I was recently in a conversation where the word missional was being thrown around. At least three different church leaders used this term in describing their own church, and all of them meant something different by it. A couple years back a number of my emerging church friends ditched emerging/emergent for this term. While emerging/emergent can mean everything you like or dislike about modern Christianity - missional has a root that is harder to deny. For many of us in the evangelical world, missional sounds like it should be a definitive word for what we are doing - after all isn't our role to treat the world like a mission field? I'll let you mull that over.
The idea of missional needs some qualifiers though. Do you mean missional in terms of a general disposition of your congregation to support traditional missions abroad and maybe even at home? That is one way I hear it being used. Or do you mean missional in terms of an orientation of your congregation towards bringing people into your church - by whatever means you feel God has led you to employ of course? I hear that a lot too - it is basically using missional to describe what others have named attractional. Or do you mean missional as a means of saying that your congregation is embedded in the cultures they are trying to reach - implicated in their very lives? This is where some would get antsy - but this is another way this term is being used.
One of the problems is that these terms represent ecclesiologies that are often contrasted against each other, somehow captured up in one little word. I have two problems with this. First evangelicals have a weakness for words, we love to use them but we are less enamoured with precisely defining them. This is actually a liberal impulse that is meant to preserve religious diversity, but it leads rather to a relativistic use of words and impoverishes the majority of evangelical writing. (I know that is a judgment, one shared by others frustrated with the lack of precision and unpacking of assumptions in evangelical literature.) The second problem is that this word is skirting a battle that needs to be had. This one might surprise you.
Watching folks throw the word missional around uncarefully leads to some interesting situations. I can see how the other views of missional are looking for ways to express their paradigm but with a sense that their knees have been knocked out. The attractional-incarnational battle is still there beneath the surface. This actually creates a distrust that festers beneath the surface and prevents folks from connecting and understanding where the other is coming from. I think those things need to battle it out - and with the traditionalists thrown in the mix. And not because I think one is better than the other - I don't. I think they are simply different. And the only way to hold difference in tension and unity is to acknowledge it and commit to mutual understanding. One question I never hear is why does that person/group gravitate to that paradigm? I think about that in these conversations - and it amazes me how little we actually know ourselves let alone each other. This reality compounds the problem. The less we know why something appeals to us, the more afraid we will be of losing it.
In the end I'm wondering if we haven't just wrecked yet another word. Missional? What is missional?