Missions vs. Missional—Why We Really Need Both

These days, everyone (and everything) is missional. It’s the new buzz word.

There are books about being missional (I’ve written several of them), conferences about being missional and even companies that sell missional t-shirts. While this is great in many contexts, the danger of such cultural penetration is that the meaning of the word can be diluted, misunderstood and lost.

Being missional conveys the idea of living on a purposeful, biblical mission. Mission is the reason the church exists, and the church joins Jesus on mission. And this mission is from everywhere to everywhere.

But, certainly, the definition of “mission” leads us to ask about how “missions” (referring to an international pursuit to preach the gospel to all the corners of the earth) relates to “mission.”

Missions and Missional

So how are “missions” and “missional” related, or should they be at all? Should one be pursued at the expense of the other, or are they really just the same thing? Tomato, tomahto. Do we just call the whole thing off?

The two issues are distinct and yet integrated. They are not mutually exclusive, but thrive best when they are both embraced and implemented in a local church body. Living on mission is not a missions issue, per se. It’s a Christian issue. Part of living on mission, however, must lead to missions. So how do we accept both in a modern-day context?

Two of the commissions of Jesus give needed wisdom.

The Great Commission Points us to Missions in the Nations

Part of the problem that we’ve experienced when answering this question is that we embrace one particular commission of Jesus without considering the context of the hearers and His other commissions.

It’s helpful to understand the Great Commission in light of the ethnolinguistic context in which the commission was given.

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.