What is missional, anyway?

What is missional, anyway? Is that really the right question? I mean, let’s break it down: the question implies that we don’t know what missional is. I think that’s more right than many would like to admit, myself included. But the inability to grasp missional is understandable. I spent half an hour today using Google’s search engine to find an easily understandable definition of the word “missional” and was sent down about five bunny holes before I gave up. Its not easily explained and I wonder why that is; perhaps it’s because asking what missional means is the wrong question. If so, then what is the right question?

A few weekends ago I took a trip to the northwest coast to attend the annual bi-national Mennonite young adult retreat, held this year at Oregon’s Drift Creek Camp. The theme of this year’s gathering was “What is missional anyway?” Our speakers were Mary Lou and Rusty Bonham, former pastors and missionaries and current developers of a community-based expression of faith in Portland, Oregon called Old Growth. The Bonhams challenged that thematic question during our first session. They proposed that by the end of the weekend we would have another question to replace this faulty one.

In fact, the whole weekend was one of questions: What are incarnational opportunities I have been overlooking? What would church look like if Sundays (church, the building, the services, the pastors) were reinvented? Am I living in a way that is reconciled with God, myself, others, and creation? Am I mechanically missional (lacking passion and intimacy with God)? How congruent is my lifestyle with my stated beliefs? Where am I challenged to more radically live what I say I believe?

I want people to know what missional is because I have seen and heard the beauty of that word. Missional is realizing that salt clumped together tastes nasty but if you mix it in well, throughout the batter, it adds just the right and needed seasoning. Missional is a church community that realizes that inviting people in to their church building isn’t really working so they go out and become church in their community. Missional is a person who doesn’t approach his neighbor as someone who needs to be saved but rather as one who can offer him just as much as the neighbor could offer back.

Saturday evening, as we were finishing up our sessions for the weekend, the “right” question was revealed to us: What is God’s mission and how can I be a part of it, anyway? I had heard this question before in conversations on the meaning of missional. I often wish that we would rephrase our conversation this way instead of getting caught up in the trendy church lingo of missional. What God’s mission is and how we can be a part of it is the real issue.

What is God’s mission for us, our neighbors, our community, our city, our state, our country, and the world? And how can we be a part of this mission? These are the questions I hope we can all ask ourselves and work to find the answers to, no matter how uncomfortable those answers may be.