Is it time to move on from debating Missional Church?

Director of Training Dave Newton suggests it’s time to stop debating the meaning behind a much-used title

There has been a lot of conversation over the last decade about ‘The Missional Church’. Questions have arisen such as: Is it a new stream? Is it something different to the Church? Does ‘missional’ mean something different to ‘mission’?

To add to the confusion, practitioners and leaders from different streams in both the UK and USA have picked up on the term and used it to mean different things. So, what is all this talk about being missional and will the term be travelling with us into a new decade?

One thing is clear – and most would agree – that when we talk missional it is not simply about adding an extra ‘missions’ emphasis to an already overcrowded church programme. Rather, it is understanding that mission constitutes the very essence or nature of the Church, holding tight to the fact that God is a God on mission. And God has sent the Church on that same mission.

“As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said, “even so I am sending you,” (John 20:21). Another debate that has raged within this conversation is that if the Church is on God’s mission, what methods and techniques do we adopt to achieve this mission?

One of the overriding marks of the missional church seemed to be a reaction to the ‘attractional’ approach: the notion that if we make our gathered events more contemporary, creating a compelling seeker-friendly service, people will be attracted to be part of it, ultimately removing people from one culture and placing them in another.

In contrast, the missional Church, drawing heavily on the theology of incarnation, sought to go to where people already are in their tribes and cultures rather than drawing them out from it.

The danger here is that as we go we simply assimilate with culture rather than taking a new kingdom culture with us. It is clear that any church seeking to influence the environment around it needs a blend of attractive community and scattered mission-minded believers. American author and theologian Tim Keller suggests some behaviours or characteristics of a missional Church which I believe we can learn from and apply:

A missional Church confronts

The Church must realise that the message we carry is profoundly different from the messages found in philosophy, arts, culture and popular society. Society is searching for happiness, satisfaction and personal fulfilment of our talents and our dreams. The idea that we can simply layer Jesus onto this as the giver of true fulfilment is far from the gospel message we have been called to carry. The good news message is not that Jesus is the extra ten per cent to make our lives great but rather that he demands 100 per cent true followership and obedience to him.

A missional Church contextualises skilfully and communicates clearly

Missional churches recognise the need to understand their context so they spend time learning the cultural narrative. They know the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of their culture. As well as that they understand the nuanced meanings certain concepts have in their culture.

As a result, they spend time examining their culture’s understanding of these concepts and gaining a deeper understanding of the gospel, so they might accurately present it to those they are trying to reach.

They seek to communicate in everyday language in everyday environments the transforming message of Jesus, equipping people as carriers of the gospel into all corners of society.

A missional church equips and supports beyond the walls

Missional churches recognise members need to be equipped to 1. Talk about Jesus, wherever they find themselves. 2. Love their neighbours and act justly within their neighbourhoods, towns and cities. 3. Link their faith with their work in order to engage culture in the workplace. As a result, a missional church finds ways to support its people outside its walls, whether at work, home, abroad, or in leisure activities.

A missional Church must serve the community

Missional churches recognise their role as servants in society; they actively seek opportunities to pour out their resources sacrificially for the common good of the city. They seek to play a key part in addressing destructive issues of debt, lack of education, homelessness and addiction etc. While they exist as a distinct counterculture, they situate themselves within society, so their neighbours can observe a separate but servant community.

Rather than endlessly debating what it means to be missional perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves how our churches are modelling these characteristics and making Christ known.

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