‘Missional’ : First occurrence of the word

Sorry about all the edits below – we had a false call on the earliest date. Details below.

The Skinny: The earliest known usage of the word “missional” occurs in 1883 on page 191 of the book published in the UK called ‘The Heros of African Discovery and Adventure, from the death of Livingstone to the year 1882’, by C.E. Bourne, in which this sentence occurs;

Bishop Tozer is called the “Missional Bishop of Central Africa and by some the ” fighting parson,”

I have left the blog post intact below but have struck through the sentences that are no longer relevant or accurate.

Related: What I mean by Emerging-Missional Church

ORIGINAL: While we are talking about origins of words in the emerging church vocabulary like “emergent church’ (see last post), I found a reference to the word ‘missional’ back in 1814. I had given a later date in earlier blogs and talks but this discovery sheds new light and an older date. The Americans were the first to use the word. Brits didn’t use “missional” until later in the century.

“From a member of the Salem, a friendly letter has been received recently, in which the writer declares himself ‘willing to anything he can to advance the Redeemer’s kingdom in this world’, and he feels a ‘very warm side towards missional purposes’.”

Proceedings of the Baptist Convention for Missionary Purposes, Held in Philadelphia in May, 1814, page 26. Published by American Baptist Foreign Mission Society.

A quote from another book:

“Bishop Tozer is called the “Missional Bishop of Central Africa and by some the ” fighting parson,”

from The Heros of African Discovery and Adventure, from the death of Livingstone to the year 1882, by C.E. Bourne, 1883, page 191.

UPDATE: the 1814 date is contested by Robinson Mitchell of Naked Church. He suggests an incomplete scan and a misleading quote. A third opinion might help if someone could check the primary source (I only have access to Google PDF) and report back here in the comments. Hello theological students? But I do have the paper version of the 1883 book The Heros of African Discovery and Adventure open in front of me and can confirm the word “missional”.

UPDATE: Email from Robinson Mitchell:


Just to make doubly sure, I sent the below appended request to the Harvard-Andover Divinity School library, and have also forwarded the reply I received.

The Reference Librarian was kind enough to get the hard copy and look up the reference, and verified that the word in question is indeed “missionary”. Also it is not in the 1814 document, but in an 1815 document entitled “First Annual Report of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions for the United States”, Philadelphia, May 1815, which was the second document in the bound volume, which has several early docs.

Thanks very much for the grace and equanimity with which you received my messages.

And your hard copy of the 1883 document looks rock solid. Should I come upon any other uses of the word “missional” in English that predate the 1883 reference to missional bishop Tozer, I’ll let you know, but right now I think you’ve nailed it.

Kindest regards,

Rob Mitchell

Memphis TN USA”


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • josh says:

    henceforth, i declare you to not only be the patron saint of the emerging church, but the ultimate historian of the emerging church. how do you find this stuff? i can just imagine you stuck in some musty library sifting through dusty books. you’re an everyday sleuth.

  • Reinhold says:

    Hi Andrew, thats so cool. Keep on digging – I will eternalize this in my dissertation on missional church 🙂

  • Bryan Riley says:

    That is very cool. Thanks for the historical look at a great term.

  • Dan says:

    I wonder how they defined “missional” at that time. When they said “missional purposes” what were they specifically referring to in that context?

  • knsheppard says:

    Why not take a quick peak in the OED and compare meanings and uses?

  • Rob Mitchell says:

    I wanted to use this reference in my Masters thesis and looked up the result. The Proceedings document is scanned in at Google books – the “missional” result which shows up in the book as text appears to be a bad OCR reading of the word “missionary,” (on page 26 of the document) and isn’t really the word “missional.” Looks like the scanner cuts off the word missionary in the middle of the page – the image clearly doesn’t go all the way to the right margin, and missiona* is the last word in the line. Sorry to disappoint, and I don’t want to be a nit-picker, but I am sure you want to strive for accuracy.
    That being said, there are some good candidates for early use of the word missional.
    Rob in Memphis

  • andrew jones says:

    fantastic rob! its not nitpicking at all. someone needs to get a hold of the paper copy and tell us what it says.
    as for the other quote, i have the actual old book in my hand right now and it really does say “Missional Bishop”
    if you are right, that would make the origin of the word from UK and the date would be 1883 – [my copy of the book is 1886) which is still a lot earlier than previous given dates (Stetzer, etc)

  • Miracle says:

    I remember reading a couple of years ago on your blog about the history of the word missional. It is interesting to watch your pursuit into the historical roots of the word.

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