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  • Writer's pictureDwight Smith

What is Missional?

I hear the word “missional” often. It is in the vision statements of many churches. It’s the new buzz word for “relevant” churches. But, what does “missional” actually mean.

In its simplest form, it means to be on mission with God. Missional involves something God is doing, and, He expects us to join Him. From Genesis, we see from the beginning that God Himself is on a mission. We are the focus of that mission. If we are to have a relationship with Him and represent His purpose for us in His world, God Himself has to take the judgment of our rebellion, through His Son, and bear the wrath of sin.

So, Jesus is appropriately called, the last Adam. For He completes what the first Adam did not do: trust God in obedience, establishing righteousness.

Those of us who have now received the righteousness of Jesus through our obedience to His death, burial and resurrection, are to join God on His mission. That mission is focused upon the others who have also been chosen before the foundation of the world to be reconciled to Him.

It is missional because God has a Gospel purpose to complete and we are His instruments to complete it: “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

In our daily lives, missional is the incarnational expression of the life of Christ in and through us. This expression allows God to achieve what He wants in the world. So, missional always moves from BE (who we are eternally in Christ and who we are becoming by the Holy Spirit who lives within us), to the many things we DO everyday.

Missional is seen in the many DO’s that we live every day. Paul says that, “we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He has prepared beforehand that we should walk in.” Ephesians 2:10.

Our lives are full of as many DO’s as God needs to express His full glory; as many transformational actions as necessary to complete His redemptive purpose.

The continuum of missional life moves from BE into incarnational actions that mature over time, range across many potential geographies, and, from normal daily actions to occasional “extreme” actions.

How to build a missional lifestyle

  1. Spend time everyday: a) pondering Gods word, b) pondering yourself (Glory that Comes from Man or Glory that comes from God) and, c) pondering your relationship to God. Pursue relationship and obedience. “Furthermore Moses claimed that “this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven...Neither is it beyond the sea” (Deuteronomy 30:11-13). Nothing about it was hard to understand. “But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14). (Taken from “Days of Praise” ICR)

  2. Spend time regularly: a) pondering the broader world around you, b) your relationship in Christ to it, c) what you need to do in light of Christ’s commands and d) the end of your time here on earth. 2 Peter 3

  3. Expose your spouse and your children to what you are discovering about the two points above.

  4. Build an agenda of exposure activities for your family that gives them knowledge and outlet to the greater importance of God’s desire for the expansion of the Gospel

  5. Spend time nurturing God’s call upon your marriage and build action out of it. The first call is relationship to Him, and, the second call is to represent Him, as individuals in a marriage, and, then, as a couple. (More on this topic can be found in my book, Divine Design, and, in my article “For My Sisters in Christ on Women in Leadership.” Both are available at

  6. Involve yourself in the discipling of others. First, define what it means to be a disciple. I have identified five things that represent what a disciple actually looks like. (“Renovation,” available at (1)Regular time with God rooted in His word. (2) Understanding and telling the eternal story that you have been intimately included into when you entered into relationship with the Father through the Son. (3) Understanding and maturing in the use of the gifts that the Spirit wants to operate through you. (4) Maturing in sanctification so that the works of the flesh are giving way to the fruit of the Spirit. (5) Maturing in allowing the Holy Spirit to spend your assets on others. Second, Realize that this “discipling” is labor intensive: It takes time. And, without relationship it is impossible. So, it’s not going to be the result of seminars, classes, or any other kind of gathering.

  7. Study the people of the last 300 years who have given their lives to the end of the story, especially outside of their own nation. Teach your children who they were and why they did what they did

  8. Revaluate every year how you can give away more of your assets to the benefit of others and the expansion of the Gospel.

  9. Recalibrate all of this once a year, adjusting as the Spirit gives direction.

Kinds of Books to read:

  1. “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya,” Ruth Tucker

  2. “25 classic Christian women biographies”

  3. Books on the apostolic fathers

  4. “Mrs Oswald Chambers”

  5. Books on Christian history, mission history, doctrinal history. Get above the local and daily, to the eternal as a motivator for today

They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. John 12:43

Even as I read those words again, I say an immediate amen. Of course, religious pretension is what we expect from people such as Pharisees. But....

The older I get the more I realize that I have often misunderstood what exactly it is that glorifies God. As tens of thousands of others down through the history of the people of God, I have too often assumed that what I thought God wanted, was exactly what I was doing. And, of course, God was glorified.

Even in my most humble of times, I can now see that it was all too often only the graciousness of God that allowed me to be so presumptuous!

There have been grand new initiatives that I have been a part of to reach nations, that I now wonder. Did they achieve what God actually wanted? And, most importantly, did they grow in ways that honored Him and the principles that He has put into place to grow them His way?

There have been thoughts, teachings, trainings and books that I have developed that many thought were transformational. And, while not rejecting the idea that we servants of Christ do indeed “discover” Biblical truths that are highly profitable for each generation, I can easily see that God might have had a simpler way to get done what He wanted to get done than what I had passionately pursued.

