Saturday, June 09, 2007

On the Word Missional

I am coming to think the word missional is not very helpful. The term is rooted in the work of Leslie Newbiggin and the notion of the missio dei (mission of God). According to the idea of the missio dei God is always on mission. Right on. But that is the confusing point. Mission happens in the life of the Trinity -- even without anything else existing. How? Each of the persons of the Trinity move toward each other in interpenetrating love. The outcome?--Communion. The missio dei continues as God extends that life -- the life of communion -- to all things. Since this is the missio dei, then being missional is about much more than going and doing mission for the poor or having an evangelistic church. Worship -- which is about communion in the Triune God is missional. Formation -- which is about being transformed to live more fully in the Triune life is missional. The list goes on.

The missional concept is spot on and fruitful. The word, at least when I use it, is confusing.

Any better ideas?


Kyle said...

Okay, let's see. You're saying that missional as taught concept is good - we need to think about the sending and going of trinitarian persons, interpenetration and circle dancing and all that. The problem is that the word sound like missionary, or even worse, that it means being nice to the poor or being evangelistic without knowing why.

Folks use this word, "missional" for particular activities without really grounding those actions in a trinitarian narrative.

Do I understand you?

Christian language about mission starts with the perichoretic trinity and ends with eschatological consummation, and our "missional activities" only make Christian sense if they have those bookends.

I have appreciated the suggestion of others like Creech that the word "incarnational" might tell more of the story - carrying and improvising the ministry of Christ in the world, or in Bishop Tom's phrase, "as Jesus to Israel, so the Church to the world."

Can we start applying the adjective, Trinitarian, to mission? I think any useful word must be one that unpacks a story about the bigger story.

Peter said...

Yep -- if we do not think in a Trinitarian manner than being missional only means doing stuff -- like working for the One Campaign. But one can work for the One campaign from within a radically different set of bookends.

Also, things such as the divine liturgy are missional. We do not do liturgy to prepare us to be missional. When we enact the liturgy we participate in the missio dei. How? Because the liturgy is the church participating in the Triune life -- i.e., communion.

Guys like Newbiggin and his followers have this larger view in mind when they use the word missional. I am sure, like happens in many contexts, lack of careful appropriation has led to a misinterpretation of what it means to be missional.

+ Alan said...

Right - this is what I'm talkin' about. That word is laden with evangelical baggage at the moment. It's coming out of the Protestant arena, into the same arena, usually to people have have a background (or even present ground) of thinking the only "mission" of Christians is what they think of as "evangelism" - activist, get-people-saved, evangelism. That "missionary" connection is unfortunate. I don't even think in the whole emerging sector that they much get past using the word missional to mean anything other than "let's find a new, more relevant way to do evangelism." And that simply loses the meaning in the dust.

I do think incarnational is a much better word and concept to talk about when we're talking about the Church being who and what it's supposed to be on the earth. Inhabiting the world while being inhabited by God. Continuing the Life of Christ by simply being Christ in the world as we live.

James Gibson said...

This is what happens when a word with such deep theological implications gets co-opted by the theologically vaccuous "Emergent" movement and used in the service of an activist agenda whose end is decidedly not incorporation into the trinitarian life of God.

Peter said...

Of course, the people who originated the word missional do not mean by it what it has come to mean for some in the current stream of things.

It's intended meaning is good. I think another word might do a better job of communicating the intended meaning of missional.

Bob said...

Alan beat me to it. It seems the conversation oscillates somewhat regularly between "missional" and "incarnational" as the currently vogue buzzword.

Interestingly enough, "worship" seems to crop up each time the pendulum swings. Occasionally seasoned with the use of the word "church" as a verb (did you church today? we church each other.) to indicate being rather than attending.

Probably because it is easier to bandy about the proper word selection for what we should be doing as opposed to quietly, faithfully following the Way.

Kyle said...

"Did you eat your God today?"

Peter said...

That is a germane question.