Wednesday, May 06, 2009

mission and missional. Why the “a” and the “l” is more than a typo

There is some useful discussion rolling on in the “What is community ministry?” post. I’ve just written a comment, which I think is worth clarifying as a separate blogpost.

It regards the difference between mission and missional. You see, missional is about mission and mission is missional but mission is not missional. Clear aye! 🙂

The Christian impulse for mission is for all time and all place. It emerges from a God of triune love who dwells in relationship, celebrates diversity and is unified in love.

But mission is outworked in different ways. We know this because Scripture give us diverse pictures of mission.

Ruth is the story of God’s work through the outsider; Lamentations is the story of faith in black; Daniel is a story of marketplace faith in exile; Jesus is the wandering prophet; Paul is the community builder; Revelation is the persecuted dreamer.

Or take the book of Acts. In chapter 2, mission is at work as people flock to Jerusalem interested in God and when there are spaces in society where people notice the church. But later in Acts, Paul takes this gospel on the road, is tentmaking and creating cultural connections on Mars Hill. And then he is the suffering prisoner, using his chains to proclaim faith. In each of these, the Christian impulse is mission, but the outworking is diverse.

This is made most clear when we consider the relationship between church and society as it it played out through the Bible. The task of the church is to reform in Dueteronomy, to protest in Mary’s song, to be counter-cultural in lifestyle in 1 Peter. This response is based on how much society listens to the church and whether society has the ear of the powers that be.

This relationship continues to be played out through history. David Bosch in Transforming Mission looks at mission over 2000 years and notes how at different times, different Scriptures became commonly used to describe the mission of the church.

It is this plurality that makes our task exciting today. What Biblical and historical pictures will most accurately encourage and challenge us in this time and place? In Christendom, when the church is at the centre, then “temple models” of being large and attractional work. But the church is no longer at the centre and so we are back to Scripture and church history, wondering what are the texts for our time.

This is what the word “missional” means. It is prophetic voice. First in flagging mission for what is essentially a Christendom church and second in pointing to cultural change – that the 2000’s are not like the 1970’s, and that the relationship of church and society has changed. Given these two factors, missional is a Biblical voice, seeking to excavate the Scriptures that will serve a post-Christendom church.

Hence: missional is about mission. And mission is missional. But mission is not missional because “missional” is the attempt to speak of “mission” today.

Have I confused or clarified myself?

Posted by steve at 10:57 AM


  1. Thanks for the carification. I was wondering whether the difference was purely in definition but my pocket oxford only mentions mission, then “-ary” before moving on to “missus” and despite asking others in-the-know hadn’t really accomplished a clear understanding, at least, enough to explain it to others. I shall dwell on the above and reflect on its application personally and corporately.

    Here I was thinking your use of the suffix was obsessional!

    Comment by viv — May 6, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

  2. “Obsessional” – very good Viv, I’d love to hear your thoughts after you’ve pondering the application both personal and corporate.

    it could well be a useless word made up by ivory tower academics. but then so was twitter, web – in fact every word we speak was at some time new!


    Comment by steve — May 6, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

  3. You have completely lost me!!!! Far too intellectural and repetitive for me to understand.

    Comment by Karen — May 11, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

  4. Oh Karen. I remember standing on the steps at Lincoln University in 1992. I had just been offered a scholarship to fasttrack me into a PHD programme. I walked out, my head reeling and God said “Would you use your brains for me, not here, but fulltime in church ministry?” To the amazement of the faculty, I left to go to Carey Baptist College. My intellect is one of my God-given gifts. But you seem to be suggesting that the written expression of my intellect still has some growing to do.

    Pray for me and that I grow in this area. And when you see me doing both the thinking and the writing, will you please encourage me,


    Comment by steve — May 11, 2009 @ 9:07 pm

  5. No offense was intended towards you Steve. You just asked whether you had clarified it or complicated it and I was just expressing that I was confused. I think anything we do to reach out to others with the love of Jesus is missional and mission. The rest is just confusing intellectural gobbletigook to me but that is no reflection on your writing just on my little brain and my desire to have things simple. I am just a simple kinda of girl. I was just feeding back that sometimes we try to intellectulise things and maybe we should just get on with being kind, compassionate and loving to those we meet. This was about me not you 🙂

    Comment by Karen — May 13, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

  6. thanks karen.

    if I can make an observation back – yes, mission for you is about being kind, compassionate and loving.

    yet I suspect that there are times when you adopt different ways of being in mission. eg when the anti-smacking bill was around, mission for you might have been – prophetic, protesting – rather than kind, compassionate, loving – to say Sue Bradford 🙂

    in the same way, the word “missional” is about saying that when things are different (when people no longer come to church and respect Christians), then can how mission is practised change.

    and it’s the question of how best to shape that change, and what should change, that interests me (intellectually and week by week at Opawa) and you and every Christian (to act kind, compassionate or ….)


    Comment by steve — May 14, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

  7. “By their fruits you shall know them”. I am far from perfect but I hope that people see something in me that makes them want to question me further about my faith and beliefs.
    I think your illustration in regards to Sue Bradford very off-topic. I was not seeking to be missional to her as I have never met her and am unlikely to do so and if I did I am sure we would have a very robust discussion. I do not feel that I was NOT compassionate or kind or loving to Sue Bradford either. I was just using my freedom of speech to say what I thought as she and you were also doing – the only difference being that she was changing a law and I was not.
    There are some things where I think you need to draw a line in the sand and this was one such topic but in saying that I did not make any submissions or lobby anyone – I just stated my opinion when asked or when challenged by someone who thought differently. To smack or not to smack is a very personal choice which I feel must be made by the family concerned and not by someone else looking on. This is different to abuse of course.

    Comment by Karen — May 15, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  8. Well mission/missional seems to be the same to me really no matter how you put it. Mission is to do, missional is to do the doing i reckon, no matter what they are there for to serve a purpose that is to serve in some capacity

    Comment by Rori — May 19, 2009 @ 11:39 pm

  9. Appreciate the feedback Rori, but I do wonder if you need to read my post again. If you are going to make mission/missional the same, how then do you start to describe the difference between say Peter’s preaching in Acts 2 with Paul’s preaching in Acts 17; or with the command to build a temple in Chronicles, with the house church movement found in 1 Corinthians; or with a Billy Graham rally in New Zealand in the 1950s compared to a Destiny Enough is Enough rally? Each is surely quite a different expression of mission.

    I would also want to invite you to consider whether mission is only something you “do.” If mission starts in the heart of a Triune God, as I suggest, then is the essence of God a “doing”? Or a “being”?

    steve Taylor

    Comment by steve — May 20, 2009 @ 12:38 pm

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