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The surprising relationship between mission, faith and church

What does it mean to be missional?
What does it mean to be missional?

We like having missions, don’t we? It feels good to have a clear pursuit or purpose. Have you been on a mission today? Maybe it was simply to have a good day and stay out of trouble. Maybe it was something challenging and deep.

Within the church, we talk about mission a lot. Churches that have a clear mission to reach people outside of their congregations are often noted to be “missional” churches. I’ve always disliked the phrase “missional church” because it sounds like something out of the Redundant School of Redundancy. At one point of our greater existence a church was simply missional.

What is missional church?

What is missional?

Actively participating in the mission of representing God's love in the world.

For those of us who aren’t church nerds (which might be every single one of you...), the word “mission” comes from the Latin “missio” which means “sending” or “commissioning.” If I have a “missio,” it means I need to go from one place to another for a purpose on behalf of someone.

Think of short-term mission trips. We go from our local church to someplace else (usually to a place we’ve deemed as “less fortunate”) on behalf of — and in the name of — Jesus Christ to help people experience the love of Christ. Over the course of time, our ‘missional’ work in the church only came seasonally.

I think that had to do with how “mainstream” the church became — when everyone and their mother went to a church. There was a time when people moved into a new town and the first thing they looked for was the logo of the denomination they affiliated with (not the local coffee shop). Being “sent” was not necessary when everyone was coming to us in the church. We became less missional and became maintainers, maintaining a supposedly Christian status quo.

Too many of our churches still see our purpose as maintaining this supposedly Christian status quo (when many of our neighborhoods have become post-Christian).

That’s evident when we have to call ourselves a “missional church” when, ideally, “church” should imply we’re missional.

In fact, I once served a church where the pastor kept insisting the biggest mission opportunity for the church is on Sunday mornings — to show people what we’re about. He’s not wrong, per se. But the underlying tone is still “get people to meet us where we are gathering on Sunday mornings.” That’s not being “sent.” That’s waiting — and waiting for people to come isn’t missional, unless you’re still maintaining an out-of-date status quo.

Too many times we want people to join us in what we are doing,  in where we are gathering, or in the conversation we are having — which is why churches find themselves declining.

That’s because it’s easier to control people than to love people.

What does it mean to be personally missional?

Being missional means joining people where they are at; joining them in the things they are doing; joining in the conversation that they are having — all the while bearing the light of Christ, not with doctrines and dogma but with our words and actions.

This season in my life, when we are trying to plant a church, more than being missional, we’re focused on being incarnational. At the end of the day, it just might be toMAYto/toMAHto — semantics.

“Missional” still can allow the luxury of staying where we are and hoping that we’re changing lives for those who happen cross our paths. Being incarnational implies that we are boundary crossers.
God did not wait for us to come to God. Instead, God became incarnate and therefore Jesus met us in our context. Jesus met us where humanity was at, walking amongst us. He crossed social boundaries, fraternizing with the least of these — so much so he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. He crossed religious boundaries by being with and touching the “unclean.” Jesus constantly went to the people.

He was stern with those who kept getting things wrong (the already religious). And Jesus was grace-filled with those who felt their existence was wrong.

When Jesus was about to leave earth, he commanded us to embody his mission by telling us to go.

When someone always asks for a book recommendation about starting a new ministry, I always recommend Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle. It’s not a book about church planting, per se. It doesn’t have instructions or guidelines about benchmarks or how to create a mission/vision statement. The book is filled with stories about how Fr. Greg was/is incarnational — meeting the people where they were at, joining in the conversation they were having, immersing himself in their context. And it is about how God changed lives through Fr. Greg’s work.

You really want to be missional? Then be willing to take risks by putting yourself out there by meeting people in their context. Don’t feel the need to explain or prove God’s existence but be willing to listen to  their stories. It’ll take time, but soon we’ll get to see how their stories intertwine with ours and how all of our stories intertwine with God’s narrative.

Where will the Spirit lead you?
And into whose lives?


Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.