Missio Dei, the mission of God, is a big topic to take on. Many books have been written on the topic and many books are still to come. My hope is that this series will begin a deeper discussion of God’s mission and our role in that mission. Each post will introduce books where you can dive deeper into the discussions we start.
Our understanding of God’s mission comes from the very beginning of Scripture. It is for all of creation to flourish within the presence of God. “When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens…streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground…the Lord God had planted a garden in the east,” (Genesis 2:4b, 6). Before humanity enters the stage, God nurtures creation. God is concerned for the well-being of creation and plays an active part in the flourishing of creation.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it,” (Genesis 2:15). When God creates Adam, God charges him to participate in God’s mission of helping creation flourish. God, the cosmic gardener, creates humanity in the image of God so that humanity can also become gardeners of creation. Thus, the mission to bring flourishing to creation is placed upon the mantel of humanity.
Yet God is not only concerned with the flourishing of creation; God also desires the flourishing of humanity. “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him,'” (Genesis 2:18). After putting humanity in charge of the well-being of creation God shows care for the well-being of humanity. Alone, humanity cannot flourish the way God intends us to. Humanity is meant to be in community.
While the mission of God is still for the world to flourish, how that mission plays out has changed since the beginning of creation. “God’s mission from near the beginning of the biblical story was to restore creation after human rebellion shattered its harmony and goodness,” (Allen, Poured Out, 98). The story of Genesis 3 and the following chapters is a story of humanity’s refusal to participate in God’s mission. Instead of participating with God to help all of creation and humanity flourish, humanity focuses on the self. Out of this flows all kinds of brokenness, brokenness which God is now working to restore.
Yet God does not just wave a hand and fix all the brokenness because humanity’s participation in God’s mission is essential to flourishing. When humanity exercises its freewill in such a way as to work outside of this partnership, humanity continues to produce new brokenness. God’s restoration of shalom in the world is dependent, in part, on humanity’s participation in God’s mission of restoration and flourishing.
God’s restoration of shalom in the world is dependent, in part, on humanity’s participation in God’s mission of restoration and flourishing.Tweet
But, God does not wait for humanity’s participation to begin bringing restoration and flourishing. “The term mission was used originally in Christian theology to speak of God’s sending of the Son and the Spirit. God sent himself in order to accomplish God’s mission,” (Howard, Guide to Christian Spiritual Formation, 198). God sends Godself into the world to move the world towards restoration and flourishing.
The life and ministry of Jesus is not just an example of participation in God’s mission for humanity to model. The ministry of Jesus is God working out God’s mission in the world. The Spirit continues that missional work in the world today, with or without the participation of humanity. The healing and social inclusion and restorative justice that Jesus and the Spirit bring to the world is God’s working out of God’s mission. That missional work combined with the death and resurrection of God provides hope that God’s mission will be accomplished. It provides hope that God has defeated death and has the power to restore all brokenness in the world. It provides hope that the world will once again experience flourishing in the presence of God.
While this hope perseveres because of the eternal faithfulness of God, the working out of this hope’s perseverance is found, in part, in the Church because of the presence of Jesus and the Spirit in the Church. “Christ’s presence in the assembly is not to be viewed here as some kind of disembodied idea or internal feeling. It is the real presence of Jesus Christ through the Spirit incarnate in the community as it partakes in the love and the forgiveness that characterizes Jesus’ way,” (Conder and Rhodes, Organizing Church, 14).
The Church is to live according to the same way Jesus lived. But while many churches focus on formal worship services each week, the gospels focus very little on Jesus’ formal times of worship. Instead, Scripture focuses on Jesus’ social justice work: healing the sick, bringing in the marginalized, feeding the poor. The Church is supposed to be the body of Christ, but many churches are not focusing on the things Jesus focused on.
The Church is supposed to be the body of Christ, but many churches are not focusing on the things Jesus focused on.Tweet
Conder and Rhodes describe the church not merely as a human formed institution, but as the very work of God. “It is a creature of the good news manifest and active in Jesus Christ, the first fruits of a new creation restored to communion with the God whose very life is love…a foretaste of the fully consummated kingdom,” (Conder and Rhodes, Organizing Church, 14). The Church is a proleptic community; it lives into a future that cannot yet be fully comprehended or grasped. As Jesus was the first fruits of the resurrected life, so the Church as the body of Christ exists as the first fruits of the kingdom of God in the world.
The unity, health, love, and flourishing described at the end of Revelation are supposed to be inaugurated and embodied in the Church just as they existed in the life of Jesus. And just as Jesus freely passed these on to world, so the Church is called to freely extend these to the world. Because Jesus’ ministry was a ministry active in the world, so the Church is to be active in the world. When the Church becomes egocentric, focused merely on self-formation and niceties, it steps away from faithfully embodying Christ.
This understanding of the Church helps clarify the question, where is the Church? The Church is not in a building once or twice a week. “The church is where those gathered under the Lordship of Jesus perform these distinct social practices. There is the church,” (Conder and Rhodes, Organizing Church, 16). The Church is in the world actively living out the justice-based ministry of Jesus. The Church is in the world actively participating in God’s mission of restoration and flourishing.
“The essence of the church lies in its mission of service to the world, in its mission to save the world in its totality, and of saving it in history, here and now. The church exists to act in solidarity with the hopes and joys, the anxieties and sorrows, of men and women. Like Jesus, the church was sent ‘to bring good new to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart…to seek and to save what was lost’ (Luke 4:18, 19:10),” (Romero, Voice of the Voiceless, 178).
The life of Jesus offers us a unique ethic and politic that the Church is to live by. In other words, the life of Jesus teaches us a unique way of living in the world around us, a way of unity, healing, love, and flourishing. The Church is found when people gather together to live this way of life in partnership with God.
The Church’s purpose is better understood when it realizes that it does not have its own mission. Instead, God has a mission that the Church is invited into. “The Church is a community created by the Spirit, who is intended by God to fully participate in God’s mission. It exists, not for itself, but for God and for its neighbors both at home and around the world, pointing toward the horizon of an alternative future of a healed creation,” (Van Gelder and Zscheile, Participating in God’s Mission, 37).
As the body of Christ, the Church takes on God’s mission as its own. The Church is not in charge of the mission. The Church does not lead the mission. The Church does not determine the parameters of the mission. Instead, the Church faithfully participates in God’s mission by living as Jesus lived and by following the Spirit of God in the world.
As the body of Christ, the Church takes on God’s mission as its own.Tweet
Over the next several posts we will discuss some aspects that are foundational to the Church’s participation in the mission of God. These aspects act as pillars that support the Church as we not just pray for but partner in bringing God’s kingdom to earth.
Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!
Books in this post:
- Allen, Leonard. “Poured Out: The Spirit of God Empowering the Mission of God.” Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian Press, 2018.
- Conder, Tim, and Daniel Rhodes. “Organizing Church: Grassroots Practices for Embodying Change in Your Congregation, Your Community, and Our World.” Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2017.
- Howard, Evan B. “Guide to Christian Spiritual Formation: How Scripture, Spirit, Community, and Mission Shape Our Souls.” Grand Rapids, MI: BakerAcademic, 2018.
- Romero, Oscar. “Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements.” Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985.
- Van Gelder, Craig and Dwight J. Zscheile. “Participating in God’s Mission: A theological Missiology for the Church in America.” Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2018.