It doesn’t take you long to encounter the word “missional” as you examine the current landscape of Christian ministry and thought. It seems everywhere you turn, someone is talking about missional living, missional churches, or missional strategies. It seems the wave of missional activity is flooding our churches, seminaries, bookstores, and more.
And while many affirm this term, others remain unclear as to exactly what “missional” means. Intentionally or unintentionally, the word has been confused, overused, and sometimes completely distorted.
Alan Hirsch, a leading missional author and strategist, says, “a working definition of missional church is that it [is] a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the Church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true Church. The Church itself is not only a product of that mission, but is obligated and destined to extend it by whatever means possible. The mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith that adheres to Jesus. To obstruct this is to block God’s purposes in and through his people.”
And while this definition provided by Hirsch does provide an excellent summation, some may find Hirsch’s explanation of the origin of missional ministry more helpful.
Hirsch states, “The phrase ‘missional’ and ‘missional church’ originated in the work of a group of North America practitioners, missiologists and theorists … who came together to try and work out some of the implications of the work of that remarkable missionary thinker Lesslie Newbigin. It was Newbigin who, after returning from a lifetime of work in India as a missionary, saw how pagan Western civilization really was. He began to articulate the view that we need to see the Western world as a mission field, and that we as God’s people in this context, needed to adopt a missionary stance in relation to our culture. Just as we would in India for instance. His work captured the imagination of a church in crisis and declined and shaped the thinking of generations.”1
Alan Hirsch, “A Working Definition of Missional Church,” [online] 11 July 2007 [cited 1 June 2008]. Available from the Internet: www.theforgottenways.org.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from Context: Engaging the Young Adults of Your Community. Context is a practical manual built as a desk reference tool for leaders in young adult ministry.