Frank Viola’s Three Questions on the Meaning of Missional

It’s been a domino couple of days. Rick Meigs of The Blind Beggar, one of my Missional Order friends, posted that Frank Viola had asked some questions on the meaning of missional. Rick picked up the lead from Kingdom Grace, and maybe she got it from being an Ooze Select Blogger who reviews books and so had read Frank’s newest one, Reimagining Church. And then I had a great conversation on multiracial, multicultural urban church ministry with my decade-long friends Gary and Barbara from Richmond, California. They get it about missional, because they are all about living into their context and intentionally preparing the way for the next 50 years and several generations of indigenous leaders. A wonderful and energizing day of missionality! Dominoes – how much of life is about picking up a trail of “divine dominoes” or playing our piece in a trail so the next person can play theres?

Anyway, nobody wants to miss out on conversation among friends! And Rick and Grace are people I like and whose Kingdom work and thinking I respect, so I expected something important was goin’ on down over at Frank’s place. They were right. Some excellent insights to learn from, as posted by both newcomers and oldgoers in the missional conversation. Check it out when you get a chance …

However – well, I should know better than to think, Oh – guess I could make just one last blog visit for the day before I shut down the computer. Umm … yeah, right. That was 11 PM. When next I looked, it was, like, 12:30 AM. Anyway, below are the three questions Frank asked, and my responses. As soon as I get a chance, I’ll finish an add-on I didn’t post in his comments section, and paste it in here. It’s a summary of examples about what is non-missional.

1. What does “missional” mean to you?

I found the link on The Blind Beggar and came over here to see what was happening. The post and comments generated a lot of thinking … thanks for an opportunity to synthesize some of what I’d already been pondering for a long time.

After thinking about the meaning of “missional” for at least a year, I think I’m finally getting a handle on the “what,” “so what,” and “now what” of it all. And as it turns out, it’s a much bigger picture than I realized!

To me, “missional” means everyday discipleship that brings our personal presence into all venues where we have influence. This is both individual and corporate – living out and the character of Christ as individuals and Kingdom culture as a community of sojourners among our neighbors and neighborhoods. There will always be a dynamic tension or paradox between missional individuals and community. We cannot sustain being missional on our own, but if we are not being missional individually we cannot sustain being mission-shaped corporately.

Being missional involves being both contextual (relevant in our engagement with these cultures) and countercultural (resistant and challenging to the anti-biblical aspects of these cultures). It neither colonizes (attempts to control the culture or make it conform externally) nor syncretizes (lets the culture control us). Mission-shaped engagement with our neighbors and our/their cultures calls forth expectancy, creativity, and responsibility. It also challenges us to advocate for those who have been victimized, to call out those who perpetrate evil and injustice, and to be present with people in the midst of the mundane moments, pains, and joys of their life.

Living this kind of intentional, mission-shaped life requires us to practice regularly the disciplines of:

GIVING (sharing, blessing, praying),

RECEIVING (listening, asking, thanking), and

PERCEIVING (Who/What did I notice that was a surprise? What do I wish I’d done differently/more Christlike just now? How was the Triune God providentially at work in it?)

Persevering in these disciplines develops our missional consciousness and our conscience.

The practices of giving, receiving, and perceiving help transform us from religious consumers into spiritual-cultural producers. Missional attitudes and actions make an incremental difference in the lives of ourselves and others over time, as we root ourselves into the locales and spheres of influence God providentially graces us with. As Tolstoy said, “True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” So, being missional is about living out an incarnational life of gradual changes in the commonplace activities of each day together. It is about sacrificial obedience that costs, not seeking for super-spiritual or super-supernatural or self-serving experiences that we think will pay off.

2. Do you feel that this is a good word – why or why not?

“Missional” is a fairly good word to use … when applied with understanding of it as a term of spiritual production, not religious consumption. However, many now seem to want to USE the term WITHOUT LIVING by the terms of the term. I have to wonder if their name-it-and-claim-it approach relates more to marketing promotion than to missional paradigms. If they don’t want to use the word appropriately, then they should not use it at all.

This misapplication is very naughty behavior, even if driven by sincere desires to reach people for Christ. Purveyors of missional emptiness ought to be sent to theological time-out until they have repented of their dilution of the term’s terms, meanings, and methods!

