October 20, 2020

Ground Rules: Are Missionals Undefined?

ist2_1806169_soccer_referee_you_ve_been_warned.jpgGround Rules is a series of posts reflecting on my interactions with my critics.

Critics say those advocating a “missional” church fail to define what “missional” means. They, on the other hand, are generally confident in their own descriptions of missional churches and ministers.

Perhaps you’ve seen the red icon on the sidebar of this blog called “Friend of Missional.” If you haven’t, let me encourage you to spend some time with the links and resources there.

You will find a short definition, lists of characteristics, an index of outstanding blog posts on the topic, a reading list, a list of what a missional church is not and a description of what a missional church looks like. (This isn’t an organization, btw, like Emergent.)

It’s an excellent page, designed to specifically, carefully and comprehensively respond to the charge that missionalism is undefined.

Here’s a recent description of some missional churches by Tad Thompson:

So here we are – if you light candles, recite the apostles creed, refuse to adhere to any propositional truth, and read Blue Like Jazz (actually an interesting read), while having endless conversation with people about spirituality within the context of a community of faith – then wow – we are missional.

Rick Meigs definition at the site:

“Jesus told us to go into all the world and be his ambassadors, but many churches today have inadvertently changed the “go and be” command to a “come and see” appeal. We have grown attached to buildings, programs, staff and a wide variety of goods and services designed to attract and entertain people.

“Missional is a helpful term used to describe what happens when you and I replace the “come to us” invitations with a “go to them” life. A life where “the way of Jesus” informs and radically transforms our existence to one wholly focused on sacrificially living for him and others. It speak of the very nature of the Jesus follower.”

I’ll let you read for yourself and make up your own mind if missionals are fairly represented by their critics or are fairly representing themselves.


  1. wow, with such *shallow* definitions of “missional” (i.e. mr. thompson’s), it makes me wonder if such critics look any deeper than the surface to define the institutions they actually endorse. if so, it’s blatant unfairness; if not, it just speaks to the lack of ability of the critic.

    on the other hand, i was talking to my pastor just last night about how to define this concept for someone highly steeped in modernist thought and culture. it’s really just not easy, and i believe it’s something one has to experience for an adequate definition to soak in.

  2. All dogs are animals but not all animals are dogs. In the same vein, all emergents (almost) are missional but not all missionals are emergent. For example, I don’t consider Tim Keller to be emergent but he is definitely missional. David Wilkerson in New York is also missional but certainly NOT emergent.

    I rest my case.

  3. centuri0n says

    I like these comments and your post here iMonk — because it demonstrates the problem which Dr. Stetzer is open and honest about and which you cannot face.

    The question is not “are there good missionals?” I have conceded — and admit, and repeat — that there are some good missionals. The question is if all people who call themselves “missionals” are doing what the good ones do.

    Dr. Stetzer makes the point that we ought to reject the trash that the “bad” missionals drag into the discussion, and we ought to take the gems if we can find them. That is a valid point.

    The other valid point — which you overlook — is that there is a lot of trash to sift through. It is exactly like the SBC itself, iMonk: once you cut away all the politics, the territorialism, the frank greed, the cults of personality, you have a nugget of some good confessions and good cooperative practices which lead to the largest force of missionary activity on Earth.

    But to get there, wouldn’t you agree, you have to be honest about the trash. You have to be honest that there is room for improvement — significant, Gospel-commanded improvement. If you [impersonal; anyone] can’t admit that, you’re simply saying that the SBC cannot change.

    To say that all missionals — that is, everyone who calls himself “missional” — is a Tim Keller is not just blind: it’s impossible to believe. You have to be honest that there is significant room for improvement in the average missional implementation — and if you can’t admit that, you’re just as blind as the people inside the SBC who say that they’d be just fine if all these con-sarned bloggers and Calvinists would just shut up.

    A synthesis between the SBC current home missions position and the 3 C’s of missional theology from Dr. Stetzer would be a gigantic blessing for the SBC, and for America. No question. But do we simply open the gates and let everyone with a missional stickie-note on their chest in for a dip in the collective cooperation trough? Or is there something we ought to expect as independent churches in the matter of cooperation?

    Think about that. It might do you some good.

  4. I clearly stated that the trustee system and the BFM are sufficient to handle the issues.

    >>>Your best line:

    …At what point has “going” become more important than how one goes or what one takes along or delivers?

    All three matter a lot. That we go is fundamental. How we go is about relationships, as well as methodology. We honor relationships by not making methodology too narrow a concern. And then what we deliver on the ground is a matter of confessional integrity. Does a ministry say, preach and teach what the supporting churches believe is essential to say, teach and preach?

    All of this argues for:

    -Minimal, but vital confessionalism.
    -Positive, but trusting cooperation.

    The cooperative program is not a system of control. It’s a system of trust. Trustees aren’t police. They are representatives. Problems will always occur, but when we start telling someone they can’t have theology pub and get church planting money, we’ve gone too far. It’s better for the occasional fundamentalist church to be mad than for hundreds of church plants to be leashed. That’s the Baptist way of supporting missions.

    If that’s not plain enough for you, sorry. “Read it…it might do you some good.”

    Of course, we could always get the entire SBC to sign a copy of “The Truth War” and promise never to have a Theology Pub.

  5. Since you reject the idea that SBC confessionalism, polity and the trustee system are adequate, perhaps you could suggest what would work to properly sort out the unqualified and the insincere from among the ranks of the SBC?

    In the SBC I’m part of, all church plants are sponsored by a church. All have to submit to associational and/or state convention leadership. All decisions for funding from the state missions agencies or the SBC itself are reviewed within those trustee systems. I’ll admit that’s a lot of people to keep track of, but we used to be able to pull it off. I’ve worked for churches that have started 20 church plants in 150 years. Somehow, all those accountability systems worked.

    I believe in them. I live within them. They even work when carping Morons say that Journey Church can’t have a theology pub. I suppose they would even work if someone was found to be lighting candles, going to Ash Wednesday on the sly or ***gasp*** not attending the proper conferences.

    You used to give me quite the little wagging finger about how I hated the SBC and had no place in it because I dared to criticise it. Well pot, how’s kettle? You don’t seem to think our confessions, our trustees, our agencies, our institutions, our conventions or our system can manage some kid loose with Mclaren on the brain. Well here’s news for you: I do. I’ll say anyone who will endorse the confession, come under the guidance of a mother church and play by the rules can be part of the convention, even with their little theology pub. Even if they’re a Calvinist.

    Start your own denomination where the guys who can read minds and hearts can run the show.