Missional Matrix, paradigm, and other trendy terms

March 26, 2007 at 12:02 am 3 comments

I just attended a conference called “Inside the Missional Matrix” put on by Off the Map. Scot McKnight, Todd Hunter, and Rose Swetman did an excellent job engaging those in attendance. One question that was raised particularly intrigued me. The question raised was something like this, “Some people use the term incarnational and some missional – what’s the difference and are these terms interchangeable?” I am especially intrigued by questions like these because it reminds me of how much time we spend on language. At one time it was all about discipleship and now it’s all about mentoring – but the reality is that those who are effective at either are probably doing about the same thing – passing on what they have learned to another person. Some people are so committed to “The Word” that if a word isn’t in “The Word” (for instance “mentoring”) then it is not acceptable. Why do we get so caught up in what things are called? Why do we care so much about terminology? After all, what IS the difference between missional and incarnational? And BTW, what’s the difference between matrix and paradigm? As a professional communicator and technical writer these things have mattered much more to me in the past, and even though they matter less to me today – they still matter, why? Because, in the beginning God spoke…

God spoke. God chooses to use language to create and to communicate with His creation. It only makes sense that we too must use language to communicate with one another. But one of the inherent problems with language is that it is not absolute, it varies from culture to culture, from time to time, and is interpreted differently based upon your worldview, upbringing, and societal bias. How then can we make sense of “The Word” when all these variations are possible? How can we know what “The Word” is really saying when we can’t even agree on whether we need to be missional or incarnational? And does it really matter that we have a new paradigm or a different matrix?

I would like to propose that words are very important, sometimes more important than we even give them credit. The proverbs say that life and death is in the power of the tongue and I don’t think it is referring to getting licked to death. What we speak impacts us in many realms. We speak of the different levels of communication in language – the verbal, the nonverbal, the cultural, the meta-messages, etc. But what we are really saying is that language and communication are complex. What we hear affects what we believe, what we believe affects what we say and do. What we do is who we really are. One of the greatest dissonances we experience is when we say one thing and do another. Or when someone else says one thing and does another. Jesus calls this hypocrisy. Unfortunately, hypocrisy is as much of a problem in communities of faith today as it was when Jesus walked the earth. So, when I hear people talking about a missional community or incarnational living – my first thought is that I hope that person does it more than they talk about it.

Seminars and conferences, workshops and weekly gatherings are all well and good – but are they keeping us from doing and being all that we are professing? Are we spending more time talking about what it means to be missional than we are being missional? Are we working harder figuring out all the nuances of what incarnational means than allowing Jesus to indwell us and live out His life in and through us? Now don’t get me wrong – we need to hold these conferences and dialogue about truth, but let us beware that we do not neglect our God given callings, that we do not become conference junkies – always learning but never perceiving. After all, many a man proclaims his own loyalty – claiming to be loyal and loving, but really – who can find a trustworthy man, who on earth is truly loving and loyal to God?

So, what is the difference between missional and incarnational:

I was hard pressed to find definitions of either word in a dictionary, but the roots of both were easy to find. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary one definition for incarnation is: a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or abstract quality. So, if by incarnational we mean that we live as people who emody in the flesh the spirit of Jesus then I can agree that we need to live that way. After all, this is what the Bible teaches. But one blog I found about this new incarnational missiology says, “Incarnational churches go to people where they are instead of spending a lot of energy on attracting people to come to a service.” I am not sure I can agree with this – does it really matter whether we go to people or people come to us if we embody the spirit of Christ within us?

Mission, on the other hand, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, is a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling. One worshiping community of missional theologians led by Dan Kimball states that being “missional” simply means being outward and others-focused, with the goal of expressing and sharing the love of Jesus. One question we can ask, is that just the calling of Dan Kimball’s community or should that be the aim of all Jesus worshiping communities? Perhaps we could define missional as living out our God-inspired strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling. This may look and feel different for different individuals and different communities, but hopefully will accomplish what God desires to accomplish through people called to follow Jesus.

And, no, incarnational and missional are not interchangeable terms – though I’m not sure you can be incarnational without being missional, I am sure you can be on a mission without being incarnational. And if you are wondering about my paradigm – my worldview underlying my theories and methodology of a particular subject – I hope you will find it to be one that honors Christ and reflects the realities of who God is. As for my matrix – my environment in which something develops – you will learn that much of my thinking has developed in relationship to my community of faith and in response to my communcation with the object of my faith, the triune God, who is revealed in Jesus and made alive in me by the Spirit.

You have heard it said, Go and make disciples, but I tell you be missional and incarnational in all you do and don’t forget to mentor a few people along the way. 😉


Entry filed under: church, faith, incarnational, matrix, Missional, paradigm.

Babble On


  • 1. Elizabeth Chapin  |  March 26, 2007 at 12:31 am

    So, I moved my blog and don’t know how to move the comments yet – so bear with me as I learn this new world…

    Rick Meigs said…
    Elizabeth: I attended this conference also. It was great! Rose, Scott and Todd all did just a super job. I only wish there had been more time :-).

    March 25, 2007 8:10 AM

    Dan said…
    I am only a boy. Please don’t ask me any hard questions. Just a boy, jus a boy.

    Hope all is well up in Washington and you are happy and healthy!

    March 25, 2007 12:07 PM

    Elizabeth Chapin said…
    Rick, I agree – Rose, Scot and Todd did an excellent job. I’m sure there will be more opportunities to dialogue with them and others on this emerging church journey.

    March 25, 2007 5:09 PM

    Elizabeth Chapin said…
    Dan who? If you are the Dan I think, hope all is well with you down there also. I’m just entering this blog world and think it’s going to be fun…

    March 25, 2007 5:11 PM

  • 2. Peggy  |  March 31, 2007 at 1:34 am

    Thank you, Elizabeth…for this post (I came here from Jesus Creed).

    I do think that Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways, and his blog, http://www.theforgottenways.org, speak to the difference between missional and incarnational, which Alan connects and calls the incarnational-missional impulse.

    He does this to identify the reality that we must first and foremost embody the Spirit of Christ so that our mission (goal of expressing and sharing the love of Jesus) has the proper grounding–indeed, the incarnational is the “matrix” environment where the proper missional goals are developed.

    Your assertation that one can be missional without being incarnational hits it right on the nose.

  • 3. Mission, Missional, and Missionary « Emerging Chaos  |  September 23, 2008 at 11:04 am

    […] changing, and Scot McKnight started a discussion on Emerging vs. Emergent in June. I blogged about missional last year. It seems the current trend is toward more missional terminology, though many in the […]

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