What is Missional?

Ed Stetzer is really writing some awesome stuff. We need it pretty bad. Visited his post yesterday. He and I are friends and we dialogue a lot.  Oh heck, let’s just be honest, we debate sometimes!!! I love Ed and value him big time, not just as a missiologist but as he speaks into my life. He approaches it as a theologian and missiologist—I from a pastor who is mobilizing a couple thousand people. I need what he says and writes because I don’t live in his world, yet, his world affects me and those I’m leading. I also think he needs me because of this “missional” stuff.  It’s impacting churches we start and how we engage the world, and frankly to some extent how “missional” will look not just now but in this century. I was going to respond to a question he asked me and put this on his comments, but I’m going to have to write too much so it’s my blog today!

He’s dealing both with the history and theology of the word and concept missional. Missional really meant something until, perhaps, the past 5 years.  It continues to mean less. I think it has to do with the way we “popularize” terms and jump on bandwagons without understanding what is being said. Because it has come to mean everything it means nothing. Missional has become watered down to merely being relevant in the pulpit and culturally effective communication in a worship service—or drinking a latte at Starbucks with someone with an ear piercing coming out their ? ? ? or a “service” project.

What makes missional to me? What is the role of the church in the whole missional debate? I believe the church is the missionary. Read my book Glocalization. I just believe churches are rejecting the call to be a missionary or rather to enter the Kingdom. I believe missional is tied not to the Great Commission but to the Kingdom of God. The Great Commission is the marching orders for every believer living in the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is what John the Baptist preached, it’s what Jesus came proclaiming. It’s what the Apostles focused on. It’s what Jesus taught the Apostles for the 40 days he was with them. I’m not speaking of the Kingdom as only an escatological issue, but as a Matthew 25 reality of it touching every domain of soceity. The only way that happens is when every believer lives their faith in the public square using their vocation as their primary ministry to bring healing and reconciliation, both locally and globally—glocally. It’s what Abraham Kuyper, the Calvinist, taught and E. Stanley Jones, the Armenian. Every person witnessing, every person sharing, every person living out their faith.

We didn’t mean to, but over the years we have compartmentlized missions—and it’s a huge mistake.  It slows down and impedes the Great Commission. We’ve comparmentalized it as one of the many important things a church does. We’ve compartmentalized it organizationally and institutionally apart from the whole. The beauty of the Kingdom is it’s impossible to compartmentalize it. It’s the esssense of all of it. It’s the life, Kingdom in, which leads to personal transformation, and then the ministry, Kingdom out, which leads to community, family, and “other” transformation. This is why, though I respect and like much of Dubose writes, I think to continue to emphasize only the sending nature of “missions” is a mistake. It turns missions into an employment agency of those who are called to do vocational missions.  That is important—yet only one aspect of missions, and it is the primary aspect that we have focused on since Carey (one of my hero’s). Even as a missionary, if you study Carey’s life, he didn’t just focus on preaching, he was an educator that impacted literacy, and other domains of society. I do not believe it’s only the “sending” nature of the church for vocational missions, but also the living nature of the church of faith within society engaging it. It’s one thing to focus on sending in Carey’s day when transportation and communication were issues. It’s a sin and travesty for the Church today in this age of globalization to focus on a 200-year-old model where the world has changed so dramatically and openned up so incredibly. It’s a sin for the Church and institutions today to focus on mobilizing a handful when it should be the whole body of Christ. Wikimissions—it’s the future.

Ed quotes E. Stanley Jones—for the full quote you can see his blog—that in essence it cannot be the local church alone that does “missions” or it will never get done. I agree with him. Don’t be shocked, look at how most local churches do missions?! And you want that to be the model for the world! BUT DON’T HEAR ME SAYING THE ANSWER IS MISSION AGENCIES TO DO IT ALL—that perpetuates a narrow view of the Kingdom of God and the Great Commission that will never lead to it’s completion—only continue to absolve churches from their responsibility. Jones also said that there must be focus on the kingdom for all this to happen. I agree with him. Jones understood the Kingdom as something that was within us that worked its way out around us and through us and every believer could be a part. His book titles all suggest living a life that is centered in the Kingdom. There was a missions conference called Tambaram that said, “The Church is the worlds greatest hope!” That really concerned Jones because he didn’t see a church that was engaging the world let alone it’s own society (he was an early driver for civil rights). You should also understand that Jones was not a typical “missionary” but lived all over the world and engaged society frankly in intellectual and social debates and issues. He saw a church that was not touching those issues, if anything, was a part of the problem. His “passion” country was India. He saw the abuse of the British and stood with Ghandi.  It got him in a lot of trouble. He also saw England and it’s religious history and saw the conflict.

