One of the attractions of the “missional” label is the inherent affirmation of Christ’s mission in and to the world. If we are followers of Christ, then part of that mission must include the idea that we want all people to know Him.
The term “missional” came into prominent use in the late 20th century as an adjective describing the activity of God’s people in the world for His mission. Today, the term has taken on broad meanings by such diverse and often contradictory voices that, to some, “missional” has become virtually meaningless.
I’ve been working on my chapter for a forthcoming book on the meanings of missional. As I write, I am increasingly convinced that the word has value—but we have to define what we mean by mission.
Or, better yet, let Jesus define it.
In this short article, I want to weigh in on what a missional emphasis really must include. It is more than this, but it includes this. (I’ve discussed the bigger meaning of missional at length on my blog – here, here, here, here, here and here).
I cannot define the word “missional,” at least not in an authoritative or definitive way, for everyone. But I can tell you why I think it must include Jesus mission to see and save the lost (Luke 19:10).
This does not mean that much of the concern about the way the word “missional” has been used is not warranted. There are some serious and legitimate concerns. However, if we’re going to adopt the term “missional,” here’s what we can’t do and still be on Jesus mission.
1. We can’t de-emphasize the cross.
We do not want to focus on the Kingdom as an instrument of societal transformation without a cross-centered approach. Two millennia later, the cross is still an offense.
People don’t like being confronted with a bloody cross. It’s a stumbling block to them. In our zeal to make the world more like God would have it, there may be a tendency to move away from the centrality of the cross in our conversation.
Being missional means making sure that the missional proclamation continues to be “Christ and Him crucified.”
2. We can’t de-emphasize the spiritual dilemma.
Societal transformation is not man’s biggest problem.
The world is a broken place, and there is a desperate need for economic and social justice in all parts of the world. There are those who are exploited and oppressed with little or no hope of relief.
The vulnerable and the downtrodden must be in our missional vision. But we must remind ourselves (and those to whom we bring relief) that our chief problem is not alienation from each other but alienation from God.
Being missional means spreading the message of reconciliation between God and man through Jesus Christ.
3. We can’t de-emphasize Jesus.
We are obligated to make Jesus winsome and attractive in all of His authority, sufficiency and exclusivity. There is salvation in no one other than Jesus Christ, "for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it."
The Kingdom of God cannot be proclaimed apart from its saving King. And, doing Kingdom work without speaking of the saving King is truncating Jesus mission in a way He did not.
It's not popular to talk about Jesus as God, or Jesus as the Son of God, or Jesus as the only Way of salvation. Let's face it: Not much has changed in 2,000-plus years.
His enemies killed him and then lied about His resurrection because they recognized Jesus as a threat to their status quo. People still want to avoid life's biggest question: What are you going to do with Jesus?
Being missional means we publicly profess, confess and proclaim His name, even in the face of adversity and opposition.
4. We can’t de-emphasize the Gospel proclamation.
At its simplest, the mission is sharing and showing the love of Jesus. But the mission involves words and action, not just action.
Much of the concern regarding use of the word "missional" is that many who've adopted the term have jettisoned (wittingly or unwittingly) the proclamation of the Gospel.
What they kept was, "Let’s do the demonstration of the Gospel." But is it really a demonstration of the Gospel if the Gospel’s not a part of it?
Being missional means making sure the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who need to "hear" (Romans 10:14) is always central to the mission.
5. We can’t de-emphasize the church.
I don’t think you can love Jesus and ignore His wife.
Some believe the church has not done enough in God's Kingdom mission, and some who have used the term “missional” have attempted to jettison the church in favor of a broader "Kingdom" focus.
Christ loves His church. The church matters. We must affirm the words of the Tambaram mission conference: "It is the Church and the Church alone which can carry the responsibility of transmitting the Gospel from one generation to another, of preserving its purity and of proclaiming it to all creatures."
The church is on a biblical mission.
The church is not the center of God’s plan. Jesus is. But the church is central to God’s plan.
Being missional means not leaving the church behind and keeping the church central in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to the ends of the earth.
We are all called to be missional.
Who doesn’t want to be missional? We all want to be missional, if we’re disciples of Jesus.
Yet, we’d be naïve not to realize that here is a lot of biblical and theological revisioning happening right now in evangelical circles. Fidelity to Jesus and His authority through His Word is being tested. And, yes, that impacts the missional conversation as well.
Being missional—in the way of Jesus and in the way the Scriptures describe—means our engagement of culture and context is not at the expense of the person of Jesus and the power of His Gospel.
That’s joining the mission of Jesus.