Two examples stand out to me as indicators that maybe my way was not actually God’s best way.

The first is the more serious of the two, for it may have robbed many believers of their own rich daily relationship with God.

So many fine preachers down through the last centuries of Christian history have consistently emphasized the importance of preaching and therefore a preacher. While not disagreeing with the genuineness of their conviction, I think that we have overstretched that activity.

It seems to me that good, consistent biblical teaching in a local body acts more like guard rails to orthodoxy. We are reminded of the truths of scripture that should dominate our convictions and form the basis for our Christian living.

The problem arises when this preaching activity overwhelms, or worse, subverts the primary call that God has given to us: to be in daily relationship with Him THROUGH His word. Just like salvation does not fall upon me through another person’s faith, so righteous cannot be fed by someone else doing all of the heavy lifting of time with God in Scripture.

In a very real way, this puts the truth of scripture in hands of others who instruct us as to its content and meaning. We run the risk of a new form of everything being brokered through “priests.”

I have seen this played out demonstrably over decades in two ways. First, in research done by colleagues into how many people practice the priesthood of the believer in their daily relationship with God. Not only do pastors admit serious inconsistency in their lives, but it is also seen through the data that research reveals as to how weak God’s people are in their practice. We say that we believe in this relational aspect of the priesthood of the believer, but too many have a passive reliance upon the preacher or worse, a strange practical relevance upon what I call the evangelical sacrament of the worship service.

The second way that I have seen this replacement of personal and consistent Bible based relationships for each and every believer, is in the teaching of pastors and churches around the world. I don’t think that I could find many evangelical preachers in America who would openly advocate that their preaching should be a primary focus of our relationship with God, in essence a more reliable basis for our daily walk.

This is not so cloaked in other parts of the world. I have experienced denominational leadership boldly admonishing their people away from personal time in scripture. Their belief? The Bible is too important to be left to the interpretation of ordinary people. So, let’s be safe: your pastor will tell you what it means.

Whereas in America this is less obvious, I think that few would argue that too many confessing Christians would rather hear their pastor tell them what the Bible says, rather than engage God personally. Of course, in both systems, the power of the personal call to daily obedience to God whose Spirit applies the word to us, is so diminished as to be nearly lost.

Have I joined the Pharisees in this regard in assuming that I knew exactly what glorified God in this regard, and my preaching was God’s most important lifeline for His people to know Him? When in reality, what I thought gloried Him most, actually distanced His people from Him. Have I become a new priestly layer between God and His people?

The second example is an incomplete trust by me in what God had designed to do through His people. And, He has designed to do so in a way that would have more easily expanded His church and the Gospel message across the face of the earth.

I cannot remember a time in my missionary life when I did not passionately embrace the concept of “indigenous” ministry as the most effective means of seeing the Gospel multiply.

Indeed, it is one of the first principles of what I teach. “Whatever God is going to do in a place, He is going to do through all of Christ’s people in that place.” Missionary history has consistently demonstrated that whenever and wherever this principle is tenaciously acted upon, the Gospel moves more effectively and quickly across a people and a place.

However, the preponderance of missionary history shows that in spite of our declared belief in indigenous, we have been abysmal in practicing it.

I remember one very highly qualified African friend and colleague, asking me the question. The missionaries have been in our nation for over 80 years. They said that they were training us. But, when exactly do they think that we will be qualified to actually lead our nation without them?

For, the great threat to indigenous movement is at least two fold. One, I arrive with the monetary assets to create what I can think best. If I leave, the monetary asset will also leave. Since I have started the ministries based upon my asset availability, the “indigenous” can never hope to replace my access to the asset. Thus, I (we) become continually necessary.

The second threat is inside of me. I enjoy what I am doing. My very self and worth have been built upon doing it. To think that I am merely a facilitator of something that should transcend me into local and indigenous people, threatens my very being. I know that this transition is mandatory, but I like what I am doing. Moreover, I probably have no life in the nation that sent me. So, we do little to nothing to put the pressure upon ourselves to purposefully have a short “shelf life” in that “foreign” place.

The recent pandemic has been both instructive and convicting to me in this regard. The closing of international travel left us with two alternatives. One, do nothing until we could be present again in the midst of our partners. Two, find a way that no longer demanded that we be present.

We chose the second alternative, believing that God was going to accelerate the demonstration of His glory THROUGH these we had consistently said were qualified and ready to lead. This is exactly what has happened. The numbers of nations where we are now active has more than doubled. The breadth of ministry inside of these nations has equally multiplied, well beyond what we would have expected through our on-site involvement.

In each case, it has been our non-American partners who have led, indeed encouraged all of this. We have set back in wonder and amazement that what we believed was necessary, “indigenous,” was not only right, but able to be birthed by God the Spirit more quickly without our ability to be present.

Whatever God is going to do in any and every place, He has designed to be done through all of Christ’s people of that place, or as close as possible to that place.

Have I maybe, more often than I like to think, failed to understand just exactly what the glory of God looks like? As a result, building my own ignorant glory rather than waiting upon God to humbly use me to build His own glory in His own way?


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