The word “missional” has become part of the church’s vocabulary in recent years. Often, it is assumed that this is a new way to speak of the mission that has been part of the church’s discourse from the very beginning. Whereas there is some truth that there is a relationship between mission and missional, their approach to the work of the church is vastly different.

The missional conversation is more than a church growth strategy or the latest fad to describe ministries. Being missional is a clarion call to the church back to its roots, to its original purpose of being the representative of God in the world. Being missional represents a “recalibration of the form and function of the church of Jesus” (The Missional Network Blog, n.d.). This article will share three characteristics of the missional church.

The missional conversation begins with the understanding that God is a missionary God or a sending God. Mission is the result of God’s initiative (Roxburgh, 2015). The missional conversation is rooted in God’s purpose to restore and heal the created order. The central biblical theme is about God’s action of redemption through God’s participation in the world. “God’s mission in the world is related to the reign, or kingdom, of God” (Roxburgh, 2015, p. 43).

This missionary God is ever sending into the world. God the Father sends the Son. Later, God the Father, the Son sends the Spirit. Then, God the Father, the Son, the Spirit, sends the church into the world. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus sends his disciples out. In the post resurrection narrative in the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus as the one who was sent by the Father into the world saying to his disciples, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20: 21)

I can almost hear someone asking, “Isn’t that what the church has been doing, sending people on mission?” That is an excellent question. What the church has done over the years is send people out on its own initiative based on the Great Commission. The missional church orientation is to discern what God is doing in the communities around and join God in doing it.

Noted theologian Jürgen Moltmann puts it this way, "It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill to the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church, creating a church as it goes on its way” (Lau Branson, 2014, p. 37). The picture here is of a God who is active in the world meeting people where they are and creating space for them to enter into a deeper awareness of the presence of God in the world. The church gets to discern where God is active and joins God there. The initiative is God’s, the action is God’s, and the church gets to participate with God. Orthodox theology tells us that God is everywhere and that the Holy Spirit is active among us. God so loved that world, that God continues to act in the world to draw people to God. When we understand that God is waiting on us to move beyond our confined notions of where God is active, we may lift our eyes to see and hear the things beyond the gathered body that beckon for the redemptive presence of God. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be sending the church out to meet people with their basic needs. Listening to the daily news provides information on how we might be active where God is already active, creating a need within hearts waiting for justice, salvation, relief, and redemption. The missional church follows Jesus into the community to meet people where they are and journey with them to God’s preferred destination. The missional church is about its Father’s business.

The missional church listens. Quite often, churches do whatever they do. Sometimes the ministry connects with the context and other times it does not. The focus is normally internal, the general membership, while ignoring those who are not there yet. The missional church prioritises the neighbour – the people God is calling them to reach. Reaching people requires getting to know them. In Luke 10 Jesus sent out the disciples without their vital supplies – money, clothes, food. They were “Like strangers in need of hospitality who have left their baggage behind, enter the neighborhoods and communities where you live. Sit at the table of the other, and there you may begin to hear what God is doing” (Lau Branson, 2014, p. 39). Jesus expected the disciples to be hosted by the community and he expects the same of us. In the process, they learnt about the people and about what God was doing among them. In such engagements, the church thinks less about strategies and programmes and more about people.

In going to communities, the missional church gets the opportunity “to embody and enflesh the word, deed, and life of Jesus into every nook and cranny” (The Missional Network Blog, n.d.). The missional church is concerned to represent Christ accurately in the world. In interacting meaningfully with people without reference to office, we increase the possibilities of being God’s agents of healing, love, deliverance, affirmation, and salvation. The posture of listening while embedded in community, allows the missional church to freely participate in the unfolding purpose of God.

The missional church also focuses on boundary crossing. Boundary crossing is more than going into the neighbour-hood. The Great Commission calls us to go into all the world which in this case speaks of ethnicities. It is human nature to retreat into sameness even when we know better. Jesus reached across religious and cultural barriers to reach the Samaritan woman (John 4), and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7: 24-30). Crossing boundaries puts us in places of discomfort but it ultimately expands the reach of the gospel and the presence of Jesus in the place where the mission of God is needed. It means that God is concerned for more people than those in our sphere of influence. The mission of God encompasses the whole world. Being the missional church requires taking risks to encounter people whose situations may challenge our sensibilities. Notwithstanding, like Jesus who ate at the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7: 36-50) where the sinner woman came and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, the missional church goes where it is sent even when its presence might be misunderstood.

The church is facing a great challenge in this current era with many questioning their faith and the relevance of the church. Our best response is to embody a missional posture following God to journey with people and help them encounter the God who loves them unconditionally. Winning an argument does not grow the kingdom, but pointing someone to hope in Jesus brings restoration, joy, and peace. The greater the sense of confusion in the world, the greater the need for a church that wants to be missional and join God in the world.

How do we get there? Like everything else, there are no easy answers. Yet, I venture to say that when we ask questions of our current ministry activities as to how they align with missional posture, we must be willing to recalibrate when they do not align. How does our ministry connect with the missionary God? Does it have any impact on the people God is attending to in the world? Are we required to move out of our comfort zone to reach others? Maybe a more fundamental question is, “Do we care to be missional?”

I pray that as we lean into the SHIFT it becomes clearer how we transition from a conveyor belt type ministry to a mission that responds to the action of God around us. Let us all be praying for greater discernment to recognize the space that God is creating for us to join the mission in progress.


From the May 2021 edition of the Information Newsletter