the weblog of Alan Knox

Missional Stew

Posted by on Jun 23, 2008 in missional, synchroblog | 14 comments

Rick at “The Blind Beggar” suggested a synchroblog to discuss the definition of the term “missional” (see his post “Call for Missional Synchroblog“). To be honest, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to add to this discussion. I’ve only recently begun to consider the meaning and implications of being missional. However, I’m looking forward to reading the other posts, and I encourage my readers to read and consider what other people are saying about the term “missional”.

When I was growing up, the “regional” airport in a large city near us decided that it wanted to steal some of the air traffic away from ATL (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport). Over several years, there were studies and consultants and budgets and votes. Eventually, the airport made a huge decision – they decided to change their name from “regional airport” to “international airport” – as if changing the name would change who they were.

I think many followers of Jesus Christ may be attempting to add “missional” to whatever they already doing. But, adding the label “missional” to their meetings and programs does not make them missional. So, what does “missional” mean?

Several bloggers will be posting and defending their definitions of the term “missional”. To be completely honest, I don’t know exactly what it means. Instead of offering my own definition of “missional”, I thought I would throw a few ingredients into the stew (so to speak). In other words, whatever “missional” means or how “missional” is applied to someone’s life, I think it should include these things (not a comprehensive list):

Gospel: “Missional” is dependent upon the Gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ. I’m not talking about a “gospel presentation”. I’m talking about living a life that is reconciled to God through the finished work of Jesus Christ and the continuing work of his Spirit. It means recognizing that just as God has reconciled us to himself, he desires to reconcile “all things” to himself.

Relationship: “Missional” is relational. I don’t see any other way around it. God includes his children in his mission toward other people. It is a relational mission – both relationship with God and relationship with one another and relationship to the world.

Intentionality: “Missional” requires intentionality. I do not see how someone can be accidentally missional. This does not mean that missional activities are always pre-planned – they can be spontaneous. But, spontaneous acts of mission can still be intentional.

Cost: “Missional” is costly. This does not mean that you are being missional by only giving money. However, it does mean that living a missional life will cost you money, time, and energy, among other things. It may even cost your reputation (especially among religious types).

Love: When I originally wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, I did not include “love” as an ingredient in my missional stew. Why? Because I thought “love” was obvious. However, after further thought, I think “love” needs to be a part of any definition of “missional” – both the love of God and the love of others – both the love of other believers and the love of those who are not followers of Jesus.

Like I said earlier, I’m looking forward to reading more posts that actually define the term “missional”. I hope that many of them include some of these ideas.

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Here is a list of the 50 bloggers who are defining the term “missional” as part of this synchroblog:

Alan Hirsch
Alan Knox
Andrew Jones
Barb Peters
Bill Kinnon
Brad Brisco
Brad Grinnen
Brad Sargent
Brother Maynard
Bryan Riley
Chad Brooks
Chris Wignall
Cobus Van Wyngaard
Dave DeVries
David Best
David Fitch
David Wierzbicki
DoSi
Doug Jones
Duncan McFadzean
Erika Haub
Grace
Jamie Arpin-Ricci
Jeff McQuilkin
John Smulo
Jonathan Brink
JR Rozko
Kathy Escobar
Len Hjalmarson
Makeesha Fisher
Malcolm Lanham
Mark Berry
Mark Petersen
Mark Priddy
Michael Crane
Michael Stewart
Nick Loyd
Patrick Oden
Peggy Brown
Phil Wyman
Richard Pool
Rick Meigs
Rob Robinson
Ron Cole
Scott Marshall
Sonja Andrews
Stephen Shields
Steve Hayes
Tim Thompson
Thom Turner

14 Comments

  1. 6-23-2008

    Hi Alan, I missed the whole syncroblog thing, and I tried to go and join, but I don’t even see how to post a comment.

    Oh well. If you are interested, it is by sheer coincidence (or Divine providence if you prefer) that I am posting my own thoughts on this over the next week.

    The first and second parts are posted now if you care to read along.

  2. 6-23-2008

    Alan, for claiming not to know what it means you sure gave a perfect illustration how the term is used/misused. I also think of how small colleges like to become a ‘university’. The really ambitious ones become am “International University”. Which means they really must be grand!

    You gave that illustration and then and then added absolutely crucial ingredients to the stew. Those are it. Perfectly and directly put.