Thus, Jones started with the society not the church. Something I’ve been saying a long time. We start with the seed of the Gospel, engaged in the disciple and the church emerges. Too much of our approach is start with the preacher, who focuses on the church, and hopefully we’ll get to the society. That would be so, so, so foreign to the church at Antioch. Antioch is the hope of the world. It was the church emerging from business guys—not planted by religious guys! It was a church born out of a kingdom living and engagement.

I like what Moreau summarized and would go so far as agreeing with much of it. I dont agree with shifting focus from atonement to incarnation—two wings of the same plane—stupid debate for children fighting of who’s wing it is—they’re both going to crash.

Do I think the church is the hope of the world? No, but it should be and it can be. If I didn’t believe that I’d stop pastoring today and focus just on “Missions for Me!” I believe God has called the whole church, and that means a lot more than just an offering or 1% of the people becoming vocational missionaries.  It means every believer has been given the Great Commission. Is God at work in the world without the established visible church? You bet. I see it all the time. The church, at its best, is anchored in the Kingdom

Do I think mission agencies are the hope of the world? Not at all. Isn’t it interesting that the primary measurement for the effectiveness of para-church or mission agencies is how many churches are planted? The question is, what kind of churches are we planting? I would also hate to think of our world without the IMB, Pioneers, Frontiers, CMA, YWAM, CCC, and hundreds of others. I say this all the time.  Let me say it again. WHEN THE WORLD IS WON TO CHRIST IT WILL NOT BE BECAUSE WE HAVE MORE PREACHERS AND MISSIONARIES LIKE ME, BUT IT WILL BE BECAUSE THE WHOLE BODY OF CHRIST GETS UP ON HER FEET! The latest movement now all the agencies are jumping on board is “business as mission.” What is this? It’s the broader “C”hurch, not just the local “C”hurch getting up on her feet. But that very statement, “business as mission” is one tagged onto laymen who are doing this from missiologist, and sadly some business and marketplace leaders have taken that tag without realizing its implications. Business IS “mission” to the businessman, eduator, health professional . . .  etc. God is calling people and they are hungry to be a part. Why else has Purpose Driven Life, Wild at Heart, and Half-Time exploded as bestsellers! The message is the Gospel of the Kingdom, the invitation is to accept the King of the Kingdom as the ruling Monarch on the throne of our heart.

Do I belive we need indigneous expressions of the church to engage? Well, once again, stupid question for our world today because they are present and they are engaging. I am learning today more from Asia on faith and missional than I am from America.

When the Great Commission is completed, it will not be because a Western Church won the world, not even because an Eastern Church won the world, but because the entire church came together, leveraged resources, and together made it happen. Now that’s a fun escatology of hope and unity!

Is the church the missionary? Sometimes. Should the church be the missionary? All the time. The church and mission can be separate. I don’t care theologically what people say. Just look at it! Should they be? God forbid! One thing I know for sure, the Kingdom of God is not separate from his Mission. Any church who’s living in the kingdom will do missions? Oh, oh, oh, – maybe that’s it—the sign of the kingdom present in a local church is when it’s missionally engaging the world.

Ed, now the next question should be – what constitutes “missional” activity. I wrote a blog a year back – saying missional is 4 steps removed –

Gotta run, finish my sermon, start a new book, prepare to meet with diplomats, do some country strategy, meet a planter, meet with our house church building architects, (it’s a big living room!) – Ed – don’t slow me down with hard deep questions like this!

Bob Roberts

Bob Roberts

Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.


Bob Roberts

Brad you may be right – I was responding to a quote and didn’t have the full context – bob

Bob Roberts

Thanks Brad – I haven’t read him – only responding to what I thought the context of the quote was. The Kingdom is seen in the sphere’s or domains.

Jeff King

Bob, Thank you for your insight. What God is doing through you has changed the way I look at my community and world. I serve 44 churches in NC and your heart and passion helps me communicate Christ Kingdom to them. We have been serving in Southeast Asia for a long time now and I appreciate your heart for this area.

brad brisco

Bob, I agree with your comments especially the thought that missional is tied not to the Great Commission but to the Kingdom of God. This changes everything.

