When engaging the missional conversation, I believe one of the most crucial theological distinctions to grapple with is the concept of the missio Dei.
The Missional Church is about actively participating in the missio Dei, or mission of God.
Many times we wrongly assume that the primary activity of God is in the church rather than recognizing that God’s primary activity is in the world, and the church is God’s instrument sent into the world to participate in his redemptive mission. This key distinction clarifies the difference between a church with a missions program and a missional church. A church with a missions program usually sees missions as one activity alongside many other equally important programs of the church. A missional church, on the other hand, focuses all of its activities around its participation in God’s agenda for the world. God’s mission must form and inform everything we do. All activities of the church must be catalyzed by and organized around the missio Dei.
As the sent, missionary people of God, the missional church understands its fundamental purpose as being rooted in God’s mission to restore and heal creation and to call people into a reconciled relationship with himself. It is God’s mission that calls the church into existence. We can no longer see the church as the starting point when thinking about mission. Instead, the church must be seen as the result of God’s mission. In the words of South African missiologist David Bosch: “It is not the church which undertakes mission; it is the missio Dei which constitutes the church.” Or, stated in a slightly different manner, “it is not so much that God has a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world” (Christopher Wright, The Missionary People of God, 62).