As some have pointed out, the term “missional” has been used by various people in different ways. The question is, at Village Seven, what do we mean by the term missional? Since I have been heavily influenced on this by Dr. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA), let me start by giving his five characteristics of a missional church:
1. Discourse in the vernacular. That is, we want to speak in common language, not in Christian jargon (more on this in a future post). Furthermore, it seeks to avoid “we-them” language that speaks disdainfully of unbelievers and those who differ from us.
2. Enter and retell the culture’s stories with the gospel. This means understanding the hopes, dreams, fears, and concerns of the people in our culture and then addressing these issues with Scripture and the gospel.
3. Theologically train lay people for public life and vocation. In our grand Calvinistic/Kuyperian tradition, we want to train people approach all of life from a biblical worldview and to engage the culture from this biblical worldview.
4. Create a Christian community that is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. Because the gospel turns the world’s values-system on its head, we want a Christian community that demonstrates this. This shows itself in our love for neighbor, our concern for holiness, and our compassion for those who are hurting.
5. Practice Christian unity as much as possible on the local level. The church should display the unity for which Christ prays. That does not mean we obliterate theological distinctions. Rather, we maintain our distinctions but unite with other brothers and sisters over the cause of the gospel.
I heard one person say that the missional church where the Christians understand their calling to “go and be” rather than “come and see.” It is a church that understands that part of its calling is to be a mission to the community in which God has placed it.
The Missional Church is Different from a Seeker Church
It is important to note that a missional church and a seeker church are vastly different. In fact, many of those who call themselves “missional” are reacting to some of the trends they saw in the seeker-church movement. A seeker church attempts to attract non-Christians by putting on great programs. Usually, this involves having separate services for believers and unbelievers. According to Bill Hybels, these seeker services are modeled on programs like a Billy Graham Crusade. They seek to put on a great show with an evangelistic message.
In missional churches (at least those who use the term in the PCA), non-Christians are invited to come to worship services where the focus is truly worship. That is, it is not a presentation or show about Christianity, it is not an evangelistic meeting. Rather, it is an invitation to come and experience the Christian community and Christian worship from the inside. So, while missional churches work hard at making their services intelligible to non-Christians, they also work hard to keep the focus and liturgy set on the worship of God and not a presentation for unbelievers. Tim Keller addresses this issue further in this video from Desiring God.
The Missional Church is Different from the Emergent Church
For an excellent critique of the Emergent Church movement, listen to D. A. Carson’s lectures on The Gospel Coalition’s website. You can find it here. In this audio, you will notice that Dr. Carson quotes Keller’s use of the word “missional” favorably, but is critical of how emergents use the term. This is helpful because it shows an important distinction that missional, rightly defined, is good. However, like many other terms (e.g. Reformed and Evangelical), it can be used in ways that no evangelical (another slippery term) would want.