Missional vs. Missionally-engaged

From a (very) recent post by Ed Stetzer, whom I consider a voice of reason in the testy tempest of theology:

My hope is that we can be as faithful as we can and provoke one another to love and good deeds– mega, micro, and everything in between. And may all of our churches be biblically-driven and missionally-engaged in order to make His name and His fame more widely known.

You can read the entire post here.

Ed warns us to not write off the mega-churches in our talks of  being ‘missional.’ To be sure, some mega-churches do missions well, while others fail miserably. Yup, just like ‘normal’ churches.

But are we continuing to talk past each other when using the terms ‘missional’ as opposed to ‘mission-minded’ (or, as Stetzer more proactively calls it, ‘missionally-engaged. There is potentially a huge gulf separating ‘mission-minded’ and ‘missionally-engaged’)?

Here’s my experience as a pastor and seminary student…the discussion surrounding ‘missional’ conjures up thoughts of coffee shop churches and home group fellowships. The focus seems to have shifted to the creation of the church. We’re going to start/grow a church missionally, which oftentimes translates organically. The young, hipster churches have co-opted the word ‘missional’ and are using it to describe their natural, highly-contextualized church plants. And that is fine, as long as we are clear on the definition.

On the other hand, in discussions with friends and peers, the terms ‘mission-minded’ and ‘missionally-engaged’ focus on the execution of the church ministries. The churches who are in the trenches of ministry fall under this broad umbrella term. These are the folks who run soup kitchens out of the church; those who are rebuilding homes destroyed by floods. I know many ‘missional’ churches are doing similar work; I am just trying to clarify terminology.

These are broad brushstrokes, and possibly unfair to many churches, but I sense a frustration in my church circles, and I think it is mainly a semantics issue at heart. It comes down to this: missional  describes what we’re like (how we were created, our style, our DNA), and missionally-engaged describes how we operate, or at least what we value (hey, we actually DO missions). Using these definitions, a church could be:

1. Missional and inward-focused

2. Missional and missionally-engaged

3. Traditional and inward-focused

4. Traditional and missionally-engaged

5. A million other combinations, but none having ‘missional’ or ‘missionally-engaged’ as a sole description.

You can thank me later for clearing this up for you. A good starting point for anyone interested in the whole missional conversation is Steve Knights’s Missional Shift.

About pastoroftheprez

Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Kings Mountain, NC.
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