Missional Buzz
Will the real church please stand up?

The upcoming winter issue of Leadership will wrestle with the meaning of a very popular word - missional. Tim Conder, pastor of Emmaus Way in Durham, North Carolina, says, "So many fellowships that once boldly self-identified as cell churches, meta-churches, house churches, seeker-style, or purpose-driven now claim to be missional. It's such a buzzword that it's fair to ask, ?Is there really any such thing as a missional church?' Tim's full article on the subject is featured in Leadership's theme section, "Going Missional." Here is a preview.

The game show To Tell the Truth pitted three guests (two imposters plus the day's mystery guest who had some unusual occupation or accomplishment) against a panel of celebrities. The panelists asked questions of the guests, trying to identify which one actually had that occupation or accomplishment. The show ended dramatically when the truth was revealed: "Will the real ____________ stand up!"

Today, it would be almost impossible for "the real missional church" to stand up. Yes, there are plenty of imposters, but there's no one true example to play the day's mystery guest. And any panel of celebrities probably wouldn't accept the outcome.

So many fellowships that once boldly self-identified as cell churches, meta-churches, house churches, seeker-style, or purpose-driven now claim to be missional. It's such a buzzword that it's fair to ask, "Is there really any such thing as a missional church?" Although some use the term glibly, I believe the answer is "yes."

Missional at the core

In essence, missional churches seek to align their identity, activities, and hopes with God's redemptive mission on earth. This is a tall order for churches that brim with cultural and programming expectations, resource abundance, iconic labels (like "evangelical" or "mainline" or "Pentecostal"), and visions of grand ambitions. The temptation is always to have a grand scheme to which we incessantly try to woo or invoke God's presence rather see ourselves fitting into God's agenda.

In contrast, the missional church is a corrective to or an outright rejection of commodified and cultural Christianity, steeped in institutionalism, individualism, and sentimentality.

Identifying missional churches can be difficult. Such churches are separated by identity and perspective as much as their visible forms. Nonetheless, there are some common commitments.

(1) Missional communities try to align themselves holistically with God's theme of redemption. They resist the use of Christianity as an anesthetic to the pain of human needs and as an affirmation of the superiority of one culture's way of life.

January 12, 2007

Displaying 1–6 of 6 comments


January 15, 2007  6:42pm

Isn't "missional" just a varient spelling of "obedient"? It is not a varient spelling of "culture", although we have to be sensitive to the cultural context of our obedience to Christ's commands. And shouldn't our model for "missional-obedient" be Christ's own ministry? I Tim. 1:15 says that "he came into the world to save sinners." Pretty straightforward, isn't it? And shouldn't all of our ministry have that as its goal? When that goal becomes secondary to social activism and becomes an afterthought to entertainment, perhaps the church is no longer missional, but disobedient.

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Norman Grubb

January 15, 2007  4:27am

''You will be for me a kingdom of priests'' - Exodus 19:6. The highest vocation for which God has destined man has not changed through the centuries. When He was preparing a peculiar people to be His agent of world redemption, He told Moses that the true sign that He had sent him to rescue them from Egypt would be what He would say to them when they reached Mount Horeb. Evidently, therefore, the important point would be His commission to them. That would be the way they were to serve Him in the future. And what did He say to them? He reminded them of the way He had delivered them from their oppressors and brought them to Himself ''on eagles' wings,'' to be His peculiar treasure (although His eye and heart were really on all peoples, for ''all the earth is Mine''), and that His purpose was for them to be a ''kingdom of priests'' (Exodus 19:46). Priests are not priests for their own benefit, but for others. Thus if the whole of Israel was to be a kingdom of priests, it could only have been as intercessors for a lost world. It was for that reason, doubtless, that when God gave them this calling He added the words, ''for all the earth is Mine.'' Not a specially selected number to be priests among them, but all to be priests. That is of great significance. And not only priests, but ''a kingdom of priests,'' called by Peter, when applying this statement to the church, ''a royal priesthood.''

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January 13, 2007  10:01am

"Will the real church please stand up?" The "real" church is and has always been standing up for Jesus. The real church is people, not buildings or even 'home churches'. In many church buildings there are a majority of people and even pastors who are not standing, yet individual Christians who attend those churches and take their relationship with the Father seriously are living out their faith quietly every day. This involves spending time meditating on God's word, something most Christians are not interested in. God said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." When God's Word takes root in a person's heart, they will grow in grace and knowledge and 'missional' stuff (or whatever you wish to call it) will take place. Sadly, many pastors today want to see outward signs of people following Christ but don't lay the Biblical groundwork in their congregations for that to happen.

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Henriet Schapelhouman

January 12, 2007  7:16pm

Missional entails getting back in touch with the church's roots and the Great Commission. "While going make disciples..." It requires going, it requires getting out there, it requires making disciples. It's intentional, it's mission, it's answering the call to be Jesus in and to the community. Reggie McNeal states that missional is "ordering your life around God's missionary purposes." It requires each one of us and all of us collectively to arrange our lives and ministries to reach people with the Gospel. It requires getting out of the comfort zone and each person becoming missionary minded and acting in his or her context. It's a tall order, but Jesus said "follow me." I'm trying to follow.

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Doug Resler

January 12, 2007  3:40pm

One of the reasons that "missional" is so hard to define is because every congregation is located in a unique context, represents a unique blend of gifts and talents, and is used in unique ways to reach the world for Jesus Christ. I, for one, am actually glad we have such a hard time defining what "missional" looks like because of the temptation to commoditize or market the latest "magic-bullet" programs for success. As a pastor, I can't tell you the number of times I receive a brochure in the mail promising a "billion soul harvest" or "THE answer" to all my ministry needs. The fact that "missional" churches resist such easy definition is a great thing!!!

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Alan Hirsch

January 12, 2007  1:14pm

And missional is not neccesarily emerging! So many people confuse the terms. Genuine emerging churches come out of missional and not the other way around.

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