I first posted this on my now-defunct “Red Letters Blog” in 2005. SaidatSouthern has asked for our thoughts on “being missional,” so I thought I would resurrect this post and give it new life at Kingdom People.
“Missional” – the new buzzword within the Southern Baptist Convention. Young Baptist leaders are embracing the term to describe a new crop of churches, or at least the vision of what they would like to see churches one day become. Others are hoping that “missional” will one day accurately describe the thrust of the entire Convention, at a national level.
Southern Baptists may be using “missional” terminology, but often the different generations are not speaking of quite the same thing. For many traditional SBC leaders, the term is synonymous with the idea of being “missions-minded” or “evangelistic.” If that were the case, then Bobby Welch’s heartfelt desire to see a million baptisms in the next year would seem to be the answer to all the younger leaders’ complaints.
What does “missional” refer to among the emerging leaders of the SBC? Before embarking upon the tricky task of defining the term, one must recognize that this word is being used in many ways. I do not claim to speak for all young leaders in the SBC. The following ideas are some broad observations, along with suggestions for how we can move forward and best work to be salt and light in the world.
What Missional is Not
First off, one must begin with what “missional” does not mean to the younger leaders of the SBC. Only after determining what the term does not mean, we will be able to turn to the question of definition.
- Being “missional” is not the equivalent of simply being “missions-minded.” For many traditional SBC pastors, “missional” refers to a church with a heart for missions. Of course, having a heart for missions is included within the desire to be “missional,” but the two are not the same.
- Being “missional” does not refer only to evangelism. It seemed to me that many of the speeches from the Younger Leaders’ Summit at the Convention (in 2005) featured traditional speakers equating “missional” with evangelistic fervor. That is not the way younger leaders are using the term. Yes, evangelism drives many younger leaders. But the term “missional” itself does not refer only to “soul-winning.”
- Being “missional” does not refer only to the support of missionaries. Though the root word for missionary and missional is the same, the two terms are not interchangeable. Churches that seek to be “missional” will throw their support behind home and foreign missionaries, but that is not all there is to being missional.
I should reiterate here that the term “missional” does not exclude the above aspects. We believe that Christians are called to have a heart for missions, to personally share the Gospel message, and to support those who take the message to others. The younger leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention do not negate the importance of these vital tasks. Still, we are using the term “missional” differently and in a much broader sense than what has been traditionally understood by Southern Baptist leaders in recent years.
The Missional Church
This brings us to the question of definition. Just what do we mean when we speak of the “missional” emphasis of younger leaders and their churches?
1. “Missional” is an adjective used almost exclusively to describe “church.”
Younger leaders have rejected our culture’s rampant individualism, and thus they are placing greater emphasis on the church as an organism – a community of believers working for a single purpose, not simply a collection of individual souls on the road to heaven. Emerging leaders generally do not see “missional” as a term referring to a single person (such as a missionary), but as an adjective that describes the outlook of a local church. Thus, “missional” and “church” cannot be split.
2. A “missional church” is comprised of full-time ministers.
Many younger leaders question the typical Baptist terminology of being called into “full-time Christian service.” Missional churches do not consider only the paid staff to be “full-time” ministers. Every Christian is called to be “on mission” 24 hours a day. This does not annul the special call given to those in the pastorate. However, the word “ministry” in a missional church is never relegated only to church work or church-sponsored evangelistic activity. “Ministry” encompasses the work (including the varying vocations) of every church member, done to the glory of God. All members are considered full-time ministers, working to advance the Kingdom of God in their respective fields. Church members actively pursue righteousness in their respective vocations, living out the principles of God’s Word in the realm of politics, the arts, and business. Being the church Monday through Saturday is just as important as doing church on Sunday.
3. A “missional church” seeks to be simultaneously counter-cultural and culture-redeeming.
The missional church believes no segment of society is off-limits when it comes to God’s redemption. The church exists for the world, as a lighthouse, just as Israel was to be God’s chosen people for the blessing of the nations. The darkness of the outside world is not something to hide from, boycott, or scold from afar, but is instead the very place we are called to extend God’s light. The church is the channel for God’s blessing to flow out to the surrounding community. A community of serious-minded believers will also be counter-cultural, tearing down the strongholds of the “powers and principalities” currently waging war in the hearts and minds of people. The church’s prophetic voice counters the world’s current philosophy and practice, but even that voice contains the twinge of love and compassion.
4. The missional church exists to be the embodiment/incarnation of Jesus Christ for our broken world.
Jesus’ passions are to become our own. What breaks His heart must break ours. His dedication to the poor and the outcast, his denouncement of religious hypocrisy, his seeking out the lost – all of these characteristics must be modeled by the church that exists as Christ’s hands and feet in our world. Christians must be known for their love, which is not simply a sentimental feeling, but a visible response to our Savior, one that touches the world around by its self-sacrifice and service. The love of God is most fully expressed, not in words or in formulas, but in the Incarnate Word, crowned with thorns and lifted up on a splintery cross. Just as the eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us, the church (the body of Christ) must allow the words of the Gospel message to take on the “flesh” of love and mission, as we dwell among our neighbors as an incarnational redemptive presence of God’s love for humanity in Christ.
5. Missional churches broaden the meaning of missions and evangelism.
Being “on mission” for God cannot be reduced to simply seeking to evangelize the lost, however important that task may be. The missional church exists to worship God by extending His reign in the world, whether that takes place through the establishment of orphanages, working to see God’s Law reflected in government, reflecting the beauty of God in art, or by caring for the needy. Apologetics that stress scientific or historical proofs for God’s existence or the Bible’s trustworthiness become less important in postmodern society. The local church instead becomes an embodied apologetic – the community whose life of love and service causes the outside world to “ask for a reason of the hope that is in us.” Missions in this sense cover a wider variety of biblical mandates, including but not limited to the Great Commission. Christians are not only saved from sin, but for good works. A true inward faith always goes hand in hand with sincere outward works.
I realize that these characteristics are not true of all churches seeking to be “missional,” and there are probably many other characteristics that I have left out. There is little here that traditional Southern Baptists would disagree with. Most younger leaders do not differ from the older generations doctrinally. The main difference lies in the younger leaders’ focus on Christian doctrine they feel has been downplayed in recent decades. The different emphases lead to the changes in methodology, which have caused the most controversy among Southern Baptist pastors. I hope these characteristics will serve as a starting point of discussion, helping us to better grip the issues and differences that we have and the reason why “missional” truly is the new buzzword.
written by Trevin Wax. © 2005 Red Letters Blog. 2007 Kingdom People Blog.