So, your church is missional. Your pastor talks about it. The website says it; you know it; we’re on mission! Great, but what mission? Is everyone on the same mission? Our tendency within the Church is to assume that everyone is speaking the same language, that we all understand what we mean when referring to mission. From that assumption we believe that our commonly held definition leads to mutual participation and that we’re all seeking the same goals. But how often do we stop to check this?
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. | Ephesians 4:3
Sorry, I may have misled you. I’ve broken every rule of ‘Smart Brevity™’ because this post is less about the missional church than it is the unity within that church. In one form or another, every church is living out their interpretation of the mission of God and there’s danger there. Two or more ideas of what defines the mission can create two or more factions within the body that compete with each other. Those factions will have different ideas of prioritization and practice and those differences might sow division as either side decides that their interpretation is truer and worthier of allegiance. God rarely (never) blesses division of this sort.
Building unity around a mission begins with defining terms. The foundation of unity begins with a definition that views God as missional in His character; as Missiologist David Bosch writes, “mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God.” When we locate mission as a defining characteristic of God, it orients the church to view it as a movement from God toward creation, with the church functioning as a participant in that mission. Our theology of mission (the missio dei) sees God having a desire to engage with creation, and this shapes our interpretation of the biblical narratives about the intervention of God into human history. To say that another way, we see the mission of God in the calling of Abraham, in the sending of Jesus, in His atoning death on the cross, and in his installment as king. The church’s understanding of how our missional God has already been at work answers the question of how we are to define mission within the body.
Jesus’ church is sent into the world with a mandate to continue HIS mission in the power of the Holy Spirit. His commission to those who are “in Him” is well known [Mt 28:18-20], but less well known is what it means to be “in Him.” More than just a ticket to salvation, to be united with Christ is to take part in His role, reflecting the glory of God [Rom 8:29; 1 Jn 3:2]. Our mission is to be a visible sign of the Kingdom by our proclamation of the gospel in word and deed. These deeds, the practical outworking of our understanding of mission, include our habits of discipleship in the ways of Jesus and extending that discipleship to our community. When the church’s missional objectives are structured with this theological framework in view, we become single-minded in bringing Kingdom life to the community, and our definition of mission is focused and, in that clarified missional definition, there is freedom. As the missional church proclaims and lives out the meaning of God’s redemptive activity in any number of context particular ways, our neighbors are blessed by the example we provide, and are invited into their own participation in redemptive kingdom.
If we anchor our theology and praxis of mission to the bible’s definition, we can avert most instances of division between good-hearted Christians. The ministry choices and direction of a church can all be evaluated fairly by looking to see if they align with the story of the Bible and the ultimate redemptive aim that it reveals. Does this mean that there’s only one way that a missional church can proceed? Not at all. As the church comes around to a shared definition, our question of application shifts from what we want to do to what God wants to do through us. Go and be.