Being Missional: Is there Really a Difference?


            Some may think that the entire missional conversation is much to do about nothing.  You might wonder if the difference between being missional and being evangelistic is just a matter of semantics.  The biggest difference of a missional church is seen in the ongoing work of the leaders of the missional church to continuously keep the church rooted in its corporate purpose to take the gospel to the world.  The missional paradigm helps each Christian avoid common mental fallacies concerning the nature of the church.  These fallacies have the effect of causing the Christian to lose sight of their personal responsibility to share the gospel with the world.    For example, church is typically defined in one of several ways:

                  Church as a place: For many people, church is a place you go. It is a facility, a campus or a building.  The common phrase, “I’m going to church” summarizes this view.  When a person is at the building or facility, they are at church. The implication is that when they are not at the building, they are not at church.
                 Church as an event or spiritual activities: For others, church is something that happens. Church is defined by worship services, Bible studies, prayer meetings or other ministries. Again the implication is that when one is not engaged in one of these events or activities, they are no longer doing or having church.

               Church as associated with a person: For others, church is an organization associated with a pastor or Christian leader. For example, people often say things like, “I go to Chuck Smith’s church” or “I attend Jack Hayford’s church.”
              Church as offering programs or services: For others, church is determined by what the organization offers to meet needs such as youth programs, music programs, marriage groups, fellowship, discipleship, mission opportunities, etc.[1]

However, in a missional fellowship, the church is understood to be God’s sent missionary people. “That means when everything is stripped away – the building, the events, the activities, the leaders, and other identifying markers for the church – the people are the church and church is the people.”[2]  As a missional community, evangelism is the work and the part of the lifestyle of every Christ-follower.  Evangelism and mission is no longer seen as a program or one purpose among others.  Mission becomes the overarching identity of the body.  The church is not the sender but the one that is being sent.[3] 

On the other hand, in many churches evangelism and mission becomes a program, extension, project or special event of the church.  Evangelism has the tendency of becoming what some people in the church do, instead of being the very nature of the church.  Children ministries, youth groups, Sunday Schools, and small groups have the tendency of becoming places of growth but they do not embody any sense of “mission” as a reason for their existence. 
                Mission and evangelism becomes the function of another arm of the church.  In this kind of church culture, the church often becomes the place that Christianity happens.  Programs and ministries are formed to attract members and attendees.  There is little engagement with the lost world outside of the church facility.  There is no plan or strategy to take the gospel out into the culture.  Most of the emphasis is placed on ministering to, discipling and helping Christians.  In this system, which is driven by Christian consumerism, many lose sight of the fact that they are sent to be on mission each day and that the Holy Spirit wants to empower them to be missionaries to their city.

In his book The Present Future, Reggie McNeal reveals the contrasts in the different ways leaders can think about the church and its ministry.  McNeal reveals the different paradigms that pastors can have as they fulfill their ministry in the church.  Being missional is first a shift in thinking about the nature of the church.  Once a missional understanding is adopted, the way we do church begins to change.   A missional church stresses community transformation over growing the church, turning members into missionaries over turning members into ministers, and recovering Christian mission over doing church better. [5] 

In the era of “movements,” missional is often looked upon as just another program or model to be used. But being missional is more than just another movement, it is a return to a biblical understanding of who the ekklesia of Christ is and what it is called to be and do. At its core, missional is a shift in thinking that fosters a change in the functions of the church.  Making this shift can be difficult for many who are accustomed to a church that is driven by a consumer mentality; i.e. we exist to get as many people in attendance as we can and meet whatever felt needs they have.  This kind of church says that its mission is to reach the world, but most of its financial, human, and time resources are used to build, help, edify, and meet the needs of members.  Sadly, while the church in America is being “discipled” the world is going to hell. 

 The missional church fosters an understanding that each and every member of the church is on mission in the world and a missionary in their culture.  That is what Jesus had in mind when he commanded us to go make disciples.  In a missional church, mission/evangelism is not seen as one of 5 or 6 purposes of the church.  In a missional church, the purpose of our creation is to glorify God, but the purpose of our existence in the world is our participation in the missio Dei.  Christ did not die on the cross to heal our inner man, to prosper us and make us healthy and wealthy, to aid us in our self-actualization and self-fulfillment.  Christ died to redeem us from hell and to send us out to tell others the good news.  When a person joins a missional church they are told from day one that the church exists as a missional community and they are invited to join them in reaching their city for Christ Jesus the Lord.  In most churches mission training occurs later as an option or is class 401 at the end of a discipling plan.  The missional church makes evangelism and participation in the shared missionary purpose of the church a foundational understanding of all members immediately.

[1] Jason Zahariades, “What is a Missional Community,”[2] Ibid. 

[3] Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi, Mission an Essential Guide, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 14.

[4] Robert Webber, The Younger Evangelicals (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 135. 

[5] Reggie McNeal, The Present Future,(San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003).  

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