But I think you have misread DuBose a bit when you equate his emphasis on sending to that of “missions.” Instead I hear DuBose emphasizing the sending of every follower of Christ individually (and collectively as the church) into every sphere of life. I hear DuBose saying that we are sent into the world as missionaries, and as Jesus was sent (Jn. 20:21) to actively participate in what the Father is doing. In reading DuBose I sense a daily call to participate in the Kingdom, not one only of fulfilling the Great Commission.

BTW, I have been encouraged multiple times with your passion for the Kingdom. I have been at the church planting bootcamp at Northwood twice and have heard you speak at a couple of NAMB meetings. I thank God for your ministry.

Neill Mims

Hi Bob … keep mobilizing the church… wiki-missions … good application. Just remember that those of us “out here” keep learning too. I’ve helped over the past 1.5 years help train four “Strategy Coordinator Churches” … taking churches and helping them decide how to do missional (there are some getting out of the pews). So far all four are using their laypeople (and sometimes their ministers) and they are having a blast (but it is work and expense too). A quote from a 58 year old architect who has been at it for a year now — “Last year I understood the importance of strategy. This year I understand you have to have a strategy”.

Us old mission agencies can help too! So keep motivating folks — but also you and we have to help them take some baby steps in what to “do” when they go to the ends of the earth. I hope folks will read your books as you have some ideas… let’s all keep chipping in.

Bob Roberts

Keep me in mind this week guys – some super delicate issues. All of you have taught me a lot – Neil we first met in Ho Chi Minh over a decade ago – Eric – you’re my hero!

Eric Swanson

Thanks for helping bring clarity among the muddled thinking on missional. Missional has to be more than sitting in Starbucks as opposed to sitting in church. I love the last paragraph! Reminds me of Holy Hubert–the aging campus evangelist at Cal Berkeley in the 1960s and 70s. One night after a couple hours of talking about Jesus, as he walked out the door he said, “I’m a desperate man in a desperate age, doing a desperate thing for the glory of God! Jesus is coming soon! Stick in the harness! Hallelujia!”
I’ve never forgotten those words!


A major problem is the misunderstanding of Kingdom and church. We have so instutionalized the church that when one says that the church is the hope of the world, we typically think of local churches that we know.
We even separate Kingdom and church. If you separate the Kingdom from the church, there is little hope for either. I really like your understanding of Antioch. Now that was the Kingdom in the church.
I do believe that the CHURCH is the hope of the world, if it is understood that the church is the Kingdom being lived out by God’s people getting together to celebrate God’s choice of them as His mission on this earth.
It’s all about every Christian being a missionary, not about churches doing missions.

David Crim

I hear what you’re saying and like it. In my preparation to preach from Colossians 1:3-8 a couple of weeks ago, it dawned on me the significance of what Paul was saying when he said: ” …the gospel that has come to you. It is bearing fruit and spreading all over the world.” The gospel never intends to stop with me. The gospel keeps growing beyond my local church. I have to believe that behind Paul’s words and the minds of his readers was the context of their culture—a spreading Roman Empire concurrent with the spreading Kingdom of God. The same Roman roads that were built to extend Rome beyond its physical confines was also taking the seeds of the gospel through obedient and transformational followers of Christ who traveled those roads. Eventually, as Rodney Stark writes in “Cities of God,” the Kingdom of God became a movement that conquered the Roman Empire. We are praying here in Hawaii that God will use these strategically placed islands in the Pacific to connect worlds and cultures with the gospel.

Bob Roberts Jr.

Missionaleb – if your definition of the church is true you are correct. We all local churches where that is not the definition. That’s the challenge.

David – your positioning is incredible – do something with it!

Cris Alley

Wow, good stuff! Reminds me of the combination of fire and truth found in “Pressing into the Kingdom of God” by Jonathon Edwards.

One thought to add, if “missional” is the Kingdom of God in and through each believer then missional extends equally beyond vocation, simply because vocation is not the totality of my life.

That’s not to diminish in any way Bob’s emphasis on the Kingdom of God advancing through our vocations. Just an opportunity to remind all husbands/fathers that we have a unique ministry to wife and children and then through our families to the world.

Our family recently started walking through our neighborhood, praying that God would open doors and show us persons of peace and raise up workers for His harvest. Out of 19 homes in our little sub-division, 15 are totally unchurched, most are completely ignorant of the Kingdom of God. Since our family began praying for the coming of the Kingdom into our neighborhood, 7 of those homes have opened up to us and a new small group has been started. Three of the 5 ethnic groups in our community have opened the door to their homes.