Scot McKnight (an entirely different person than Steve Knight, the author of this blog) has given us his definition of missional, in the context of an excellent review of Don Everts’ new book Go and Do: Becoming A Missional Christian:
“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.”
In the comments, Scot clarifies how he sees “missional” being indivisibly tied to the local church: “The kingdom vision of Jesus morphs … into the ecclesia of the early church. So forming local kingdom communities, churches, is the core of what missional will be and where missional is designed to play out.”
I think Scot’s definition is somewhat idealistic (“Nothing can be called missional until …”), because missional is already being defined by people every day from across the theological spectrum. (Evangelicals have a tendency to co-opt and define terms for everyone like this. I don’t hate on them for doing it, I know it’s just the way they’re wired!)
I absolutely agree with him, however, that missional has a history (as defined/described by all the theologians he mentions) that needs to be read and understood in order to really grasp how it is fundamentally different from traditional “mission” or “missions” (or “evangelism” or “social justice,” as he states). The world would probably be a better place if the term missional were reserved for the more narrow application that Scot is describing, but that’s just not the world that we live in (yet — *wink*).
I would also prefer to see Scot’s definition be more action-oriented (e.g., “missional means participating with God in God’s mission”) rather than just descriptive (“It’s about …”, “God summons humans …”), but overall I really think Scot’s definition is excellent.
Even though Scot is an entirely separate human being from myself (he’s evangelical, I’m post-evangelical/progressive, etc.), I like his definition quite a bit. But what do you think?