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We often hear the term ‘missional’ applied to the church. The etymology of this word is simple: mission [from the Latin root mittere, missum to send] + al [a suffix that means ‘of’ or ‘pertaining to’].

The simple meaning of missional in reference to the church is that the church is sent. To be ‘missional’ is to be sent; to engage in missional activities is to be engaged in activities that relate to the fact that the church is sent.

This missional function and responsibility of the church was present from its beginning in the teaching and instruction given by Jesus Christ.

We see this in Christ’s instructions to his disciples:

When Jesus called his disciples to follow him it was with the understanding that he would make them ‘fishers of men’ [Matthew 4:19].

When Jesus appointed the twelve he designated them ‘apostles’ – [from the Greek apostello - I send] [Mark 3:14].

Jesus sent his disciples [the twelve, and also the seventy] out on mission. This mission involved both the spiritual [preaching] and the practical [Matthew 10:5ff; Mark 6:7ff; Luke 9:2ff; 10:1ff].

Jesus sent his disciples out into the world just as the Father sent him into the world [John 17:18; 20:21; see also John 4:38].

Jesus commanded his disciples to ‘go and make disciples of all nations …’ [Matthew 28:19].

And we see it in the teaching of Jesus Christ

Jesus taught that we are to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest [Matthew 9:38 ; Luke 10:2].

Jesus taught that his gospel would be preached in the whole world before the end came [Matthew 24:14].

A number of the parables either indicate or assume the missional activity of the church flowing out from the missional heart of God [for example: the sower, the weeds, the mustard seed, the yeast – Matthew 13; the wedding banquet – Matthew 22; Luke 14:15-24; the lost son - Luke 15:11-31].

Jesus taught that those who believe in him are, and are to be, salt and light in the world with the purpose that God will be glorified [Matthew 5:13-16; Luke 8:16-18].

Jesus taught an all embracing love that would identify believers as children of their Father in heaven [Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:25-37].

From these instructions and teaching of Christ we can identify a threefold missional role of the church in the world:

That the church is to verbally proclaim the good news of Christ’s kingdom. It is our responsibility as the church to make known to the unbelieving world, to the ignorant world, and to the deceived world, the truth about who Jesus Christ is, and the truth about what Jesus Christ accomplished through his death.
That the church is to reach out with compassion to physically help the suffering and the needy, to pass on to them the compassionate love of Christ, regardless of whether or not they believe in him.
That the church is to be a living revelation of God in the context of the unbelieving world. Not simply in proclaiming the truth. Not only in extending compassion. But by everything we say and do, by the way the whole of our life is lived, demonstrating that Christ is indeed the loving, compassionate, powerful, authoritative Lord of all that we, the church, profess him to be.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009, 2021