What Is the Missional Church? (Part 2)—The Missional Manifesto, Continued
Mission. Historically, the church understood “missions” as a ministry of the church and as geographical expansion of the Christian faith. However, in the mid-20th century “mission” came to be understood first in terms of God’s initiative. In short, “mission” refers to the movement of the Father in sending his Son and Spirit. God, and his mission defines the missionary existence of the Christian community.
Missio Dei (a Latin phrase for the “sending of God” or the “mission of God”) emerges from John 20:21, where Christ, in his own “sentness,” commands the sending of the Christian community. The church is sent because Christ has been sent. “Mission” is, therefore, God’s work in the world; the church serves as a sign and instrument for that mission. In other words, there is a church because there is a mission, not vice versa.
The New Testament places the mission of the church within the larger context of God’s purpose to restore the whole creation (Rom. 8:18–25; Col. 1:20), and it also gives the church a mission in the life of the Kingdom. God does work in the world outside of the church, but he does not work savingly outside of the church’s proclamation of the gospel. The end game for the missio Dei is a redeemed people dwelling with their God in a redeemed creation.
Church. Kingdom, mission, and the church are connected—even inseparable. The church is the Spirit-empowered body of Christ that is gathered because of God’s mission, and is sent to join his mission. Two well-worn, yet powerful, images help us understand the relationship between the church and the Kingdom. “Sign” captures the call of the church to reflect the reality of the Kingdom in its love and service towards others. “Instrucment” points to our call to advance the Kingdom of God through gospel proclamation in our broken and dark world. Speaking of the church in this way clarifies the relationship between the church and the world. The church finds its significance as a body sent on a Kingdom mission.
Missionary congregations reflect the reality of the gospel of the Kingdom and its power in their life together and their life for their world. The Spirit empowers them. The Word informs them. The King gives them the keys of the kingdom and a promise to be present with them in their “sentness.” As the church lives in the world together and lives for the good of our communities, it reflects our message and advances the mission.
Christocentricity. Jesus is the center of God’s mission. When Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to his disciples (Matt. 18), we see Christology impacting missiology. Jesus announced that the church is birthed in the wake of the Kingdom. He proclaimed himself the Cornerstone of the church when he told Peter that he would build the church upon Peter’s confession. Jesus also informed his disciples the church holds the keys to the Kingdom—the church and the Kingdom are both distinct and inseparable. The church’s gospel proclamation unlocks the door of the Kingdom. With the arrival and accomplished work of Jesus the Messiah, the Kingdom was inaugurated in this present age and the church was established. The church joins God’s work to place all things under the reign and rule of his son, Jesus (Eph. 1:9–10, 21–22).
Disciple-Making. Disciple-making is a missional task. The church is called to make disciples and to equip the disciples for the mission. Both of these tasks engage in God’s mission. The church is not missional if it ignores its calling to make disciples. Disciples understand and live out the gospel under the Kingdom reign and rule of Jesus, and they do so with the assurance that he is with them. Discipleship and mission interface in the “going,” “making,” and “obeying.” The church is called to make disciples who obey the words of Jesus.
Duality. There’s an intense debate within the current missional conversation on the duality of gospel proclamation and gospel demonstration. Some people view works of mercy and justice as an implication of the Gospel while others see them as a facet of the gospel “diamond.” Still others view them as a co-equal of the Gospel.
I affirm that the gospel is good news about the gracious work of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection. The gospel is God’s work of redemption in Jesus Christ. Because of the gospel, there’s no enmity between God and those who have repented and believed in Jesus.
I also affirm that God’s gracious work restores our relationship with him when we repent of our sin, confess the Messiah as Lord, and trust in him. This restoration includes a reordering of one’s life (or, a transformation)—one’s loves, one’s ambitions, one’s purpose (Col. 1:6). The followers of Jesus demonstrate the hope of the gospel in both word and deed because the gospel transforms them. God’s purpose is to redeem individuals who then join him in the restoration of all things (Eph. 1:21–22).
Universality. One unfortunate reality in a fallen world is that divisions will always be present. The barriers that normally separate people in the world—gender, race, education, social standing, etc.—dissolve because the church’s identity is first in Christ.
I see two clear connections between this truth and God’s heart for mission in the world. First, because our identity in Christ is through faith and not of our own works, Christians should be humble people. Second, because God’s love extends to all people, our love should, too. Humility and love are missional virtues. Because of them, the church should orient itself towards the good of all through mission.
God’s mission is truly a global mission (Rev. 5:9). Because his mission extends to all people, our mission should also extend to all people. Christians have a global obligation to advance God’s kingdom among all the nations (Matt. 28:18–20). Thus, to be faithfully missional, we must both cross the street and span the globe.