For a long time now, my guiding principle for understanding my relationship to the mission of God has been in the form of this simple question: Lord, what are you doing, and how can I help? It comes from reading John 5 and the statement of Jesus that he does "only what he sees the Father doing". I've been around church long enough to have sent enough time conceiving grand plans on the assumption that God would naturally bless whatever it was we were planning to do. Rarely, if ever, did we stop and ask ourselves what he was already doing in our communities and neighbourhoods.
With the advent of missional church language and through a process of reflecting on why evangelism was so hard and how we could make it a more natural expression of our discipleship, I began to discover a working vocabulary that has helped me redefine the mission and my relationship to it. It is not complete yet, ad I guess probably never will be. I also must report that as yet we haven't seen anything spectacular, we haven't planted a thriving new church with a whole new outlook on community engagement. We're still on the journey and I'm none the wiser about what God is doing in my neighbourhood.
But, over the years, I've come to a few realisations and conclusions that have helped me see God's mission differently to way I saw it back in the 70's and 80's. Those realisations include the following:
- First, generally speaking, church works for people who like church and it doesn’t work for everyone else!
- Second, people who don’t yet know Jesus aren’t really unhappy, unfulfilled and having a bad time. They actually seem to enjoy their lives far more than the average Christian enjoys theirs.
- Thirdly, the simple fact that God is on a mission and has a church through whom he wants to work, and with whom he wants to work in partnership.
The church's mandate is to partner with God in his mission rather than seek to plan and do the work for him. Mission is much more than just evangelism. John Stott once defined mission as everything the church does. I didn't fully comprehend the implications of that statement at the time and even questioned whether it was true, but that was mainly from the perspective of looking at what the church was doing and wondering if it was actually part of God's mission. Looking back, I think I understand more fully how this fits in the context of we might now call the missional church.
The other thing that shifted my perspective was the concept of servant evangelism and the idea of ordinary evangelism. The latter is best summed up in the words of Jim Henderson, which I'll paraphrase from memory:
If ordinary people can't do it (i.e. evangelism/mission) in ordinary ways, ordinarily it won't get done.I do believe that taken together, these concepts have helped me understand more deeply where I fit in big picture of what God is doing. It needs seasoning with some intentionality and a few other things, but overall being ordinary, doing ordinary things, but understanding them to be part of trying to see what God is up to and partnering with him is the natural environment for my part in his mission.
As to defining that mission, well I got asked to preach this last Sunday and I chose to share our story in the context of talking about some of these things. I defined God's mission this way:
To let everyone know that God is for them and not against them. That he loves them with a passion and we can make this known through the things we say and do and the quality of the relationships we share.
That mission is redemptive (restoring the broken relationship between humanity and God through the cross of Christ) and it’s active (God came looking, Jesus said, “Go!” He sent the church to the world, not the world to church.)
This is the kind of church I believe Jesus wants to build. A church made up of people who will partner with him on his mission to bless the world and share the message of his redemptive love and sacrifice. Being missional is about making disciples who make disciples so that the world can be saturated with people who love Jesus. It's not about doing more mission. It’s not just about becoming socially active or engaged.
We do what we do because we are the people of God partnering with God in his mission to the world. That mission is primarily a mission of incarnation, where God comes to dwell amongst the people he loves and seeks to redeem them into relationship with him.