missional and incarnational: buzzwords?

In January (2015) I posted on Facebook my goal to minimize the use of the term “missional.”  Ten years ago I feared missional would become a buzzword that local churches would use as the next cool thing to call themselves, or label one of their ministries.  Well, my concern has come to fruition.  Sadly, in most cases it doesn’t mean what those churches think it means…even in their context.  Don’t misunderstand me here; missional is an important term because it strips down Christendom’s layers and touches on the core of who we should be as a Church.  Unfortunately, I believe, “incarnational” will reach that point of buzzwordness as well.  If it hasn’t already, missional could reach the level of Churchy language and that’s worse than being a buzzword.

So, let’s look at and consider an early, working definition for “missional church,” where we can extrapolate the meaning of missional.  The definition comes from Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch’s book The Shaping of Things to Come.

They define “missional church” as,

“…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.”

For “incarnational” they state,

“The missional church is incarnational, not attractional, in its ecclesiology. By incarnational we mean it does not create sanctified spaces into which unbelievers must come to encounter the gospel. Rather, the missional church disassembles itself and seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don’t yet know him.”

This is the picture of a community of Jesus followers on mission, active, alive and immersing themselves into the places where God is, even if it is an uncomfortable and dangerous risk.  The definitions tell me that the Church is supposed to be on an apostolic journey throughout the world as a representative of God’s Kingdom.  From my perspective if the “mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith that adheres to Jesus” it is done through the making of disciples (Matt 28) and equipping the believers (Eph 4).  I suppose for each of us that has a different look and feel, but if there is no deep relational connection to people it is likely just another Bible study or Sunday school class gone dry.

I’m still committed to minimizing the use of the term “missional.”  I’ve probably met my annual quota in this post.  What is really important to me is to be a vessel of reconciliation for King Jesus.  I want to live a life where I decrease and Jesus increases.  My desire is to influence culture one soul at a time.  May we all be captivated by the Spirit to do the will of God the Father.

Questions to consider:

  1. Do the definitions of missional and incarnational still apply today?
  2. Has the “missional movement” deviated from the definitions above?
  3. Have we blocked God’s purposes in and through his people?
  4. Have the definitions evolved? If so, into what?

Note:  The Shaping of Things to Come is the book that confirmed many of the things I believed about being a New Testament Church going into 2005.  It also affirmed my need to step away from the institutional organization of church and take the risk of being led by the Holy Spirit on an uncomfortable journey.  It was and still is a game changing book that reminds me we have permission to experiment in the world for the sake of the Kingdom.


3 thoughts on “missional and incarnational: buzzwords?

Add yours

  1. I suppose any of us, including myself, tend to cling to words like these because we’ve vested ourselves in the ideas in one way or another. Or, it may be that after ‘so long,’ that we’ve finally understood the truth of them and want to cherish them, or hold on to them long enough to ‘change’ us. But, and before you know it, there’s another buzzword on the horizon and we dump actualization for excitement.

    What the difference between buzzwords and ‘clay words?’ Buzzwords stick around long after their origination and take on whatever meaning those who desire to co-opt them want. Often, it’s for personal or organizational gain. ‘Clay words,’ remain pliable and can adapt to suit the needs of the movement which the buzzwords create. I love the ‘missional’ conversation. I hate the attempt to solidify it. Inevitably, all movements that escape from Egypt (The Institution), seek to find their way back to it. Additionally, and if we’re honest, even the best of organic and missional movements are still competing for the limited amount of resources of the institutional pie. I have to wonder if the missional movement would be driven into the grave if Papa ‘cut them off financially.’

    At this stage, you would think that being missional/incarnational is a no brainer. Who wouldn’t want to be a sent one that does Jesus stuff amongst people? Never mind, don’t answer that.

    From very early on I was worried that the term ‘missional,’ would be leading us around in a loop. In fact, it was what inspired my coining of yet another word ‘Missiorganic.’ Not another buzzword, but a self-corrective idea to not have my missional thinking become an institution. I love how the missional conversation started. I love how it proceeded afterwards. My Facebook link, to my personal profile is, after all https://www.facebook.com/missional (yeah i stayed up all night to secure that vanity URL)

    Do the definitions of missional and incarnational still apply today?

    In part, but requiring them to ‘still apply’ might be institutional thinking.

    Has the “missional movement” deviated from the definitions above?

    In order for there to be a detour or deviation there would have had to been a trajectory or a destination. Are we there yet?

    Have we blocked God’s purposes in and through his people?

    Yes, there has been significant congestion on the road to achieve God’s purposes. But, I believe it’s because the vehicles are vying for position.

    Have the definitions evolved? If so, into what?

    Not going to touch this one… yet.

  2. I appreciate your thoughts, Miguel. You and I are on the same wavelength about this journey with the missional movement. The real question in all this is in the comment you made:

    I have to wonder if the missional movement would be driven into the grave if Papa “cut them off financially.”

    I believe the answer would be shocking and the results would be painful. Someone recently asked me why we (faith community) didn’t join forces with an existing local church. My response took him by surprise: “If we did that we would be unequally yoked. You’d think our mission would be the same, but it really wouldn’t be. We aren’t concerned with butts in seats to finance our overhead. We desire to immerse ourselves daily into the lives of people that need reconciliation and redemption through the gospel.”

    Yeah, it sounds harsh and judgmental, but the truth is there our mission is the heart of who we are and not a line item on a budget.

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