I sympathise with the Christian who said they’d experienced so much missions marketing that they ended up with a case of ‘Missional Attention Deficit Disorder’.
Jumping from one mission cause to the next, they live a perplexed existence trying to figure out what mission is and whether their current missional focus is the right one. Is it about church planting or a concern for justice? Is it overseas or can it be local? Short-term or long-term? Evangelism or serving the community? Should I stay or should I go?
Rather than helping, mission agencies have at times made matters worse. Not least by focusing solely on the Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel and reducing mission to the word go!
The ways of mission: comprehensive
For instance, it is the command to ‘make disciples’ that is central to Matthew 28.19, not ‘go’. Discipleship is clearly a goal of evangelism, but what is a disciple? According to Matthew it is someone who loves God and neighbour (22:37-39). And the clearest New Testament answer to ‘who is my neighbour?’ is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). So, the Great Commission includes Go and make Good Samaritans! The wider biblical scope of Christ’s commission is a whole-of-life participation in God’s mission to restore all things. So, we can be involved in what God is doing among the nations right here and now, often in our own neighbourhood. For example, by welcoming the refugee, caring for creation and working for racial reconciliation. Through these kinds of actions each of us embodies and proclaims the good news of the kingdom, takes risks in demonstrating Christ’s love to all, and is his agent of peace and justice in a world twisted by sin and emptied of hope.
The ways of mission: costly
Neighbour love is comprehensive, usually costly, and rarely makes the headlines. It also demonstrates how the call to live in ways that provide a foretaste of God’s kingdom in all its fulness cannot be reduced to ‘going’.
In his recent book Stumbling Towards Zion, missiologist David Smith says that churches must recognise that certain activities that don’t normally receive the label ‘mission’ are, in reality, authentic forms of witness to Christ. Smith points to ‘the extraordinary patience and undiminished love’ of those caring for people with dementia. If this ministry was more fully embraced by the church, such care might then come to be recognised as being of at least equal worth with the activities of those who go on short-term ‘mission trips’ to exotic places. Caring for people with dementia is not short term and it is certainly not exotic. But when people recognise that such work displays the costly compassion of Jesus, it can expand the churches’ understanding of the mission of God.1
The ways of mission: creative
John Calvin said, ‘The whole world is a theatre for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra.’ Michael Goheen and Jim Mullins take the orchestra metaphor as a theme for their book The Symphony of Mission: Playing your part in God’s Work in the World.2 So God’s mission is to restore harmony, God is the great composer and conductor, and the Spirit guides the Church so that followers of Jesus participate in God’s mission through all aspects of life.
It’s a beautiful metaphor and captures the comprehensiveness of God’s mission. But there’s something a little too orderly and predictable for me about the symphony orchestra. The Spirit empowered witness of the Church, and the diverse ways that Christians make the gospel seen and heard, calls for something more fluid, radical and creative. So, for me, it would be The Jazz of Mission! There’s still a framework within which everyone plays their part but also the space for improvisation, the freedom to re-imagine, and always – the possibility of surprise!
When it comes to playing our part in God’s mission, there’s no ‘one size fits all’, and OMF’s many opportunities for sharing the gospel around the world are just a snapshot of what’s possible. But whatever part the Spirit opens up for us to play – across the street or across the world – it will always involve an element of risk, the courage to step out and improvise, being prepared for surprise and our own transformation.
- David W. Smith, Stumbling Towards Zion: Rediscovering the Biblical Tradition of Lament in the Era of World Christianity (Carlisle: Langham Global Library, 2020), 113.
- Michael W. Goheen, and Jim Mullins, The Symphony of Mission: Playing Your Part in God’s Work in the World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019).