Like most people, I want what I buy to work and be effective at what it was created to do.
For instance, I have a smartphone that keeps track of my life. I call, text, surf the web, tweet, Facebook, use Maps to get directions, make calendar appointments, etc. It helps me to function at a high level. In fact, I must confess that I couldn’t imagine going back to the pre-age of smartphones. I assume I would manage, but not without making some major adjustments.
However, the good news is that smartphones are here to stay and the technologies and capabilities will be ever increasing to help enhance our lives in some capacity.
But what if all of a sudden my smartphone didn’t work effectively? What if the screen started to freeze frequently and Siri started telling me where she wanted to go, rather than me telling her? I would likely be frustrated and look for an upgrade. Why? Because we want what we buy to work effectively at what it was created and designed to do.
When it comes to the mission of God (missio Dei), God bought a vehicle (the Church) by which He will carry out His mission in the world. The Church is God’s Plan A for advancing His mission in the world.
There is no Plan B.
Thus, the design and intended creation of the Church is to be the vehicle by which God (through the good news of Jesus Christ) creates a people for Himself from all peoples on the earth. As a result, the DNA of the Church is, and must continue to be, missional.
We were birthed from God’s mission for God’s mission.
Just as we want our smartphones (and the other things we buy) to operate according to their design and intended purpose, God wants the Church, whom He purchased by the blood of Christ, to be faithful to its purpose and, yes, effective at advancing His mission throughout the earth. In all truthfulness, one would think that if God’s people understood the gravity of how Jesus purchased their salvation and how their salvation relates to God’s mission and their role in it, they would be missionally effective.
In order to understand missional effectiveness, let me define what I mean by missional and missional effectiveness.
The term missional has been used quite a bit in the last 20 years. While missional has been popularized, it has not experienced a consistent usage or a consensus definition.
One of the reasons why there’s so much confusion around this word is because the term missional is an adjective. By definition, adjectives are not easy to define, because they are used to accomplish the purpose of the author. One sees this in the way missional has been used. Yet, the flexibility of missional is both a benefit and a frustration. Because many practitioners, theoreticians, and foes have kept themselves busy defining, defending, and dissecting the term, the meaning of the term has become blurred and caused some to swear off the word altogether.
However, I am not ready to concede this conclusion. I believe missional has enduring value. The question is not whether the term should be used, but how it should be used. How should we define missional?
At its simplest, missional is an adjective that describes a person or church who participates in the missio Dei.
But, of course, simple needs to be fleshed out.
For example, although this is not all it means, the idea of missional certainly includes missions. Lesslie Newbigin and others have helpfully distinguished the terms mission and missions. Newbigin understood mission to be the all-embracing term that refers to the entire task for which the Church is sent into the world, and missions as the intentional activities designed to create a Christian presence in places where there is no such presence, or at least no effective presence. (1)
So, it’s a big word because it is a big mission.
In light of what I have noted above, I understand missional as the totality of embracing, embodying, and enacting God’s mission in the world.
While I am grateful for all the missional talk, articles, books, and conferences, I am still somewhat concerned about the fact that many don’t seem to fully understand the essence of missional. Andreas Köstenberger rightly concludes, “A church that is unsure of its mission will not be effective in carrying it out.” (2) That is exactly what we see in too many churches in the West.
Most church approaches to mission are still founded upon twentieth-century strategies, which find root in an Enlightenment imagination—if we work harder, create more strategies, and techniques, then we can reach more people. Churches often begin with themselves and how they—through their strategies, programs, and ministries—can reach more people.
Churches then function as the originators of mission, which ultimately leads to a of lack missional effectiveness.
So, let me be clear about effectiveness in this context.
Missional effectiveness is embracing the totality of the missio Dei—including its message, movement, and marks—and enacting it in the life of a local church and beyond.
Thus, missional effectiveness begins with the mission of God. It begins with the church asking itself what mission looks like to God and crafts its identity, nature, and practices around His mission.
To help challenge and encourage church leaders (and their churches) towards missional effectiveness, this blog series will discuss the message, movement, and modes of God’s mission. And it will then conclude with some application to the twenty-first-century church.
(1) Michael Goheen, “The Significance of Lesslie Newbigin for Mission in the New Millennium,” Third Millennium 7 (2004): 88–99.
(2) Andreas Köstenberger, The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples According to the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 219.
- An Introduction
- The Message of God’s Mission
- The Movements of God’s Mission
- The Mark of Missional Community
- The Mark of Sentness
- The Mark of Multiplication
- Analogizing and Applying Missional Effectiveness