Thursday, April 26, 2007

An Appeal to Youth Pastors

Really this appeal is to anyone who cares to listen: please stop using missional to describe your youth ministry, to describe your programs, your "ministry opportunities" and anything other strategic facet of your church. The danger of this term is that it has become so popular now that too many different styles of churches are using it to describe anything and everything such that it has become almost meaningless (similar to the word evangelical). The reality of this word, theologically anyway, is that it foremost refers to the church insofar as the church exists to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Sent as such, mission is the very life-blood of the church, so that Bosch calls the church "missionary by its very nature." I have been refining some things in my thesis and realized that there are number of youth pastors and youth ministry "gurus" who like to use this term to basically mean programs for evangelism or outreach. Please, feel free to talk about what youth ministry looks like in the missional church. Feel free to explore what this means for evangelism and outreach. But, please, dear God, quit talking about your specific ministry as if it is missional simply because it has a stated mission that includes outreach. Your ministry can't be missional, but it certainly can participate in the life of the community that exists in mission.


At 8:44 AM , Blogger jlee said...

I was thinking more about critique of using the word missional to describe ministries. I agree that the term loses its function when applied to anything that is outreach-oriented. In my view, however, the term can apply to a ministry if the ministry functions missionally. In other words, if God is calling together people to be formed as a witnessing community and sent out to the world to engage their culture with the gospel through that ministry, then shouldn't the term "missional" be applied? Are you limiting the term only to the level of the particular church or the church universal? If so, then how would you describe a ministry of a particular church that achieves the same outcome as what the term "missional" conveys?

You know why I am asking because I re-thought my use of title "Missional Small Groups" after our conversation yesterday. I couldn't justify changing the title based on assumption that "missional" only applies at the level of the local church or church universal.

I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts on this shift.

At 12:34 PM , Blogger Erik said...

Good questions, Jeff. I'm not convinced yet that missional isn't something essentially ecclesiological. When the church is missionary by its very nature, which refers both the universal and local church, then how do small groups or youth ministries or adult ministries or any other facet of the missional church come to define the term? If at the heart of missional identity is the sending of the church, how can we talk about small groups as being sent? Can small groups function missionally? In the sense that they form those involved in their vocational calling, then they serve the missional church, and are a vital ministry that furthers the church's mission. But, can they be missional?

I suppose it depends upon a few things. First, how are we defining missional? I guess I'm using it more as an identifying term and less as an adjective (though I'm probably a bit murky on this). Definitionally I'm using it to refer to the church, and only the church. The reason being there is too much danger, I think, for parachurch organizations to start using it because they are outreach oriented, even evangelistic, and seeking to have an encounter of the gospel and culture. An interesting question to pursue, sometime, would be: how do parachurch organizations function for the missional church?

Second, what do we gain by calling any facet of church ministry missional, as opposed to talking abut small groups (or anything else) in the missional church? You see, what I'm really interested in is not a revision of small group ministry per se, nor youth ministry per se, or any other ministry in the church, but an ecclesiological revision, or rather, recovery and reform that will necessarily affect of all the various programs and ministries we undertake as pastors. I'm not convinced this has been done with sufficient enough attention (at least in churches), and we have baptized our programs in missional terminology, figuring we've done something new, when really we're simply recasting an old paradigm of "go tell your friends, bring 'em to church" and calling that missional (read Chap Clark's chapter in "Four Views on Youth Ministry and the Church sometime: his view of youth ministry and what missional means is far more influential than we might think and betrays the very essence of what Guder and others have been working towards). Clark, in fact, states the the missional mandate for YM is to assimilate young people into the overall life of the congregation, and that adults serve as the missionaries to youth culture, thereby eliminating any sense of the calling of young people.

Finally, I actually don't think I'm limiting the term, but trying to give it more precision. I think its fundamentally an ecclesiological term that has ramifications for congregational life. I think your project is well worthwhile, but that's because you are working from a missional understanding of the church, and now trying to appropriate that starting point for the congregational practice of small groups. So, I still prefer small groups in the missional church.

I stand to be corrected, but I really fear missional is becoming so diluted that it is bound to be very meaningless soon. If I can, in my own small way, provide a little clarity and precision, then I think I've helped.

At 12:41 PM , Blogger Erik said...


One other thing: I'm open to talking about certain theological categories other than ecclesiology as missional. For instance, we might talk about missional vocation, or missional discipleship. So, I am open to expanding my understanding of missional to include various theological matters; maybe it's okay to talk about missional theology. What I'm resistant to is the idea that ministries or congregational practices can be missional. So, I guess I'm advocating that missional is an essentially theological category and therefore cannot be applied to small groups or youth ministry or any other program.

At 5:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you are on to something very sound with this post. I am afraid you may be better off making up a new word to describe where you are headed with your thoughts. It seems to me that the critical mass of the evangelical movement is in fact swallowing whole the tagline of missional in our ever vexing problem of U.S. church marketing. The bottom line is that most youth pastors couldn’t make the distinction between their summer mission’s trip and being missional. That is not intended to be a rip on youth pastors; rather as one it is an acknowledgement. I haven’t yet seen any of that paper you speak of. I will get a copy correct?

Unfortunately the reality is that most youth pastors still could tell you more about myspace, you tube, or lock ins than about ecclesiology, much less a missional one. In all seriousness if you invent a word for what you are talking about you at least won’t have to fight for the right to define it.

One of the better ideas our staff had recently was to create a summer that would attempt to help the kids discover what missional was. We recreated the you tube logo to make it say, your summer, you serve, you honor, you reach, with a tagline of learn to forget yourself. Obviously this notion would be rather pointless if we don’t spend a lot of time teaching about what we are talking about and even more actually living it out.

Sorry this got so long


At 5:12 AM , Blogger Erik said...


I hear what you are saying, but the thing is the term missional already has its more precise definition from the work done by "The Gospel and Our Culture Network." The problem is that it looks so similar to certain outreach-only styles of ministry (that are quite shallow theologically), a significant number of evangelicals who want to be hip and post-modern have jumped on the bandwagon to champion a repackaged, huckster gospel. So, its not so much that I need to try and redefine/invent a term: rather I'm calling for some intellectual honesty, and a little bit of recognition that missional means something theologically that simply must be taken into account. I've jokingly toyed with the idea of calling my thought a post-missional theology, but I think that would be even more confusing as a term.

At 6:26 PM , Blogger WTM said...

Nice, Erik.


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