Reflections on the “Missional Manifesto”

“Post-evangelical”, “post-liberal”, “post-modern”, “post-colonial”, “post-Christendom”, “emergING”, “emergENT”, “third way”, “organic”, “centrist”… the world of North American Christianity is a landscape littered with words like these like shells scattered across the shore of the sea, now so overused we can barely remember that at one point they actually had positive content.

Among such words is the word “missional”.  Sometime in the last ten years, the word began to be used extensively as a self-description for churches/communities organized and oriented towards “the mission of God” as opposed to something else.  Usually, the term functioned as a sort of “pushaway” – that is, “we” (whoever that is) are defined by our participation in the mission of God “out there” (in the world) as opposed to “them” (whoever they are), who are defined and organized by a sort of “indragging” principle (i.e., get more people in the building).  “Missional” was often set against so-called “attractional” churches.

Somewhere along the line, however, the word began to lose its moorings (if indeed it ever had them).  Pretty soon, folks as diverse as Craig Groeschel and Shane Claiborne were using the term to describe what they were up to.  As the word became more and more diffuse, therefore, it came to have less and less content.  If an indie hipster artist type can use the word to describe what she’s doing with her art, and Steven Furtick can use it to describe what he’s doing with his exploding church in South Carolina, clearly we have on our hands a word in search of a meaning.

Thus, a little more than a year ago, a small group of thinkers, pastors, and practitioners (including Alan Hirsch, Tim Keller, Ed Stetzer, Dan Kimball, and others) got together to draft a document laying out what they mean when they use the word “missional”, entitling the document the “Missional Manifesto.”  (You can read the full text of the Manifesto here.)

In the main I tend to be wary of highfalutin-sounding things like “manifestos”, but I must say that I do appreciate both what the “framers” (that’s also a little highfalutin-sounding for my ears 🙂 ) intended to do (define how they’re using the term) and in fact did (provide, IMO, a nice theological framework for understanding the missionary nature of the Church).

To be specific, some appreciations for the Manifesto:

  1. I appreciated the attempt to limit the term “missional” (as it relates to the Church) to our calling to join with God in seeking and saving the lost.  As the Manifesto states: “Missional is not synonymous with movements attempting to culturally contextualize Christianity, implement church growth, or engage in social action. The word missional can encompass all of the above, but it is not limited to any one of these…Missional is the perspective to see people as God does and to engage in the activity of reaching them. The church on mission is the church as God intended.”  Kudos to those statements.
  2. I appreciated the distinction between the “Missio Dei” (Mission of God) and the “Missio Ecclesia” (Mission of the Church).  As I’ve already written about here, I think confusion on this point is harmful, and actually diverts the Church away from the specific role she plays in the “summing up of all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ” – that is to say, the “Mission of God.”   I loved this statement: “Although it is frequently stated ‘God’s church has a mission,’ according to missional theology, a more accurate expression is ‘God’s mission has a church’ (Ephesians 3:7-13).”  Definitely.  I might be tempted to say, in further clarification, that “God’s mission has a church which has a mission.”  Missio Ecclesia, in other words, is a subset of Missio Dei.
  3. I appreciated that Gospel, Christology, Kingdom, Church, and Disciple-making formed the heart of the “Affirmations” of the MM.  As a people being-formed by the Good News of what God has done for us and for the whole world in Christ Jesus, the people of God together bear witness to a world which has fallen into the hands of the Evil One that the gracious Reign of God in Christ is available to all.  I thought that whole section was well-articulated and theologically precise.

And so, in the main, I would like to express a hearty appreciation for the Missional Manifesto, and for its Framers in taking the time to put it together.  Well-articulated and timely I say.  Good work guys 🙂

Still, I have some concerns, all of which (I think) are bound up with each other:

1) I am concerned that “living missionally” is going to become a new badge that separates “us” (the so-called “missional Christians”) from “them” (the “non-missional Christians”).  That is to say, that “missional” is going to be the “new legalism”, as my good friend Michael Hidalgo has written about here and here.  This concern is related (I think), to this concern:

2) I am concerned that the ideal of “living missionally”, despite the Framers’ intentions, is still so vague that, unless it is further clarified, is bound to become oppressive.  What does “living missionally” actually look like?  And at what point are we “missional” enough?  I’m reminded here of the Shane Claiborne/Irresistible Revolution phenomenon from several years back… an ideal so high and lofty that it was bound to inspire us deeply.  And yet, when it came down to the average soccer mom, college student, or businessman putting it into play, it became oppressive at least as often as it was helpful.  How will “living missionally” as an ideal not fall into the same trap?  This concern is related (I think), to this concern:

3) I am concerned about statements like this: “The Church, therefore, properly encourages all believers to live out their primary calling as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) to those who do not know Jesus” (Emphasis mine).  Frankly, I am not sure if saying that our “primary calling” is to be Christ’s ambassadors is theologically accurate, or at the very least, it is not precise enough.  It seems to me that the Scriptures teach that our primary calling is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength.  That of course is the “first and greatest” command… and the “second is like unto it”, though not synonymous with it – “love your neighbor as yourself.”  When we’re loving God well (and letting ourselves be loved by God well), love for neighbor is the inevitable result.  It is what “runs off” of the life of adoration.  We were made, as the Westminster catechism declares, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  And when we order our lives towards that telos, we become radiant and alive with the very presence of God, ever bearing glad witness to him in a world of self-worship, confusion, and death.  Bluntly, I think worship is our primary calling.  Yes?  No?

I suspect that most if not all of the Framers would agree with that last statement, but I think it deserves clarification, especially in a “Manifesto”, for, as I can see it, the only way the ideal of “living missionally” (WHICH I WHOLEHEARTEDLY AFFIRM!) will avoid the trap of becoming yet another “law” or “badge” as opposed to a glorious “gospel of peace” is if our imaginations are first directed towards God… and our call to live fully into his love and glory as sons and daughters, and then – and ONLY then – prayerfully discerning how to join him in his work of reconciling lost humanity to himself, right where we live, in the “sacred geography” that God has placed us.

To that extent, I enjoyed this post over at DesiringGod.org and also James MacDonald’s recent emphasis that “the primary purpose of the church is not soteriological but DOXOLOGICAL.”  Our joy in God begets mission… God help us remember that.

In any event, I hope this came across as charitable.  I would love some interaction from those of you familiar with the Manifesto or EVEN (by some miracle of the internet) from those of you who helped FRAME the Manifesto.  Do you share these concerns?  Disagree with them?  Am I off base here?

Shalom…

5 thoughts on “Reflections on the “Missional Manifesto”

  1. If the mission of the church is different than the missio dei, and I agree with you on that point, then how would we articulate the missio ecclesia? Is there a difference between the mission and the calling of the church? If not, then wouldn’t we have to say that the calling/mission of the church is Love God, Love Neighbor (or any other construction of the same idea). If we can do that then living missionally includes that doxological element as well.

  2. Living missionally….hmmmm

    How about just living? in Christ, Christ in me.

    New words for a new time but His word endures forever.

    Galatians 2:20
    I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me

    and

    I. Cor. 9
    Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

    Peace.

    • Hey Jan… What you’re saying above about living “in christ” (ie being his slave for the sake of others) is exactly what we mean when we use the word “missional living”… Just a new term for an old idea 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

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