Defining Missional

What exactly does the term missional mean? Attempts to answer this question can be found in books, videos, sermons, blog posts, theological ejournals, conference presentations, magazine articles, etc. Depending on who you ask will depend on the answer which may be good, bad or ugly. You get to decide which is which.

Where do we go from here? Is missional something tangible that can be easily defined propositionally? Is it a concept? Or a movement? A theology? All of the above?

One thing the word is – cool!

However, at the moment there does not seem to be one agreed upon definition. This is fine to a point. Yet, with so many defining themselves as missional; and others preaching for the need to be missional, it is only fair to ask for some sort of definition. Seriously, with a term this popular it can only benefit the body of Christ to have some sort of core working definition.

So I went to twitter looking for a concise definition that Hemingway would appreciate. I mean – where would you go? My inquiry:

Define “missional” in 140 characters or less.

The answers?

@voiceofthesheep Missional: Going and teaching the nations (making disciples), baptizing them, teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded.

@aaronsauer A popular buzz word among hip Christians.

@AlaskaBiff salt & light (missional)

@aaronstrongarm Being all things to all people to save some

@Frank_Turk #missional is seeing the results of the Gospel as equally important to its declaration.

@tburus Missional: Living with a missionary mindset in your indigenous context.

@michaeldebusk Engaging people with the gospel on their own turf.

@chriscanuel With all the talk lately about what “missional” means, is it an oversimplification to just say it means living intentionally for Christ?

@voiceofthesheep Jesus sent disciples on a mission, to make disciples, teaching them to observe all he commanded. THAT’S missional.

@ocdavedv: Define #missional in 140 characters or less: “being a missionary everywhere you are!” It’s being Jesus to everyone everywhere!

@StevenPatton a term made up by someone because they were tired of the word “evangelism” and its implications but its really the same thing. 🙂

An interesting conversation (per twitter) follows.

@chriscanuel @StevenPatton I think being missional is certainly evangelism, but I think there is a bit more to it. At least w/how most define evangelism.

@StevenPatton @chriscanuel missional = reformed word for evangelism. That’s my thought on it.

@chriscanuel @StevenPatton I do think we have overcomplicated the word to a great degree though.

@StevenPatton @chriscanuel right. We’ve bungled the word evangelism. we’ve screwed it up so bad its easier just to make a new one than to correct the old

The consensus?

I’m not exactly sure, but just searching missional on twitter will give atleast 50 pages of results. These are updated by the second. It is definitely a buzz word which doesn’t make it a bad thing. The core elements of missional seem to lie somewhere between – sharing and living out the gospel to being on a mission daily. How about one more crack at a concise definition?

Intentionally serving others to win more to Christ through living out and sharing the gospel.

Whew, glad that’s settled! It is settled, isn’t it? What do you think?

tagged as in Church Issues,Culture,theology

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 brianvoiceofthesheep February 3, 2010 at 10:39 am

The Great Commission is the ultimate “missional” command. The problem is that people think it’s primarily about evangelism, when that is just the beginning. It certainly starts with that, but the overwhelming majority of the Great Commission is discipleship. To be missionally minded is to be discipleship minded, which is teaching disciples ALL that Jesus commanded. Lack of discipleship is, in my opinion, the biggest problem facing the church today. IT is the true mission of the church.

2 Steve Patton February 3, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Brian, isn’t that encompassed in the truest definition of evangelism? Evangelism at its core and earliest definition is the same as the word we use today as “gospel.” Isn’t the gospel at the core of discipleship? The “good word” about Jesus Christ is what drives lives to be changed. All of the messages of spiritual growth are centered around the “gospel” of Jesus, or as it was said originally “euangelion” (or evangelism). Even the writers of the 4 Gospels were originally called “the four evangelists.”

At the core of its definition missional = evangelism. But its easier to make new words than to recapture the power and beauty of old ones tarnished by man’s careless mishandling of them.

3 brianvoiceofthesheep February 4, 2010 at 11:00 pm


I agree. We should not abandon biblical terms for ones that sound hip and cool and relevant just because the biblical words have lost their meaning. We should take back ownership of words like “gospel” and “evangelism” and, with our actions, demonstrate what they really mean in light of biblical truth and example.

4 Mark Lamprecht February 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Brian & Steve, thanks for the exchange on missional. Steve’s approach on making new words is good! I saw a post somewhere that said “a missional church is….” so I asked “what is just a plain church?”

That’s what I’d like see more talk about. If a missional church is a biblical church then why must it be defined as “missional” at all?

5 brianvoiceofthesheep February 5, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Good point, Mark. When Paul wrote a letter, he just used “To the church at…”, not, “To the missional church at…”. Something to think about. It appears I also may have misunderstood Steve. I thought he was being facetious when he said it was easier to make up a new word. I didn’t realize he was being serious. Personally, I don’t care what you call it as long as it’s biblical.

6 Steve Patton February 5, 2010 at 5:59 pm

No doubt, I was being a bit facetious. I do think we just call it that for that reason. Making up new words to say the same stuff. But I was being a good satirist – i was jokingly serious. 🙂

I have never had a REAL conversation about being missional with non-bible geeks like me because (ahem…) NO ONE OUTSIDE OF THESE CIRCLES CARES! Let’s just be the church and “occupy until (He) comes”

7 Bobby Capps March 6, 2010 at 10:55 am


To me if you make up a new word, it can’t describe a common thing in a new way, it must be new. I think the new thing that the church is moving in that the word missional is trying to describe is a move toward a missionary lifestyle in the lives of believers. What is old is outreach projects. Block parties and back yard Bible clubs and evangelistic blitzes are not new. What is new is learning the names of people in the neighborhood who live in the fringes and may never come to your church. What is new is having a block party for the purpose of establishing a kingdom presence in a community for the sake of Christ not for the sake of additional membership in our local fellowship, etc., etc.

I think if you focus on what is happening that is not ‘business as usual’ renamed, you’ll figure out how to define it.


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