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July 11, 2011

Developing Missional Churches for the Great Commission, Part Five: God Sends

This is the fifth of an eight-part series on Developing Missional Churches for the Great Commission. Here are the first four posts:

  1. Understanding What We Mean When We Talk about Being Missional
  2. The Great Commission and Missional Thinking
  3. The Challenge of Being Missional
  4. The Missional Idea in Scripture

God Sends the Son and the Spirit

Truth number one is that God is a sender by nature. The second truth that shapes how we conceive of what it means is the God, who sends, sent his Son, Jesus the Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, into the world to reconcile the world to Himself. We must not miss this. Being missional must never be reduced to doing good things and calling it the kingdom of God. It must always be conceived of as Christocentric. Paul teaches us in Ephesians that it was God's plan from before creation to unite all things under the reign and rule of His Son. So, the one who created all things has been placed as head over all things (Eph. 1:9-10). Everything being redeemed is being redeemed by Him. Everything that will be judged will be judged by Him.

John 1 teaches important truths on the person and work of Jesus for developing our Christology. John writes, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in Him and that life was the light men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it" (John 1:1-5). From these words, we learn that Jesus was with God the Father at creation, and He is identified with the nature of God. We learn that everything was created by Him. He gives life and light to all humanity, and nothing overcomes His power or goodness. Then, John the Baptist entered the story as a man sent from God, who came as a witness about the power and goodness of Jesus and His mission (v. 7). Jesus' mission is described in John 1:11-14 : "He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believed in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of will of flesh, or of will of man, but of God. The Word became flesh and took up residence among us." John records the words of Jesus telling us that this mission is an expression of God's love (John 3:16), and the ultimate aim of this mission is for us to live with our God and Creator of all eternity.

John's Gospel is clear about the way this mission is accomplished. Forty times Jesus says or implies, in essence, "I am sent." It teaches us that the Father has sent the Son for the greatest of purposes. John's Gospel begins with the incarnation when the Word became flesh, and it ends when Jesus' words remind us to live as sent people. The sending God also sent the Spirit to fulfill His mission. "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit--the Father will send Him in My name--will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have told you" (John 14:26). Over and over again, we see this. God is by nature a sender. God sent the Son. God sent the Spirit. We don't want to get so focused on this that we spend all of our time saying, "God is a sender, God is a sender, God is a sender," so that it becomes a theoretical exercise. I think that is part of the problem in modern missiology today; it has become largely a theoretical exercise. So, in effort to motivate (or, cajole), we search for verses to show that God is a sender. We appeal to Isaiah 6 and Matthew 28.

However, in repeating the truth that "God is a sender," we have failed to say, "Here I am. Send me" (Isaiah 6:8). It is a disconnect between believing that God calls and sends, and being willing to be sent. Perhaps we have stopped contemplating that it is the personal Creator of the universe who has a glorious pursuit for His creation this is calling and sending us. Perhaps we simply have missed that we were created to advance the name of God throughout the whole earth, and God redeemed us to fulfill that purpose through us. Perhaps we have forgotten that Jesus told His disciples to wait until the Spirit comes before they start the mission, and the Spirit came and the disciples went. We have the same Spirit in us today, and we have the same mission. Perhaps we have overlooked that when Jesus commissioned His disciples there were some there who were full of faith and some who doubted (Matt. 28:17). Because we believe that God only sends those with risk-taking faith, we conclude that God cannot send us. Perhaps we have not heard that when He sends us, He sends us with His peace (John 20:21) and the assurance that He has overcome the world (Matthew 28:18, John 16:33).

Ultimately, churches and individuals make the choice to hear the sending voice of God and obey it. Obedience begins with embracing that God has a glorious purpose for His mission and He initiates the mission by sending His Son and His people. The truth is either we are sent or we have missed our orders.

God Sends the Church

The sending God sends the church. We, the church, are His sign in the world and to the world. Paul, in Ephesians 3:10, wrote of the church's calling to be a divine instrument for the divine mission. It is, he stated, through the church "God's multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known . . . to the rulers and authorities in the heavens." But, I find that too many people believe they can love Jesus and hate His wife. They claim to have a great love for the Lord, but they hold a great disdain for the church. We must recognize that this instrument, this vessel, this imperfect bride is God's choice to spread His "multi-faceted wisdom," so that His glory might be shown in the world. Yes, sometimes she is a mess, but she is still God's choice. We are God's choice.

In Acts 13 the church responded to the sending nature of God himself, specifically the Spirit of God: "As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work that I have called them to'" (v. 2). So the church in Antioch sent them out. They had fasted, they had prayed, they had laid their hands on them, then they sent them out. The church was and is an agent of God's sending. As a part of the church, we must fully embrace God's strategy for His mission as the church sends us on mission.

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