'Missional' is the new buzzword. However, unlike some buzzwords, 'missional' does have content - it's meaningful, and it's relevant to the times. That could change - everything could get branded 'missional', but that's not the state of play at the moment. After a big week of talks, training, and deep thinking, here are some thoughts:
1. Missional means a fundamental re-orientation of ecclesiology
The reason God has left Christians on the earth rather than rapture converts directly to heaven, so to speak, is for the purpose of mission. The only reason there is a church on earth is to mediate the salvific and redemptive presence of God to the lost. If you begin to see the primary vocation of the church as missional, not as ecclesial - as reaching lost people for Christ, rather than gathering for the purpose of worship, then your understanding of your personal vocation, as well as your understanding of large worship services begins to fundamentally alter. Although large church services can function attractionally - especially if they develop a critical mass of numbers/hype, a church worship service can really become a ministry vortex, sucking energy and christians in and consuming their time with 'ministry' that is all about edification of other believers (which is an excellent thing, but runs the risk of becoming the only thing).
2. Missional means relevance, not cool
It doesn't take much to see that christians are not cool, and compared to other sub-cultures they will to a certain degree never be cool. 'Cool' is a cultural value, embodying a culture's sense of ideal and prestige. Christians who seek to be cool to be missional will ultimately fail in one of three ways. (i) They will never be cool enough, because their christian identity prohibits them from embodying the ideals of another culture, (ii) They will be cool enough, but at the expense of their christian identity, (iii) They will wear cool as a facade, pretending to be one thing in order to peddle their salvation-wares.
The question is not 'why are so many christians wearing socks and sandals?' (a stereotype, I know), but 'where are the christians not wearing socks and sandals?' - the lack of certain sub-cultures from christianity is a testimony of the failure to be relevant, and will never be solved by getting socks-and-sandals guys to stop dressing that way, but only when non-socks-and-sandals people get converted, and transform their own cultural expression with their new birth (not start wearing socks-and-sandals because 'that's what christians do').
3. Missional means not just evangelism
Evangelism, while a great word and activity, is so often an 'activity' that fills a 'slot' in the ministry life of a christian. We expect christians to 'do some evangelism', just as we expect them to 'do some discipleship', and half a dozen interior-church ministries. So long as that mindset dominates evangelistic thinking, christians will be poor evangelists. Their efforts will be individual, isolated, set-pieces, irrelevant, embarrassing, and even reprehensible.
4. Missional means all mission is cross-cultural
The greatest deception about evangelism is that there is no cultural gap between christians and their neighbours. To become a christian means to undergo either a cultural transfer or cultural transformation. Most of us have undergone a cultural transfer - we heard the gospel and entered a churchey-culture. The translatability of christianity means that people should hear the gospel and undergo cultural transformation - their own (sub-)cultural life is in part discarded, in part redeemed, in part unchanged, as the gospel works in their heart and mind.
Being missional will mean learning to analyse our own culture as well as target cultures. To see them as distinct and learn their distinctions. Sometimes the gap will be small, other times it will be quite significant. The aim is not to pretend or assimilate ourselves to the target culture, but communicate in a meaningful and respectful way that shows the relevance of the gospel to those in that culture with their cultural-conditioned needs, wounds, and idolatry.
5. Missional means showing relevance, not making relevant
A properly missional approach means learning to understand a culture, to communicate to a culture, and to learn the sins, wounds, and idols of a culture, so that a proclamation of the gospel makes sense to a culture, and addresses those same sins, wounds, and idols. Being missional never means changing the gospel, or deceptively omitting parts of the gospel (though it must be realised that not every proclamation event of the gospel needs to explore and present every facet of the riches and depths of the gospel!), for the sake of gaining either a hearing or a convert. The timeless nature of the gospel means that it is always and already relevant to every language, tribe, nation, and people, but its timeliness means that always needs to address the specifics of every language, tribe, nation, and people.
6. Missional thinking can be theorised, analysed, theologised, but only becomes valuable when practised.
All the thinking and theorising in the world makes no difference in mission until it becomes the practice of disciples of jesus who understand themselves, work to understand others, and put 'being missional' into practice. no amount of hip, no number of hoodies and pithy pop-culture references, no amount of biblical study, will replace on-the-ground day-to-day getting to know a target culture, communicate meaningfully to them, and translating the gospel in a way that addresses their sins, wounds, and idols.