Missional vs. Missionary Movements – Which Will Prevail?

hitchhikerHugh Halter once said;

“We should get rid of the term ‘missional’ and use something more on the lines of ‘missionary-ish’ to get people to think more about being missionaries in their neighborhoods as a ‘better’ definition of ‘missional’.”

He also said;

“Just stop using the term (Missional). It’s too vague and too many people use it for their own agenda. Instead, use ‘missionary-ish’ when talking to your churches. People don’t get missional but they do get missionaries. We’ve been sending out missionaries for so long they like that term. Teach them to be ‘missionary-ish’ and do the things missionaries do.”

When ‘missional’ thinking, action, and vocabulary started gaining some ground, I used to hear some in the missional movement say something like this;

“We need to look at those cross-cultural missionaries ‘over there’ and do what they do ‘over here’ in our own contexts.”

Sounded like good advice then, but now it seems that they are at odds with one another or at least a bit of uneasy tension.  I recently attended a conference of missionaries from all over the world and was inspired by the fervor amongst them.  I’d venture to guess that only a handful of them had ever heard of the term ‘missional,’ or have embraced ‘the movement’ as such.  To be certain though, they had a solid and historic desire to exegete culture, learn native languages, preach the good news, and be living examples of the gospel in their diverse contexts.

I had the most wonderful conversation with a humble Ecuadorian who is serving in Asian countries amongst Muslims.  That’s Missionary-ish!  I thought of all those who are staying in their own neighborhoods trying to wrap their heads around some inflated notion of post-modernity and this young lady who had trans-cultured multiple hurdles to serve in the most contrary of contexts.

Admittedly, I might just be a bit bias being a missionary in a foreign context, but from the perspective of one who has spent much time in ‘both camps,’ I see the missional movement winding down, unable to sustain itself, and the missionary movement picking up steam.  But to be fair, and unless I’m too harsh on my missional brothers and sisters, I also see a feedback loop of sorts coming out of the missional movement right back to traditional missionaries as if matter was being converted to energy and back to matter again.  If I was ignorant of the vocabulary and missional speak, it’s likely that I would never have noticed it.  It might be argued that the best of early missional thinking came from missionaries like the Anglican missionary to India Lesslie Newbigin, but I believe that missional and missionary reflect each other like an infinity mirror.

One, and I stress ‘one’ of the reasons I think the missional movement is winding down is because of a disproportionate view of the making of disciples.  The accent of the Great Commission is being placed on the ‘as you go’ make disciples interpretation and application.  I believe the best translation of beginning of the command is ‘go, and while you’re going’ make disciples. The imperative can not be sliced off and left to itself.  ‘Staying’ with an attitude of sent-ness doesn’t appear to be as effective as actually going.  Further, one must ask; “Where are the disciples that are being made?” In my contact with numerous missionaries serving in diverse cultures across the globe, I hear encouraging stories of disciples being made.  In my contact with many ‘missional’ folks, not so much.

Another reason which I’ll develop in a follow-up post, is that I believe the missional movement is becoming primarily an attractional,  ‘come and see’ movement, rather than a missional, a ‘go and be’ movement, and that’s odd because missional momentum gained traction in opposition to the attractional model.

One might assume that I am not understanding the breadth of the missional conversation.  But I propose that missionary action will always be more convincing than missional conversation.


A few questions:

From your point of view, is the missional movement winding down? What makes you think so?

Is it too early to measure the success of missional thinking? Are the disciples coming?

Will the traditional missionary movement prevail? Why do you believe so? 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.