What Does Missional Mean?

missionalThat’s the question I get asked over and over again in my work as Minister for Missional Initiatives for Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. (Did you see that word in there a couple times? Yeah.)

It’s also the question that will not be easily answered in a single blog post. (Watch for more on this topic in future posts!)

But, for what it’s worth, here’s my elevator speech answer to the question:

Missional means participating with God in what God is doing in the world.

This still leaves lots of room for interpretation, right? What does it mean to “participate”? Where does God’s action begin and end? Where does our agency begin and end? What is God doing? How can we know?

I believe the necessary broadness of the definition and application of missional is one of the reasons why it’s being adopted and used by everyone from Southern Baptists to Unitarian Universalists.

What is God doing in the world? It takes discernment to really answer that question, and even then, the answers we come up with will be heavily biased based on your own theological positions.

As my friend Tripp Fuller has suggested, the answer you give to that question will probably indicate what you believe God cares about. If you believe God cares about saving individual souls for eternity, then you’ll probably describe your latest evangelistic outreaches as “missional.” But if you believe God really cares about social justice, then you’ll probably point to the church soup kitchen for the homeless or your faith community’s advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community as being “missional.” (Those are just two broad brush-stroaked examples.)

That’s how big and how broad the missional church conversation has become in 2012. It’s an expansive and exciting place to be, as far as I’m concerned.

What is your definition of “missional”? Want to pushback on my definition? Go for it! (in the comments)

UPDATE: Over at the Patheos Book Club, they’re featuring a new book on the meaning of mission in contemporary life by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, entitled Gathering at God’s Table. I’ve just started reading it, and I’m planning to share some more thoughts on the book later. But for now, head on over to the Book Club to read the introduction to her book, in which she beautifully writes, “Mission is how to love God through loving our neighbors. … It is God’s mission, for which the Body of Christ—the church—exists. We participate in helping to build toward the dream God has planted in our hearts.”

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