What’s up with “missional”?

Speaking of [making up new words](http://www.neumatikos.org/theology-and-science-fiction/) to signify that you are not only talking about something important, but also that you are part of a special and definable group… what’s up with “missional”?

Who invented this word, and why? Everybody’s using it, but I get the picture that it was coined by your friendly neighborhood post-modern grammar-compromised Emergent Christian. Part of the clue is that they can’t seem to take the verb “emerge” and turn it directly into a noun or gerund: Emergence, or Emerging. No, they have to use the adjective *as if* it were a noun. What’s the name of the movement? Emergent. Hoo boy.

Ok, so what I understand happened is that the folks over at Emergent wanted to defend the position that they were still part of mainstream evangelical Christianity, and yet somehow better at the same time, so they played up the fact that, as emergent, they were outreach and evangelism oriented. Only good solid conservative evangelicals are into outreach and evangelism, right? So they coin a new word that emphasizes their focus on mission. It can’t be “missionary” because everybody already knows that word. So… missional.

My only problem is that I can’t figure out what exactly the difference between mission*al* and mission*ary* really is. The best I can tell is that one is an old word used to refer to people who study for years and then go overseas and preach at people, while the other is a newish sounding word that can give a sense of a clean break with whatever negative things might have happened in the past. Missional is hip, so cutting edge, so… emergent. And *that* is wicked cool.

The odd part is that this plays back upon the conservative Christian circle. Emergent is just evangelicalism with a new face. But they’re still good old evangelicalism, and you can tell that because all emergents are missional. And isn’t “missional” just the very definition of “evangelical?” Conservative churches *are* missional, aren’t they? Well, your best guess to what the differences are between “mission” and “evangel,” but among a lot of evangelical churches the term has taken hold, possibly for fear that word might get out that their church *isn’t* missional. So they’ve had to write it back into the tradition. “Of course! Why, our denomination has been missional since 1783, practically from the get-go!” Excepting back then, they might have said “missionary” (as in Missionary Baptist, soon to be known to as Missional Baptist) or even “evangelistic.”

Now you see “missional” everywhere. In just one day, I saw it mentioned both by [Jollyblogger](http://jollyblogger.typepad.com/jollyblogger/2006/06/are_commuter_ch.html) and [Ryan Wentzel](http://ryan.thewentzels.org/archives/2006/06/was-jonathan-edwards-missional/). I don’t know if that’s a broad spectrum of the Christian blogosphere, but the term really seems to signify you’re on the up-and-up.

I’m thinking about mentioning it on my resume.

5 thoughts on “What’s up with “missional”?”

  1. I think you’re right on about this … good post.

    Some people try to distinguish missional from missionary by claiming that the former is about living a lifestyle of missions in whatever context you’re in, while the latter is about some institutional program that seeks to encapsulate the gospel into an agenda. Accordingly, “missional” is who you are – and “missions/evangelism” is something you perform.

    My problem with this is that these could just as easily be described as “good missions” as opposed to “bad missions”. Heartless programs have never been the goal. Is there anything new in this ideal? Not really.

    I think the main motivation for all of these funny neo-logisms is a dissatisfaction with the current state of the church. This could be positive – as we should be constantly seeking sanctification. But a change in terminology is no substitute for a change in heart. If it were only that easy.

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  2. I just listened to a message by Ed Stetzer where he said the word “missional” has been in the Oxford English Dictionary for over 100 years.

    Unfortunately, I can’t afford the dictionary so I can’t verify it right now. When I’m able to get over to campus later this summer I could use the library’s copy.

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  3. I haven’t had the chance to look in the Oxford English Dictionary yet, but the American Heritage College Dictionary lists “missional” as an adjective form of “mission”.

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