Dr. Darrel Guder coined the word “missional” in His book, “Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.” In that book, he chose the term “missional” to talk about the missionary nature of the Church, that mission is not a program of the Church but rather the essence, purpose, action and character of the Church, all wrapped up in this larger understanding of God as a missionary God. God is engaged in the mission of redeeming all of creation and has commissioned His Church, the Grand Collective, to be on mission with Him.
Unfortunately, the term “missional” became so popular and became a cliché in our churches today. “Missional” seems to be used to describe almost anything. We have missional communities, leadership, cohorts, cafes, and countless books which claim it in a title. The term became a fad or an attempt for relevance in our current ecclesial environment. There is no end to problematic use of the word especially to imply that if everything is mission, then nothing is mission.
But the term “missional” is still significant and crucial in our understanding of our missional identity as God’s people. The call to be missional is also timely because of the significant changes that have been happening in our world today. There had been a shared consensus among theologians and missiologists that we are living through the end of Christendom in the West, and yet we are still living as though Christendom were intact.
The context where the Church is located has already changed. We live in a society marked by religious pluralism, ethnic diversity, and cultural relativism, yet we are not doing enough to reach our next-door neighbour.
We know Acts 1:8, which commands us to be God’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth. Yet, the reality is that Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth are now in one place, and frontier missions can now be done right where we are! God has sovereignly brought many unreached people groups right on our doorsteps (Acts 17: 26-27), yet very little outreach is done among them. We now live in the glocal (global and local) era where the paradigm of global and local mission exists together.
In light of this present context, the call to be missional is as urgent as ever. If God is a missionary God, it follows that God’s people, the Church, are also missionary. In the Triune God, God the Father sent His Son to the world on a mission to redeem His creation; Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is sending the Church to the world on mission with God. Jesus said, “Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you (John 20:21). That is the Church’s missional identity in Jesus.
The question is, how do we rebuild our missional identity?
First, we need to have broader mission theology that will help us define our missional identity in Christ. In the past, there was no theological framework that could provide the basis for mission. Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology are good, but they are inadequate. As you can observe in most Bible Colleges and Seminaries today, mission theology is not being taught. Missional identity development should be an intentional effort of the Church and needs to be emphasized in the discipleship process in our local churches.
Secondly, our missional identity begins with recovering a missionary understanding of God. By His very nature, God is a “sending God” who takes the initiative to redeem His creation. Understanding the Missio Dei will cause us to redefine our understanding of the Church. Because the Church is comprised of the “sent” people of God, the Church is the instrument of God’s mission in the world. However, most people believe that mission is just an instrument of the Church, a means by which the Church is grown. Although Christians frequently say, “The church has a mission,” but according to missional theology (Alan Hirsch), a correct statement would be “the mission has a church.” This understanding is essential in rebuilding our missional identity.
Thirdly, “missional” or “missional living” is a Christian term that describes a missionary lifestyle. Being missional includes embracing the posture, thinking, behaviours, and practices of a missionary to reach others with the message of the gospel. The basic premise of this thinking is that all Christians should be involved in the Great Commission of Jesus as commanded in Matthew 28:19-20.
And fourthly, to rebuild our missional identity, we need to understand that the Church is sent to every culture wherever they may be found. The scope of the imperative to make disciples is to all nations – (Grk. panta ta ethne in Matthew 28:19-20). We are to engage the nations with the gospel locally and globally.
The task of reaching the nations for Christ often feels overwhelming and insurmountable. Nevertheless, God has gifted people in local churches to fill every need and conquer every obstacle. The task of reaching the world can only be accomplished by renewing Paul’s vision of developing every Christian for his or her place in God’s kingdom. This can be done by developing or rebuilding the missional identity of local church members so that they as a church can represent Jesus to the world by “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).