve Knight

      Eliacin, do you think these apply to “missional” as well? Or are you disagreeing with how Tony is equating them? I’m just curious …

  • http://mycontemplations.wordpress.com Cobus

    Steve, one of the things we discuss down here from time to time consider statement 5. If true, then I have to ask why we opt for the North American white guy terminology. There is power in terminology, and I fear that insisting that “everyong is doing missional”, recenters the North American white guys who are defining the term. From where I’m sitting, “missional” looks very much like a North American white guy attempt at formulating your own angle of participating in a global conversation (which is not a bad thing at all!). But the truth of the matter is that in the department of Missiology at UNISA where David Bosch’s legacy is still very strong, no one is speaking about “missional”. In the many black churches around South Africa, almost no one os speaking about “missional”. Where we do find people using this word, guess who there primary interlocutors are? Usually North American white guys… While there is a LOT of overlap in the theology emerging in various contexts in the world, the terminology we use, and the angle we come from, differs. I sometimes want to see more sensitivity to this from the North American white guys who work with this term.

    • http://workingonmyrewrite.blogspot.com/ bob c

      Great comment on the “American church white guys” phenomenon. As a (older) American church white guy, I am perplexed whenever a gathering of primarily privileged American white guys gather & say “it is not just American white guys”. As Eliacin writes, this is a carryover from many of the Emergent toing & froing.

      It strikes me that the 10 list is not very…um..missional. It reads more like a rebutal or a prebutal. That said, Tony’s insights on the major implications of missiology on other theological questions is quite strong.

    • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve Knight

      Cobus, I think this is a really helpful pushback and critique. So, if the language of “missional” is not truly global, what is the language that is being used … by the Missiology department at UNISA? by you? I think I could guess at what some of the possible alternatives might be, but I’d love if you could share some more thoughts on what language is more global and less North American white guy ;-) (Side note: “Missional” is also very much Australian white guy — Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch — as well.)

  • http://mycontemplations.wordpress.com Cobus

    Steve, perhaps “missional” is just very “white guy”, and have its proponents in all the old English colonies (including South Africa). I never really latched onto it (which require too much introspection as explanation for one comment to carry), but there is a strong South African conversation on this… primarily white guyish… (obviously with many exceptions!)
    I’m not sure that we should be looking for something “global”, perhaps rather seek out the many local formulation. UNISA’s missiology people should speak for themselves, but David Bosch used to talk about a “missionary theology”, and some would consider that to be quite the equivalent to “missional” (and I think they are broadly correct). There is a sense that “missional” was just an easy way of getting away from the baggage of “missionary” and “mission” (by those more critical, perhaps this is where I find myself, a sense that it’s often an attempt at dodging the problematic history without actually engaging it and working through the complex critique on those coming from dominant positions).
    I seldom draw on the language of “mission” (although David Bosch is without a doubt the theologian I’m most indebted to), while I don’t reject it. I just find it too vague and constantly leading to misunderstanding. On the other hand, perhaps “mission”, as generally used in these post-mission ways, has become a way of pointing to the alternative on an internalized religion (a problem all across the Christian spectrum). But I find it somewhat redundant as a description for that which I consider to be synonymous being Christian.
    I guess liberation remain a strong category for many (which has the added benefit of being more explicitly [on a naive literary level] Biblical than mission) around the world. Something like “the ministry of reconciliation” can be found in other places. In places there is a deepening reflection on “development”. In many places any reference to “mission”, whether you make is a noun, verb or adjective, is regarded with suspicion.
    Perhaps “missional” should be considered a particular form of contextual theology. It engaged the contextual challenges of a privatized religion found in white Christianity (whether progressive or conservative), and attempts to move this particular, largely suburban?, group of churches into a different kind of engagement with society. I like those parts. I dislike it when it falls into the trap of assuming that everyone is buying into this language construct. I sometimes miss a deep enough engagement with the social and historical situation which lead particular people to develop a particular theological construct (thus again linking onto the language of contextual theologies). Without such an analysis, we tend to assume that we represent the new orthodoxy…

    • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve Knight

      Cobus, thanks for this thoughtful response. You said, “I dislike it when it falls into the trap of assuming that everyone is buying into this language construct.” I certainly don’t want you to think that I’m making that assumption. I have my reasons for embracing and promoting the use of the word “missional.” I think it has its own distinct history that separates it from other terms like “mission,” “missions,” and “missionary.” Although it’s obviously very similar, the history and meaning of missional points to a fundamental shift (ahh, thus the name of the blog!) from one way of thinking about God’s mission to a new way of thinking about God’s mission, which is the transition Bosch documents so brilliantly in “Transforming Mission” and which the “Missional Church” book brought into my North American context and, arguably, popularized the term here. And now we’re exporting it to the rest of the world. In as much as that is a colonial activity, I apologize. That is certainly not my intention, and I appreciate the pushback from voices outside of my context.

