This is the seventh of an eight-part series on Developing Missional Churches for the Great Commission. Here are the first six posts:
- Understanding What We Mean When We Talk about Being Missional
- The Great Commission and Missional Thinking
- The Challenge of Being Missional
- The Missional Idea in Scripture
- God Sends
- The Compartmentalized Mission
Go Where God Sends
So here is the challenge. You are not sent to the people where Greg Surratt ministers in South Carolina. I've preached there and it's an amazing church. But you are not sent to those people in that neighborhood. Don't be guilty of community lust or demographic envy--thinking, "If I could just have a people like Tim Keller is trying to reach." Most are going to lead churches in areas that just don't seem that great, but they should be great to you. Most will plant or lead churches in areas where famous church leaders do not go, but God sent you there. We should cry out like John Knox did of Scotland when he prayed, "Give me Scotland or I die." Whether it is the blue-collar, middle-class bowlers or downtown indie rockers, will you reach them with the good news of Jesus Christ? It is essential for us to go on mission where God has sent us because we are called to a people not a methodology. To be effective we must be passionately in love with the unique people to whom we are called.
Again, Ephesians 3:6-11 is helpful in reminding us that God would make known the mystery of His eternal purpose through the church. Also, in Romans 10:14-15 Paul wrote, "How can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent?" So if you are going to be a missional believer or pastor, if you are going to have a missional church, it has to be tied up in the sent-ness of individual believers and the church collectively.
One of the wonderful things that came out of the great missiological discussion of the 1950s and the 1960s was the idea that doing missions was not all about the church. God is working outside of the church. "How?" and "Why?" are the real questions. Acts 16 helps inform us. Paul had a vision of a certain Macedonian man requesting help. Yet there was no church in Macedonia. Paul responded to the calling. He went to a place by the river where woman normally assembled to pray and found a business woman, named Lydia. There was still no church. But God was already at work in Macedonia. The story continues to include the planting of a church and the stories of life change. Paul did not introduce God in Philippi. Paul joined God on His mission in Philippi.
We learn an important point here. The church is not the center of God's plan--Jesus is--but it is central to God's plan. The church is central to God's mission to proclaim the story of Jesus to every man, woman, and child. What churches do is central to what God is doing in the world because God is working through His church. We find that in the church the invisible kingdom made visible, but not completed.
Evangelicals have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from some of the theological errors that took place in recent history of "mission" thinking. Specifically, when many mainline Protestants deemphasized the proclamation of the gospel, one missiologist said they abandoned two billion people--the lost two billion. When they lost the gospel, evangelicals said they did so because they cared for everything except the gospel. So evangelicals decided to care exclusively for the gospel, but sometimes they forgot the agency through whom God is working--the church. Jesus said that He came to proclaim good news to the poor, but this is the same Jesus who said He came to seek and save those who are lost. God who so loved the world does not limit Himself to working through the church, but He uses the church for His mission and for His agenda. The agenda is bigger than just our local church but is inclusive of it. Thus, it is critical that as members of local churches, we understand what God is seeking to accomplish in declaring the gospel and caring for the hurting.
The mission is not the goal of the mission. It involves joining Jesus on His mission, working for the Kingdom, and proclaiming the gospel. Many important things are involved--and the Bible speaks to their importance.
In I Corinthians 15, Paul provides a succinct explanation of the gospel, "Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you--unless you believed to no purpose. For I have passed on to you as the most important what I also received" (1 Cor. 5:1-3). Paul led by making sure they understood the gospel first. He indicated it was of first importance. He continued: "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (v. 3b). So here Paul laid out the fullness of what the gospel is, what is of first importance, and why it matters.
In Luke 24:46 Jesus said, "The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day." This is fundamental to the gospel. Both in Luke 24 and 1 Corinthians 15 the gospel is about a bloody cross and an empty tomb. So if we are going to be tied into the mission of God and think in missional ways, then the mission of God has to include the proclamation of the gospel--a bloody cross and an empty tomb. But Jesus does not stop there. After referring to His death and resurrection, Jesus says, "repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:47-48). Jesus explains that the very nature of the gospel connects to the propagation of the gospel. Paul echoes Jesus words that the gospel is about a bloody cross and an empty tomb. But why does Jesus indicates that spreading the gospel is fundamental to the nature of the gospel? Because mission is not the goal of the mission. The gospel is the goal of the mission. This is so because the gospel is the only way to connect people to the Christ, which is the ultimate goal of the mission. So, what is that gospel?
The gospel is the good news that God, who is more holy than we can imagine, looked upon with compassion, people, who are more sinful than we would possibly admit, and sent Jesus into history to establish His Kingdom and reconcile people and the world to himself. Jesus, whose love is more extravagant than we can measure, came to sacrificially die for us so that, by His death and resurrection, we might gain through His death and resurrection and by his grace what the Bible defines as new and eternal life.
God's mission is more than the Great Commission but it must include the Great Commission because God's mission is not complete without proclamation of the gospel and making of disciples. Missional churches should focus on kingdom endeavors like mercy ministries, they should be a sign of the kingdom in how they live as ambassadors, and they should show grace-filled hearts to their neighbors, but not at the expense, though neglect or ambivalence, of the Great Commission. The churches that have embraced the goal of God's mission have decided to live out the values of the kingdom sometimes even against their personal preferences so that the gospel become understandable to the culture in which they reside.