May 2, 2011Missiology

Musings On the Missional Manifesto, part 1

Last week, I announced at Exponential and on my blog a new document called the Missional Manifesto. I'm very glad to see how it came together and I want to listen to others as they give they (you) give insight.

As I've said before, the word "missional" can be like an ecclesiological junk drawer. People sometimes use the word to justify whatever definition of the church that they prefer. And in doing so, it's loses its meaning.

You've also heard me say before that the term "missional" can be like a Rorschach Test. In a Rorschach Inkblot Test, someone is asked to distinguish what they see in random inkblots. As you know, the answer changes from one person to the next. One person sees a flower. The next person sees a mushroom cloud.

The same is true for many in the missional conversation. We tend to define "missional" by what we want it to mean. As more churches and church leaders have entered the "missional conversation" (which is great, by the way), it has gotten more complicated to do so. In fact, it has gotten so muddled that some have said we should just lose the word altogether. I'm not so sure that's the right move.

I believe the word "missional" has the potential to have lasting impact on the church precisely because of what it means. In other words, if we can frame what we mean when we use the word "missional," it could serve the church to fulfill its calling to be a witness of the Gospel, in word and deed, to every culture. This is important stuff!

There is no question that the confusion surrounding the word "missional" has been difficult to wade through. If you've been frustrated, I feel your pain. I've been confused at times too. The need for clarity around the term is what prompted Alan Hirsch and I to pull together a group of missional practitioners to tackle the issue. To the best of our abilities, we have set out to frame what we mean we use the word "missional."

Does this end the conversation on the meaning of "missional?" By no means. We are not trying to define, once and for all, what "missional" means. Many will use it in different ways and that is fine. The meaning of words are meant to be debated. But this is what a group of us believe the word means when we use it.

As you look at the manifesto, you will notice that is split up into two parts: a preamble and ten affirmations. The preamble is an introductory statement that establishes the reasons for and intent of the manifesto. But as I mentioned last week, the main impact of the manifesto is the ten affirmations.

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to take some time to look at each of the affirmations in greater detail. I want to encourage you join in the conversation in the comment section of each of the post. I look forward to the conversation.

Keep in mind, that this is a consensus document. Thus, I am not the source of each word so I will try to discuss as part of a group, not as the sole source of the words.

Today, let's look at the first affirmation: Authority. Here is how the affirmation is worded in the manifesto:

Authority: As a revelation about the nature of God, we can only truly understand the mission of God by what is revealed through the Scriptures. Therefore, our understanding of the missio Dei and the missional church must always be directed and shaped by, and cannot be contrary to, God's revealed Word in scripture.

It is tempting to form our thoughts on what "missional" means from the latest book or conference. Certainly, there are plenty of great books and conferences out there. I've written some books that many have found helpful on this issue like Breaking the Missional Code and Compelled By Love. I have written extensively on the "Meaning of Missional" in my blog series here. But if we do not start with the idea that the missional conversation must be shaped by Scripture, we will get off track very quickly.

As a missiologist, I have studied the history of missions in depth. When you look at the historical trajectory of missions, you will find that there have been many faithful men and women who have used Scripture to inform their theology and philosophy on mission. These men and women have brought the Gospel to penetrate parts of the world where the name of Jesus had never been heard.

There have been others who, ironically, in the name of mission, have redefined what mission is by moving beyond Scripture. A primary example is the missio Dei movement of the 1960s, a movement that ultimately shipwrecked much of the world mission enterprise.

The framers of the Missional Manifesto believe deeply in the mission of God. But we also believe that in order for us to truly understand what the mission even is, we must first look at Scripture and let that be our guide.

In many ways, we want our thoughts to resemble the Reformers' tenet on Sola scriptura. Sola scriptura was the idea that the Bible includes all knowledge necessary for things like salvation and holiness. And while many could add more to this list, for the sake of our discussion today, I would add mission as well.

It is also important to note that the idea of Sola scriptura was never to deny that there are other sources that can inform our thoughts on things like mission, but to recognize that those other sources are subordinate to the written Word of God. So, we wanted to state clearly that we are looking to Scripture first to guide our thinking and the affirmations of the document.

We live in a unique time in history when authority of any kind is questioned. I get that. Authority has been abused. But when it comes to the things of God-- and particularly the mission of God-- we must be careful not to sidestep God's primary revelation of Himself in His Word.

If God has graciously disclosed Himself to us in the Scriptures, we can trust that His thoughts on what His mission looks like will be good and gracious. So as we move forward in this conversation, we commit to sitting under the authority of the Scriptures. To let His words be our words. To let His thoughts be our thoughts. To let His mission be our mission.

Join me later in the week as we look the second affirmation regarding the Gospel. Be sure to read the preamble and affirmations here, and then come back and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments. Let's get this conversation rolling.

(Please be mindful of the comment policy at the blog as you post your comments. Thanks.)

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Musings On the Missional Manifesto, part 1