      And here, I thought you were going to say “integral mission” was the more popular term in South Africa ;-) Any thoughts on that? Let’s keep the conversation going! I love it, Cobus! Thanks again.

      • http://mycontemplations.wordpress.com Cobus

        The first time I found “integral mission” was when a UK guy now living in SA, together with a number of Americans living in SA, wanted to start an “integral mission” movement together with South Africans. I liked the guy, an Amahoro contact. I liked his work. However, when the few South Africans who came (OK, he might have been inviting the wrong bunch!) started saying stuff similar to the above, the meeting turned tense. Everyone promised we’ll rather focus on relationships in future, but that was the last we heard from any of the missionaries to South Africa.
        I don’t think all strands of the missional conversation is bad theology. And trust me, I wouldn’t have been on this blog if I didn’t believe that your own thinking is more towards where I hope the conversation would go.
        What I perhaps want to point towards is that the criticism that a particular movement isn’t “global” enough, that it’s a “North American white guy” group, might not be the worst thing ever. The bigger question is whether North American white guys (or South African Afrikaans speaking Reformed white guys for that matter, which might be a worse place to come from!) can critically engage their own social location! I have my doubts whether missional language open those possibilities, but I’m open to be corrected.
        What I am willing to say (not just because this is your blog, I’ve been arguing this in some depth for a while now) is that those connected to what became known as the “more progressive emerging wing”, “emergentvillage” etc, to my mind have been better at the this. Perhaps because “missional” is getting a bit of flavoring from critical theories through feminist theologies and liberation theologies (correct my if I misread here!). On a sidenote, that might be why I myself continue to dialogue with those of this particular group, while ignoring many of the American missional speakers doing the African tour.

  • Andrew

    So looking at #6, I am a little unsure what this means. It is a “re-appropriation” of church history. Does this mean that the practices up of the church until now were flawed and thanks to the missional movement they have now been corrected? Or is it a different but equal approach? Not sure what to make of this.

    • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve Knight

      That’s a good question, Andrew. I’m not really sure. Maybe I can invite Tony over to comment on here directly himself. I’ll see what I can do ;-)

    • Scot Miller

      My guess is that Tony wants to re-appropriate practices and liturgies that have been forgotten (like the Didache and other “Sacred Ways”) to reinvigorate contemporary spiritual practices. I think he’s influenced by enough postmodernism to reject any notion of progress or superiority. Rather, we can find things from the past that speak to us today and other things that don’t.

  • Paul

    Steve, as i read through the myths i wrote down my initial thought on each one… my knee jerk reactions if you will:
    10. Church/Business.. hmmmm
    9. Some in the emergent/missional movement seem anti everything save thier current blog/book
    8.Bob Hamp says “Think differently= Live differently”
    7. some are just louder and more arrogant than others
    6. seems as thoug missional looks to ALL of history not just MODERN TIME
    5.American Churched White Guys are the last minority
    4. the current model of most churches have the rules set by committies and boards. umm thats the bussines world model not the Body of Christ
    3.Yep look at the EFCA
    2. sweet.. at age 43 that must means i must be “young”
    1.ugh.. cant hear that phrase without thinking of a hot hockey mom form alaska

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  • Greg D

    I think Missional is Emerging wrapped in more conventional clothing. I lean towards Emerging in my views and this sounds very similar to what I have always known to be Emergent. Sadly, the Emergent/Emerging Church has somehow lost respect with mainstream Evangelicalism, but somehow has gained it back by rebranding it with the Missional name. After all, who can argue with any group who claims to be missionally focused?

    • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve Knight

      Greg, Emergent Village has always defined itself as “a generative friendship of missional Christians,” so the missional piece was always part of what it meant to be Emergent, and I think I can safely say that continues to be true for many (most?). So it’s important to understand that missional is not simply a re-branding of Emergent. There’s a history to both of these terms, and it’s helpful to understand where they’ve come from and how they inter-relate. They are not synonymous, but they are connected.

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  • http://www.antechurch.com Joshua Jinno

    I cringe when people try to explain define or appropriate a label: it runs the risk of isolating those who tenuously accepted said labels as part of their own “understanding”. For me the beauty of “missional” is that Christianity becomes first and foremost not about having something (salvation/Jesus/etc…) but rather as we journey in faith, it repeats the mantra “now do something.”

    • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve Knight

      thanks for that, Joshua! “Go and do likewise,” right?

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