term of the week: missional

I have become supersaturated with the term "missional," and not "trinitarian," as Ben suggests at Faith & Theology! What does it mean to be missional? Well, it depends on who you ask. In the most general of senses, it refers to a kind of thinking about church that sees church existing for mission - to reach the world for Christ. Of course, the Devil is in the details.

Instead of my own brilliant definition, I discovered Dan Fitch, author of The Great Giveaway, has done a better job than I could. I will simply quote his definition, because here at Epic, it is the definition we intend when we speak about it:
For me, I use the word [missional] to describe a specific theology of the church. This theology specifically a.) Sees the church as Trinitarian extension of the Missio Dei (mission is not a program of the church, it is the church) b.) Sees the church as the people of God driven to inhabit contexts incarnationally (as opposed to producing evangelistic strategies to get people to come into the church), and c.) Views salvation as a holistic reconciliation of the entire cosmos with God (as opposed to merely the penal satisfaction of God's justice, although this is certainly part of it!) -Christ's work recapitulates the undoing of all sin (personal, social, political, psychic etc.) until He comes.
But Wait!
It seems a controversy between "missional" churches, which seem to be the label lots of small emergent-y* churches use and mega churches is brewing. Dan Kimball, the author of The Emerging Church, recently wrote on Christianity Today's leadership blog that he essentially distrusts the "missional" church movement, explaining that as an outreach to a city, "I have a suspicion that the missional model has not yet proven itself beyond the level of theory." (BTW, turns out Kimball's church is the one behind the great video posted on this most prestigious blog) Kimball's inital post caused quite a stir in churchworld, USA, but I'm not sure if Fitch is known by many.

Well, Fitch has a fine response, pressing the issue well, raising some great questions in response to megachurches. I like this article for the way he validates conversion, but not the manufacturing element of American Evangelicalism. He clearly falls on the side of incarnational communities ministering holistically to the world. But if all that makes your head spin, you're not alone. Again at CT's leadership blog, Andy Rowell asks, "can't we all just get along?"

For those keeping score at home:
-Missional really means small and incarnational, unless you adopt Fitch's superb definition.
-Many missional churches are "emergent" churches.
-Some emergent types, like Dan Kimball, dislike the "missional" church and love numbers, despite denying it.
-Some mega churches value actually reaching people more than the "Bible and Starbucks spirituality" of many "missional" churches.
-here is a brief over view of 50 ways to define missional if you need 'em.

My take? I love Fitch's definition, though not all missional churches actually share it. I also think that the pro-mega, anti-missional thinking is still captured by a particular kind of theology and a kind of emphasis on production and business values, despite their protests. They boil it down to maximizing the number of people not going to hell based on measurements taken at a particular life stage (some look at altar calls, some member ship classes, etc.)
What do you think about being a missional church?


  1. Hi Erin,

    If you send me your email address I would love to send you the Lewis theodicy lecture I gave.

    My email address is:


    Love the site by the way. How did you come across mine?


  2. Hey thanks Kyle! I was looking forward to it. If I recall, it was from googling something about Fuller. When I chanced to see you have Ben Myers, Jamie Smith on your blog roll, I knew I hit paydirt :)
    -I suppose I should be emailing this!

    You can find Kyle's website here:


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