7 Reasons I don't like the term missional.

Let me begin by saying that I am very much a fan and advocate of the kind of “missional” ecclesiology discussed in missional circles.  I like to think of myself as a sympathetic Anabaptist American Baptist.  So there’s that.  I’m also generally grumpy, and I don’t like the label of missional, for a couple of reasons.  ...errr, seven:

1.  We have a term that works perfectly fine already; love.  That people understand love to be withdrawn and static is a confession that we do not love well.  As a pastor, I would rather point to the Good Samaritan and say “there is love” then “there is mission”.  I prefer to repristinate the original age-old language that makes sense to everybody then have to nuance a new term, especially one bound up with something to gain or lose in publishing, church consulting, and whiteness.

2.  Nuance it I mus, because, at least around here, “mission” has some pretty terrible connotations.  California was settled in horrible ways around the Spanish missions and I do not wish to equate what I hope to be and do as a church with the oppression in the name of Jesus exercised through our history.  Maybe it’s different elsewhere? 

3. It must be admitted that “missional” is a white label, arising from white thinkers in largely white theological frameworks; Bosch, Newbigin, Hauerwas, etc.  Similarly, the proponents and promoters of the “missional” movement today are by and large white -at least the publishing, conferencing ones. Kudos to organizations like the Misso Alliance for trying to engage more speakers of color.  This is noble and just but also testimony that the movement didn’t start over there.   I don’t know how it all came about but I hope the broader white church understands incorporating these speakers of colors is a profoundly missional act, not because it draws them into the center, but because it is a confession that the center is broken, will not hold, and it needs to move and recenter elsewhere where the Spirit is at work, in places white church has not been willing to see or recognize.   

4.  So I wonder if a true missional practice means leaving a missional movement of whiteness and sitting at the feet of other traditions to join in their struggle.  I mean this primarily ethnically of course.  What if to be truly missional meant white folk can’t understand the heart of God for the world until they submit and are steeped  in the powerful truths of Cone’s analysis of blackness and whiteness and learn to identify love by those names?  What if missional came to mean a desire to live as a Mujerista in fidelity to the Christ of Luke 4?  Perhaps a theology of Han has important freedom and correction that might decenter missional thinking from whiteness in ways that make more sense of Jesus in our world?

5.  This then, is really my issue with the label: I fear it is a white label to collect people under.  This is its origin, its promoters, and its general trend.  The fact that fundamentalist churches have taken to the language is a testimony that it has cache in the larger American church climate today.  This tells us something the idea of "missiona;" I think.  It circulates in privileged waters.  It is now bound up with publishing and speaking and consulting and media campaigns, etc., and I remain deeply ambivalent about the kind of power those things operate with.  (Should a rightly missional movement understand itself as a reaction to it's own whiteness? -it's own existence as a reaction to the production of insulated faith communities within Western society that necessitate a leaving behind?)

6. Now, there is a very simple counterargument to everything I’ve written here (besides "you have too much free time – get out and love someone"):  the NT is full of missional language.  That is undeniable.  Paul had goals, man.  He was a missionary.   I concede the point.  Still don't trust it.

7.  Can the ‘missional movement” transcend itself and be mission instead of an identity?  Because the identity has roots in whiteness.   I’m hesitant to claim this label until that is clear.  But this suggests to me people need to contest the meaning of the term to keep it from being watered down, which is just a fight I don’t really care about.  I think it will be an argument between white folk.  I prefer to give it away, hence this rambling. 


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