    We just have to go about working it out.

  3. 6-23-2008

    Your points are simple, but profoundly important. Well said!

    Peace,
    Jamie

  4. 6-23-2008

    Great post Alan. I loved the airport name-change example. I think you hit the essence with your ingredients, particularly relational and intentional. (not that the others aren’t equally important)

  5. 6-23-2008

    Love stew…this was no exception!

  6. 6-23-2008

    Alan,

    I think you have identified a problem which always arises when we try to label a movement, an idea, a program. The problem won’t disappear, no matter how hard we try.

    Writings about the “missional” label have been catching my attention for two or three years. Across the board different writers describe the label as having, at least, as many characteristics as you describe.

    Here’s where the problem arises; for many, like some of the recent descriptions of new ideas about “church”, the label “missional” appears to be simply the appellation for a new denomination which is being born.

    Some of those waving the “missional” flag appear to have four of the five qualities you identify. Those same four qualities appear in the service clubs and other secular associations of people; relationship, intentionality, cost, and love of some kind or another.

    I hope my words don’t come across as ungracious, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ seems to take a back seat in much of what is written, and, quite often, not coming into the picture at all.

    In all my long years, the gospel,relationship, intentionality, cost and love have been what actually identified and defined discipleship and discipling!

  7. 6-23-2008

    Aussie John, I think you are right. I have observed the same thing. Terms like missional can often become the excuse to disguise the Gospel… they don’t have to be used that way, but too often they are.

  8. 6-23-2008

    J.R.,

    Thanks for the links! I’ve been following your series and I’ve enjoyed it very much.

    Paddy,

    I agree that it is important to now live out what we think it means to be missional. In fact, if we’re wrong, I think that God will correct that as we are serving, not necessarily while we are studying.

    Jamie,

    Thanks for the encouragement. Each of the points have been both important and life-changing for me.

    Grace,

    Your contrasting description of what it means to be missional was also very good. Contrasts help me understand terms.

    AbiSomeone,

    Thank you. I’m glad you found my “stew” enjoyable.

    Aussie John,

    I agree. That’s why I put “Gospel” as the first ingredient in my “stew”. I also agree that “missional” should not be used as a reason for more denominatinalism. Instead, I think “missional” should be a description of the lives of all those who are following Jesus.

    -Alan

  9. 6-23-2008

    I think the challenge is whether this is a useful word for us, or whether it has already become so blurred that it is lost. The point was made above that missional is a word that can mean lots of things to different people – but I think that at its purest, the word is extremely helpful. So can we reclaim the word? Thanks for your efforts towards this.

  10. 6-23-2008

    Alan,

    Thank you for this contribution to the stew!

    I really liked the addition of thoughts on the costliness of being missional. You are right, this element is a necessary feature of a missional life.

    I’ve been thinking about how mission takes us to the margins. These places are not at the comfortable centre where everything is orderly and ‘together’, but on the fringes. It is at the fringes that people can receive and participate in the gospel – the kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit, not to the rich young rulers. Thus, it can be a costly place to dwell.

  11. 6-23-2008

    Duncan,

    You’ve asked some good questions. Since I’ve come to this discussion only recently, I don’t know the answers. At this point, I’m more concerned with seeing people live out the love of God and love of others every day than about the meaning assigned to the term “missional”. However, I understand the frustration with the meaning of a term is blurred. I see this all the time in my study of ecclesiology.

    Mark,

    Yes, I think living for Christ will include relating to those on the margins and the fringes of society. This seems to be the model that Jesus gave us. As we continue his ministry of reconciliation, I can’t see us remaining in only comfortable situations.

    -Alan

  12. 6-24-2008

    alan, thanks for the thoughts you shared here…i do agree that the cost is very high. that was always the message of the gospel–following jesus, like really following jesus, means we will pay a price in the world’s economy but it’s oh so worth it because we know in deeper places than ever before what love really looks like, feels like, is…

  13. 6-24-2008

    alan,

    thanks for including love in your post. really pulls it together:)

    brad

  14. 6-24-2008

    Kathy,

    I agree that cost is part of Jesus’ message that is often overlooked – or the corporate cost is considered, but not the personal and intimate cost.

    Brad,

    Yeah, I think you’re right. Love pulls everything together.

    -Alan

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