3. To your mind, what is the difference between a “missional church” and a “non-missional” church? Give examples if you like.

Oh, oh …now there’s The Big Question: differences between missional church and non-missional church. I’m a researcher on paradigms and cultural systems, so I’ve got a lot of technical blah-blah-blah ideas and reasons on that subject. Let me say the relatively non-technical stuff here, and leave the rest for my blog or somewhere else, sometime else.

I like what Brother Maynard said in his summary of the Missional SynchroBlog in June 2008: “Live your faith. Share your life.” That keeps things integrated and holistic – and that’s the essence of the missional paradigm. The reverse: “Live your life. Share your faith” is reductionist. The essence of non-missional is compartmentalizing – it divides evangelism and missions and discipleship and etc. away from the rest of life.

I’ve blogged about the differences this way:

What makes mission and missional different? Mission requires “incursion” – people commute into the community, and then return to their home turf when they are finished. Missional requires “incarnation” – people root into the community, because that is their home and they never finish.

I also think a key difference lies in the realm of being collaborative producers instead of passive consumers. In non-missional churches, there are deep-level paradigm assumptions that set up surface-level operating systems that block people from being discipled as spiritual producers; they keep people immature religious consumers. And while creativity is definitely a reflection of God’s image in us, I’ve yet to figure out what aspect of God’s personhood or character consumption reflects …

Follow-Up Posts:

8 thoughts on “Frank Viola’s Three Questions on the Meaning of Missional

  1. thanxsome!!!

    it really has been the whole set of missional group connections who’ve helped me process this for a whole year. guess that models missional, that we cannot do it alone. thanks for being a part of it, meigs amigo …

  2. Pingback: More on the Meaning of Missional » The Blind Beggar

  3. We shouldn’t even need a word like “missional.” Life with Christ, Christ in us … isn’t this how we are supposed to be living, in “everyday discipleship”, “contextual” and “countercultural”? But so many Christians are not doing what the Word says, and so we need a special term to distinguish our efforts from those of the mainstream “church.”

    Now we are labeled. And there is room for misinterpretation. One primary problem with “missional” is that it sounds like “mission” which can be turned on and off, as when one flies overseas to do kingdom work for a week before returning home to live unmissionally.

  4. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment – and I hear you about the labeling, T.C. I’ve often quoted “my favorite philosopher” on this subject – okay, so it was Dana Carvey – who said, “To label me is to ignore me.” So when people hear a label that they think they understand, it often means they overlook the human face behind the label. We all do this to a certain extent.

    But there is also a tension with trying to describe who we are and how we see things. In some ways, we understand who we are by figuring out who we aren’t. Even Wikipedia has a “disambiguation” section when a term is used for multiple things and searchers need to pick the one that was actually what they were looking for.

    And yes, if we just lived how we were supposed to, I suppose there wouldn’t be all this wrangling about concepts and words and practices. Then again … we need to have grace for one another in this. We’ve gone how many generations in directions away from the clarity and simplicity of a holistic biblical life, and certain concepts are not on the radar of many Christians. If you have a chance, read the book or see the movie of *City of Ember* – and consider what it would be like if no one had seen a tree for 200 years because they’d lived underground. How would you describe it to them without taking them to see one?

    How do we help others within the Kingdom understand a holistic biblical way of life when they, their spiritual parents, and their spiritual grandparents have all seen nothing but what has become the traditional way of doing things, whether that’s the conservative, liberal, charismatic, pentecostal, catholic, anglican, orthodox, evangelical, fundamentalist, mystic, monastic, etc. etc. way.

    “Missional” may be useful for a time, but it’s already on the same road as “emerging” and “emergent.” Maybe if we screamed the word CHICKADEE! or threw a water balloon on someone every time we would otherwise say “missional,” they’ll eventually get it. But then there would be an anti-chickadee movement, and I’m sure some would organize against the errors of water ballooning, and maybe someone would even start a “let’s say missional again” movement …

    … oh well. And so, we live on in the Way of Jesus as best we can, being led by His Spirit, guided by His Word, nestling in the love of the Father …

  5. Pingback: The Meanings of Missional Part 1-Responses to Frank Viola’s Three Questions

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