Last night I enjoyed attending an Upstream Collective sponsored dinner at the Exponential conference in Orlando. Great food and fellowship with about 80 people gathered to hear a dialogue between Ed Stetzer and Alan Hirsch, both popular authors in the Church Planting world.
The discussion was built around questions that had been sent in via twitter and email and there were some interesting questions. But the one that seemed to generate the most heat was a question regarding the word “missional.” Ed often refers back to the early use of the word – tracing it back to my former missions professor – Dr. Francis DuBose. Actually, since 1982 I’ve been using the word “missional” because it was one of my professor’s favorite words. The word, in context just made sense and since 1982 I’ve been using it, kind of surprised that it never spell checked correctly and surprised that people thought it was a new word.
It’s a great word and it was defined in several ways last night – some emphasizing more the incarnational dimension and others emphasizing more of the intentionality of missional living and intentional ministry. Absolutely imperative to the concept is that the missional nature grows out of the heart of God.
A lifestyle or ministry or church that is intentionally, incarnational and deliberately redemptive and pervasively reconciliatory is a reflection of God – the old missio-dei concept that Ed pointed out has become associated with a tainted “liberal” movement. So, some evangelicals are reluctant to use this excellent expression, missio-dei.
All that to say that the word missional may go down that same road. The word is now used to communicate, “this is about everything that I don’t like about what the church used to be.” Or it indicates, “I want everyone to know that our church and our ministry is hip! That’s right we don’t do old, committee-led, tradition-driven, programatic, dead and dying church. We are missional.”
So missional is going down the same road as missio-dei and unreached people. It’s over-used in meaningless contexts and the meaning is front-loaded with pork-belly-type add-ons which only benefit the one using the phraise. Missional seems to take on new meaning with each utterance.
I remember when Unreached People Group actually meant something very specific. It referred to specific ethno-linguistic peoples around the world which had no scripture in their language, no Christian media available for communicating the Gospel in their language, zero missionaries at work among them, and in sum, almost no opportunity to see or hear an understandable expression of the Gospel.
Today, the term Unreached People can refer to any group of people who are lost or unsaved. So the end result – I don’t even want to use the word Unreached because for some it has come to mean – anybody who does NOT attend my kind of church. Some of us started using the word unengaged taking on somewhat of a refined meaning. At Saddleback as was the Pastor for Unengaged Peoples and people thought that was code for “Single Adult Minister.” So that word isn’t great either.
And here we go with the word “missional,” one of my favorite words since 1982 when I took Dr. Dubose’s missions classes. Those courses took us from the classroom to a ministry center in Oakland that was part of Dr. J. Alfred Smith’s church. DuBose’s class was missional in that we did it, we didn’t just talk about it – we went to Haight Ashbury and hung out; we went to San Francisco for midnight ministry. It was, yes, missional.
So, last night I got the distinct impression that Ed Stetzer has not given up on the word – he’s passionate about it’s proper use.
As for me and the word missional? Ok I’ll still use it because it’s so commonplace in the conversations I have every week.
But..I’m looking for a new favorite expression to describe the missional lifestyle that grows out of the heart of God.