Traditional or “missional”….are Sunday services the game or the huddle?

The word “missional” is now in vogue within a large portion of the Christian church.  In my own experience, it’s generally the under 40 group of people that are using it to describe themselves, the churches they are planting, or the churches they already pastor.

I had a conversation with someone a while back who had recently heard some members of a newer church describe themselves and their church as “missional”.  He didn’t really understand what they meant by describing themselves that way and so he asked me if I knew what the difference was between a typical, traditional way of doing church and this newer, “missional” way of doing church.

Even though I’m not a frequent user of the word myself, (for reasons that I won’t delve into here), I did my best to describe to this person what I believe that difference is.

I asked him to think about……the National Football League–the NFL.

What do our Sunday services most resemble?  An NFL game on Sunday afternoon, or, the huddle that both the offense and the defense take part in before each play of the game?

Typical, traditional church leaders and the majority of the members who attend their churches live their lives with a view that is similar to that of an NFL fan.  The game on Sunday is important to them and they will set aside the time to watch the game either live or in person.

They like to watch the game sitting alongside other people that are also fans of the game and especially their team.  If they go to the stadium, they are in the midst of thousands of others who watch the game with them.  If they watch at home, they might have some friends over, but even if they don’t, they know that thousands of others are watching the game too.

They trust that all the players, the coaches, the refs, and especially all the TV people have done their jobs in a way that will make their own personal experience of watching the game as comfortable as possible.

The game that they look forward to watching for a couple of hours each week doesn’t really have an impact on the way they live their lives throughout the other 6 and 7/8 days of the week.  It’s possible that they will have a short conversation with some one about the last game or possibly about an upcoming game if it’s a big one, but overall, their commitment to their team and watching the games of their team makes no significant difference in the way they live their lives.

On the other hand, those church leaders and members of a church that is “missional”, are more like the players that actually play the game.  For those 3 hours, the game is the reason they live.  They do gather together, but the purpose of their gathering together, their taking part in the “huddle”, is to be sure that all of them as a group know what they will be doing on the next play.

The huddle isn’t the point of the game and it isn’t something they take part in as just a spectator.  The huddle gives the whole group the plan that will hopefully accomplish the goal and it lets them know what their individual responsibility is for the success of the team.

The huddle isn’t something the players take lightly.  It’s crucial to their own personal success and the success of the team.  It’s incredibly important, but isn’t the point of the game.

Needing to run, I summarized the “missional” view in this way:

Sunday morning services for the “missional” minded church and its members are like the huddle of a football team.  Every other minute of life outside the church service is the game that everyone is involved in.  To be successful in the game of life, the huddle is essential, but it’s not the apex or the point of the players lives.





7 replies
  1. Ed Compean
    Ed Compean says:

    Great analogy Jeff. Or was it an illustration? Or was it a similitude? Maybe metaphor?

    By the way, I think I know, but I’m really looking forward to when you flesh out why you tend not to use the phrase missional.

    • Robin Kurbanov
      Robin Kurbanov says:

      I hope you will post why you tend not to use the term “missional” too! I heard this term being used only a year ago by a friend of another church as if to distinguish themselves from the church we go to (Harvest Christian Fel.)

  2. Matt Kottman
    Matt Kottman says:

    Good analogy. Sadly some people who claim to be missional run with a ‘no huddle’ offense!

    But truly to be missional is to have a deep sense of the mission of Christ which includes our gatherings for fellowship and equipping then live as lights in the world, thus we gather and we scatter.

  3. Jeff Jackson
    Jeff Jackson says:

    Ed–you’re right….you know me too well! My reason for shying away from the word “missional” is fodder for a future post.

    Gunnar–as a Charger fan, and even doubly challenging, a Padre fan too….pleasant probably isn’t the right word to describe the experience of watching either of the two teams play! :–)

    Matt–I love your “no huddle” observation! I may steal that for future use. I also love your description of the proper balance as “gathering and scattering”.

    From my perspective the “gathering” side is what most pastors focus on and feel most comfortable with. It’s also the easiest path to move our people towards. But if the pastor doesn’t intentionally emphasize regularly that the “gathering” is so that we can “scatter”, we end up instilling a view of the Sunday service that can border on idolatry. It then becomes the game rather than the huddle.

  4. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    Jeff — I will likely borrow this analogy to add to my “Fan or Follower” sermon on Luke 14:25-35. Just getting the copyright stuff out of the way up front. 😉

    I think those verses in Luke really make the point as poignantly (and potentially painfully) as possible. Those in the huddle and making the plays are true followers, who Jesus calls disciples. Those fans who don’t truly follow Jesus but just follow him around for the entertainment factor are simply not (disciples). A hard pill to swallow but Jesus said it, not me.

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