For the last week I have enjoyed reading several essays concerning missions in, Mission Shift, the new book edited by Ed Stetzer and David J. Hesselgrave. This blog post will be one of many as part of a conversation on missiology that I will be participating over the next few weeks. The first group of essays focuses on defining mission.
Defining mission in the new world where the muddy waters of missiology swirl has been interesting to say the least. For me growing up in a rural church, the word mission usually related to a special speaker, an offering, some pictures of tropical fauna, and occasionally some really weird food.
Charles Van Engen’s survey of some of the ways mission has been defined in the church through the ages and how those definitions affect how we approach the topic today certainly fueled fruitful debate. He takes his readers on a historical hop scotch through three different eras and how the term mission was defined and evolved through the ages. I agree with his assertion that understanding the mission of all believers as being “sent to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God, to invite all people’s to become Jesus’ disciples and responsible members of Christ’s church.” is where the discussion must start. The journey apparently cumulates with Van Engen speaking on mission in a church allergic to the word. He finally shares his own definition which has been crafted through 40 years of study:
“God’s mission works primarily through Jesus Christ’s sending the people of God intentionally cross barriers from church to nonchurch, faith to nonfaith, to proclaim by word and deed the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ through the Church’s participation in God’s mission of reconciling people to God, to themselves, to one another, and to the world and gathering them into the church, through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit, with a view to the transformation of the world, as a sign of the coming of the kingdom in Jesus Christ.”
Charles Van Engen (p.27)
I love this definition, it is thorough and easily understood, but it’s just too long. Even though it is wordy, I would prefer the definition to be a bit too long over it being both short in length and clarity of definition.
After reading all of the essays I resonated the most with Guder’s assertion that Karl Barth’s theology of Christian witness serves as a strong resource for the definition and praxis of missions. Barth’s theology is tied to the “conviction that God’s purpose for the world is its healing, its reconciliation; and therefore the purpose of God’s calling of a people to faith is to render a witness to that good news.” Guder posits Barth’s position that mission is vocation for all believers:
“Barth says the Christian experiences the incomparable grace of God precisely in order to be called, equipped, and sent as a witness to Christ. This vocation defines all Christians, not just the ministers, or the full time servants. And it defines everything about the person.”
Darrell L. Guder (p.58)
This begins to speak to the identity that God has called each believer into and then as each believer embraces that call; the call to mission is then engrained in every structure within the local church.
“Missiology, properly understood, must focus on the church called by God to be a witness in the world. It must be about the equipping of such a community so that both corporately and in the lives of each of its members, the church can lead a life worthy of the calling with which it has been called (Eph. 4:1)”
Darrell L. Guder (p.59)
However as Ed Stetzer points out in his response to Guder, care must be taken to continue to help the church see that the mission is not about the church, it is about bearing witness to those outside the church about the Gospel. We in the church have far too often chose to chase attendance goals rather than the reproduction of actual disciples and as a result have created the “pious self centeredness” that has become characteristic of so many Western Christians.
As a pastor I see my role as not so much defining mission to our people, the Word of God does a good job of that in many places. Rather it is to equip our people to participate in their call to missions as they are gifted for it and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he guides them into it. Of course solid theological teaching based on a strong hermeneutic are essential to that task as authors Eitel, Wan, and Kostenberger point out. For me the question is how do we best contextualize the mission to our ever changing culture? Thankfully that is among the topics we are going to explore in the near future.
I have throughly enjoyed this project and am excited to continue to take a part in this needed discussion.