What Exactly Does It Mean To Be Missional, Anyway?

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Missional is a word that is a lot in Christian circles these days. I’ve commented before on how there seems to be a blog or article for “How To Be Missional” in pretty much everything and everywhere and for every occasion. I often use the word missional myself. For me, it’s a concise way of summarizing my belief that Christians are God-sent missionaries wherever they are, and missions isn’t just for those who go overseas. It delineates the class status that exists in the minds of both Christians and non-Christians. When someone tells me they’re “called to be a missionary,” I’m thinking, “Aren’t we all?” Missions is for all, not just for some.

I’m not sure when the term missional was coined, but I do know the idea was floating around in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The late Dr. Francis Dubose, a professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary used the word and spoke of the concept in the early ’80s in his book God Who Sends. I first came into contact with the word in Mark Driscoll’s book The Radical Reformission. I can’t remember hearing about anyone being missional before that. Now missional is attached to everything. I’ve even seen it on coffee.

So what’s the big deal, and what is it about being missional that’s inspired (or provoked) me to write this blog? I’m afraid that the word has been rendered meaningless by well-meaning people. It’s a buzzword and a fad. We Christians love our fads (Purpose-Driven, anyone?). It shouldn’t be that way. I would argue that being missional is simply being a Christian. There’s nothing mystical about it, no steps to take in order to conjure it, no formula to create it. It’s simply living every day as the sent people of God. Being missional is a directive from Jesus to all his people, not just the few who’ve read the book or attended the conference. It started at the word “Go” and continues to this day and until Jesus returns (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8-11).

A couple of years ago I taught about being missional at a student retreat. After the first night, I was surprised at the number of students and adults who approached me and basically said this was the first time they’d ever heard that it was okay by God for the average Christian to think of himself/herself as missionaries at school, at work, and at the grocery store. They’d always been taught that, in order to be missional, they had to wait for God to “call” them to go overseas. If they didn’t receive this call, they were stuck being run-of-the-mill believers. 

Being convinced that we are to live missionally is a radical concept for some. They’re used to hearing about missionary support, and what missionaries are doing to extend the kingdom, but they themselves feel excluded. They don’t feel “on mission.” It’s not like being missional is high art or anything. It’s basic Christianity. That’s why it troubles me when Christians act as if being missional is something for the spiritually elite, something you can buy bottled, or learn by attending a conference. One cannot be a biblical Christian (as opposed to cultural Christian) and not be missional. It is a part of our new birth DNA. Being a Christian is about being the people of God on mission. (This is called the missio Dei.) We aren’t to wait for a light from Heaven to get started on telling about Jesus and showing his love to those around us.

Taking the gospel into our immediate cultural circles is of primary importance to us because it‘s of primary importance to God. We’re blessed and privileged to carry Christ in us, and share him with others (2 Corinthians 4:7; 5:20). The time and place is now.

This is what it means to be missional.

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