John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Defining Missional

I got a call from a church the other day asking me to consider becoming their fearless leader. This happens a lot this time of year; it's the season for pastoral migration. Preachers -- especially preachers with children who still live at home -- prefer to move during the summer. In fact, I might go so far as to suggest that a preacher willing to move his family during the school year might have a higher tendency to prioritize his work above his family. Churches ought to consider this in light of their hiring practices. Unfortunately, the way the system is set up in many places, the preacher decides to move, tells his church in late spring (to avoid being a kind of "lame duck" leader) and moves in early summer (to get the family situated before school starts). In some places, the church found out when the preacher put his house up for sale.

This sometimes puts churches in the awkward position of beginning a hiring process (which in itself is terribly screwed up and dysfunctional -- but that's another post) in May. The problem with this is that if the process begins in May it's not likely to be finished until September (because it's so screwed up and dysfunctional), which puts a guy in the position of moving his family during the school year as described above.

And so it goes.

But that's not what this post is about. Really...it's not.

When this church contacted me the other day, they said that God was doing some really exciting things at their church. Lots of exciting things.

So, I asked, "Tell me the one most exciting thing about your church."

After some stammering and nervous laughter, this is what I got: "We're becoming a missional church."

Really.

"Missional" is the buzz word du jour in church circles. I've had several churches contact me this spring about joining them in their work, and the word "missional" has come up in most of those conversations. But what in the world does it mean?

I have my own ideas, but it seems that missional is one of those words that people use without knowing exactly what they mean. Or perhaps they do know what it means, but they don't really mean it. They may want to mean it, but do they really mean it?

It's like in the movie The Princess Bride, when Wallace Shawn keeps saying, "Inconceivable!"

Mandy Patinkin finally says, "You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

So, when a church says, "We've been a traditional church, but we've recently made the decision to become missional" -- what do you think that means?

If a traditional church did grasp the meaning of missional, how would they go about transitioning? Is that even possible?

Finally, how would you define "missional"?