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“Do not doubt, but believe.” John 20:27

Academy for Missional  Preaching
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Teresa Stricklen
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What is Missional Preaching?

First of all, let us ask: What does missional mean?

Good question. A cursory glance at uses of the term “missional” indicates that missional is a rather fluid term that has become a buzz word of various meanings. Missional doesn’t just mean doing mission work, though that is certainly a part of what it means to be a missional church. Rather, missional is a broader word used to describe a certain way of being church.

It is clear that confusion still exists over what the term missional really means. Some appear to want to use it to reclaim, yet one more time, the priority of missions in regard to the church’s various activities. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding continues the effort to define a congregation primarily around what it does. The concept of a church being missional moves in a fundamentally different direction. It seeks to focus the conversation about what the church is—that it is a community created by the Spirit and that it has a unique nature, or essence, which gives it a unique identity. In light of the church’s nature, the missional conversation then explores what the church does. Purpose and strategy are not unimportant in the missional conversation, but they are understood to be derivative dimensions of understanding the nature, or essence, of the church. Likewise changing cultural contexts are not unimportant, but they are understood to be conditions that the church interacts with in light of its nature or essence. 

—Craig van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 16-17.

The term missional describes one of the primary reasons the church exists — namely, to be about God’s mission of redeeming and sanctifying the world through Christ in Holy Spirit. Mission is not something we do; growing out of the worship of the Sovereign Lord, missional is something we are as part of the body of Christ.

“The church exists for mission as fire exists for burning,” is a phrase by Emil Brunner that you’ll often hear associated with the missional movement.Missional doesn’t just mean that the church exists only for mission, though this is certainly a part of it. To understand missional as referring to a church that does great mission work  is to define the term too narrowly. The missional church is one that is on the move, following along the Way of Christ as his body in the world, serving the Spirit’s bidding as God’s Kingdom ambassadors.

At the apostolic commission of Christ, the church is sent out to proclaim, embody and extend the gospel Christ preached and embodied — that God is at hand, blessing, redeeming and repairing the brokenness of life.

At the apostolic commission of Christ, the church is sent out to proclaim, embody and extend the gospel Christ preached and embodied — that God is at hand, blessing, redeeming and repairing the brokenness of life.

In effect, missional constitutes a new way of being church over against a moribund cultural institution of God in Christendom. Recognizing that the current North American culture is every bit as much of a mission field as foreign missions, missional is a term used to describe a movement of Christians responsive to the Holy Spirit’s work in the world to bring all within the dominion of God.  As such, a missional church seeks to follow God’s Holy Spirit work in the world, asking two major questions:

1) What in the world is God up to? This requires being able to discern what is of God and what is not (or not so much). Being able to discern the glory of God shining in the midst of our fallen world’s tragedy and sin requires knowing the Christian tradition — its scriptures, confessions, theologies, practices and ways of being — which help us see the work of the Holy in the world. This question requires that we be able to name what God is doing in the world.

2) What does God want to do in and through us? This question requires that we understand what the Lord intends for us and all of creation and the many and various ways in which the Lord has worked in the past. Looking through the lens of the past, we can discern the general contours and trajectories of God’s will. Knowing this, as well as discerning where it seems to be that God is already at work (question 1), we can then plot strategies about how to bring our best gifts for God to use in transforming the places into which we are sent to be Christ’s ambassadors.

Because missional is a way of being incarnate in specific times and places, missional cannot be defined; it has to be described.

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