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June 22, 2017

Defining and Practicing Missional

By Daniel Im

Our Q&A Webinars are a monthly segment designed for Plus Members to hear from leading experts in church planting, multisite, leadership, and multiplication. For this month’s segment, I talk with (my co-host) Ed Stetzer—a practitioner who has planted, revitalized, and pastored several churches, an author who has written dozens of books, and a scholar who currently holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College.

Making Sense of Missional

The other day I stumbled upon an article describing the new slang terms of 2017. I thought to myself, I want to stay current and relevant, especially in the area of vocabulary, I might as well check it out. Many of the words were acronymic—particularly ones which would be used in a text message (like GOAT—“greatest of all time”). However, one of the words that I found intriguing was “salty.” For me, salty is a term I use when I accidentally swallow ocean water or bite into a piece of cooked country ham—a southern food rednecks seem to love. But, according to this article, “salty” also means, “To be exceptionally bitter or agitated … from a past event you still haven’t gotten over.” So if you are still grumpy and bent out of shape because of what your sibling did to you when you were a child, you’re “salty.”

As I was thinking about the word salty and its (now) multiple meanings, as well as other words on the list, I couldn’t help but think about the word missional.

Since the late 90s when Darrell Guder wrote, The Missional Church, the word missional has become the buzzword, especially for evangelicals, to adjectivally describe the church. However, Craig Van Gelder in his book, The Missional Church in Perspective, outlines all the different branches, meanings, and usages of the term missional. Thus, missional for one tribe of evangelicalism may not mean the same thing to another tribe.

Recently I chatted with my co-host of Q&A Webinars, Ed Stetzer, about the word missional. Given that he is a scholar, missiologist, and expertise on all things missional, Ed helped us make sense out of the word.

Defining Missional

Before defining missional, it’s important to distinguish, or nuance, the difference between mission, missions, and then missional.

First, mission is the overarching goal or purpose to which we, humans, exist. Mission is synonymous with the missio Dei, which is Latin for, “The Mission of God.” Christopher Wright, author of The Mission of God, suggests that mission refers to “that which God has been purposing and accomplishing from eternity to eternity.” Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin notes that mission refers to “the entire task for which the Church is sent into the world.”

Second, missions refer to the pursuit of accomplishing the mission. In a broad sense, missions are the activities—involving both words and deeds—believers and churches enact to accomplish the mission.

Last, missional is the adjective that describes the ongoing posture of a follower of Jesus who embraces and engages in God’s mission through missions. In other words, missional means living and thinking like a full-time missionary. Taking into account mission and missions, Ed, more specifically, defines missional as embracing a life that seeks to share and show the good news of King Jesus to a lost, dark, and dying world.

Practicing Missional

If one truly understands the mission of God and the demonstrable “missions” activities that God’s people do whereby God draws people into a saving relationship with Himself, they realize practicing missional is more about being than doing. Don’t misunderstand, of course missions are the activities of participating in God’s mission. But, the doing arises out of being. Understanding that missional arises out of the identity is how missions in the vein of God’s mission is sustained and thus becomes an everyday posture.

What are some identity shifts that need to happen in order for people to understand their missional identity, which hopefully will lead to their missional practices? Ed mentioned two more important ones.

First, it’s imperative for believers to remember that God’s mission has a church, not that God’s church has a mission. This is foundational. It’s not that God’s church gave birth to a mission, but God’s mission gave birth to the church. Thus, it only stands to reason that the very thing (i.e., the missio Dei) that birthed the church would be injected into the DNA of the church.

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  • The word “missional” has become the buzzword, especially for evangelicals, to adjectivally describe what the church should do.
  • The use of “missional” may be different depending on the tribe who uses it.
  • “Missional” means embracing a life that seeks to share and show the good news of King Jesus to a lost, dark, & dying world. –
  • Practicing missional is more about being than doing.
  • It’s imperative for believers to remember that God’s mission has a church, not that God’s church has a mission
  • It stands to reason that the missio Dei that birthed the church would be injected into the DNA of the church.
  • The identity of God’s people moves them from consumers of salvation to co-laborers who take salvation to the ends of the earth.
  • It’s not fair, nor beneficial, to pit attractional against missional; they can live harmoniously together.

Additional Resources


Daniel Im

Daniel Im (@danielsangi) is the Director of Church Multiplication for NewChurches.com at LifeWay Christian Resources. He is a Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville. He is the author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry, and co-author of Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply (2nd ed) with Ed Stetzer. He also co-hosts the New Churches Q&A Podcast, the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast, and a brand new podcast with his wife on marriage and parenting called the IMbetween Podcast. He has an M.A. in Global Leadership and has served and pastored in church plants and multisite churches ranging from 100 people to 50,000 people in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Korea, Edmonton, and Nashville. Visit Danielim.com to learn more.


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