What Is Mission?
A mission is the objective or purpose of an organized effort, the 'why' of it. Christian mission is simply to bear Christ and His good news to the world. "Bearing Christ" is more action than talk, more attitude than stance, being a servant rather than a master, blessing instead of cursing, knowing and telling God's story rather than making one up. It's sometimes said that 'everything is mission', but that's just the mystifiers doing their thing to every word. Christian mission is done for and with Christ and by the power of the Spirit He sent to us, or it is not mission. It is firstly God's operation for all, done through the church, and whomever else is needed. And it's all a noisy gong without love. While few do work that is generally called 'missionary', all Christians are sent on a mission - from God. Related words are calling, goal, purpose, operation, vocation, undertaking, quest, and lifework. The key Bible passage is John 20:21-23, the sending of His followers after His resurrection. In it, they receive from Jesus the Holy Spirit, and Jesus' power to forgive sins. The scary part is that Christ's followers are sent as the Father sent Jesus. That means it will succeed, even if those followers have to die to do it. The followers of today are among those blessed in v. 29 for believing even though we didn't actually see. The purpose of the Church is not something we control or possess or define, but rather as the living-out of the purposes of God (in too-churchy Latin, missio Dei).
Missional describes a family of approaches that make mission central to the church. To be missional, the question isn't 'how can we suck people in, to help fund and populate our programs?' Instead, it means 'how can we best love those living here around us?' We do this by listening, sharing, serving, and sometimes just being there - or more rarely, giving someone private space by not being there.
Other words often heard along with 'missional' include:
- adaptive: When new challenges come along, they are not seen as problems to worry about or fear or even solve. The challenges are seen as opportunities, as new possibilities for the gospel of Christ.
- embodied: rather than ideas and beliefs being in the mind, they live them out, and often develop clearer ideas as part of the experience.
- enfranchised: their organization is much less hierarchical. It is seen as a team or a family or a village. Everyone involved has the power and responsibility of listening to others and sharing their ideas and views.
- holistic: in this context, it means embracing life and the faith as a whole instead of its parts. Holistic involves the person and the community, evangelism and social action, feelings and intellect, devotion and questioning, drawing from across the faith traditions and creating new ways of living the faith, etc.). (See below.)
- incarnational: the mission is seen as being the flesh-and-blood worker/representative of the gospel of Christ within a specific community. Christ is God-with-us, God coming as a human to be among us. Our task is then to come as humans to be among humans, as equals, but as willing servants. (Talk about our being 'little Christs' helps to a point, but we are not in fact Jesus, thus there is a built-in limitation to this approach.)
- networked: They keep contact with others within their own tradition. They keep in touch with people who doing things and raising questions within the other Christian communities. They know and work with others in the community at large who are also working on raising up their neighborhood.
- organic: not by pre-planned program, but mostly as life happens moment by moment.
Missional approaches are meant to be more like life. It gives everyone room to breathe within their framework. With fewer of the usual institutional rules and structures, the church becomes free to find where the Spirit may already be working in the community around them. Sometimes the above catchwords get in the way, but they express something that is sorely needed in an era where distrust of hierarchy and institution are so deeply ingrained.
- You can also find definitions for 'mission' in the dictionary.
- A (partisan) description of what a 'missional church' aims to be like, by Graham Hill. (I don't like the term much, since any church worth bothering with has a strong focus on its purpose.) Look here for more on the word 'pneumatology' he refers to.
- A leading 'missional' network is Missio Alliance.
- A more standard US Evangelical take on 'missional', by Ed Stetzer
- The 'missional church' discussion grew from the work of Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), in writings and in his missionary work in India.
- Another key word is "cruciform", taken through the execution of Christ.