Mission: What If God Is Already There?
We spent a good amount of time last year working on our church mission statement.
Our mission is to serve Christ by mutually supporting one another and embodying God’s grace and love for all
This is a great mission statement, and we spent time on this for good reason. It helps us clarify and connect to our sense of shared purpose and calling. It gives us a practical way of thinking through the things we consider doing and saying in our church community.
But we also need a reminder. We are not here because we have a mission to the world. We are here because God has a mission in the world.
It has been said by many faith leaders (so much that it has been guard to find the original author!):
“it is not the Church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a Church in the world.”
I want to unpack this statement, which I believe is true.
For a long time now, Christians have tended to see mission as going to another place or culture and carrying the Gospel to those who are different from us. To accomplish that purpose, people have most often divide the church into various programs (i.e. worship, education, fellowship, pastoral care, administration. And one of these programs is, of course, mission.
In fact, folks usually talk about doing missions (plural) because there are a variety of activities in the missions programs, such praying for missionaries, giving money to support missionaries, and participating in missions, either locally (i.e. like DUMA) or elsewhere (taking mission trips to other parts of one’s state, nation or world).
But this way of thinking fundamentally misses what mission is all about. So let’s get to the root of what mission is. It comes from a Latin phrase:
Missio – to send
Dei – god
This phrase recognizes 2 essential things about mission.
- Mission begins with God
- Mission is about God’s sending
We often think of Mission first as us being sent. But Missio Dei corrects us reminding us that God is one who is sent. God’s very nature is to be sent. Another way of saying this is, God’s nature is missional.
In John 20, we hear Jesus speak of this nature when he returns to the disciples after being crucified and resurrected. He says,
“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21)
This may sound awkward but bear with me. God sends God’s self to the world. God does this through Jesus. And Jesus in turns sends us. So, our sent-ness is connected to God’s sent-ness. In fact, it is God’s sent-ness that creates our sent-ness. (A little of a tongue twister….)
The point is this: We don’t just go out and do things on our own – though that is typically the way we go about mission in our lives. Instead, we should start with God. We should look for where God is working in the world. And we should find ways to join God in God’s work.
There is something really important about this shift is thinking. If we are to be about joining God in the places where God is sending himself to the world, are we really the ones who bring God somewhere? Are we the ones to take Christ to a place or a people?
No! God is already there! And that makes a big difference in the way we go about work.
Story about metal in my eye (Listen to hear the full story). I thought the pain was pink eye (conjunctivitis). It was definitely pink, but after several doctor trips, I learned there was a piece of metal in my eye! Apparently, that metal had been there all along. I just didn’t know it.
I assumed I had pink eye. And I was wrong. And the same thing happens to us in mission when we assume we posses God through Jesus. We wrongly assume that we are the ones bringing God and Christ across the world. And the truth is God is already there. God is already present in people and places in ways that we cannot imagine. And our job is to discover God, to discover Christ in our world and community and join God in his work!
God is already sent. And Jesus calls us to notice where God is working and join in that work.
And here is the thing….we discover God’s work as we work with other people. And this is one reason communities of faith are so vital to our lives – together we can see what none of us individually can see.
Missional represents a significant shift in the way one thinks about the church. We do not do mission, and we certainly do not do mission alone.
Instead, God calls us together as part of His mission in the world. That is, God has a church for his mission, not vice- versa. The church exists to serve God’s mission, to be an expression of God’s mission. Our purpose is not to see some part of what we do as mission. Instead, mission is who we are. Mission is our essence. We, together, as church family, are an expression of God’s work in the world, of God’s sentness to the world.
If we are to understand the church, if we are to understand mission, if we are even to understand ourselves, we must understand what God’s work is in the world. So, we must ask…
What is God doing in the world?
Have you heard the phrase Missional Church before? Missional Church is a renewed theological vision, moves back to the basic questions: who is God and what is he doing in the world?
Well, God is not simply trying to “save souls.” God is about much more than that. God is building a kingdom. Yes, citizens of that kingdom are an important part. But so is a kingdom economy, a kingdom culture, a kingdom society, a kingdom educational system, a kingdom service system….we could go on and on…
What God is doing in the world is about so much more than you or my personal salvation. Personal salvation is great, by the way, but that is small and God is about much much more than that. God is building a kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven, just as Jesus taught us to pray.
3 hints at What God’s work is in the work…
In 2 Cor 5:19 we hear a hint of God’s mission as we learn about why God sent Christ according to Paul
in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us
We see a hint of God’s mission in the writings of John in the New Testament.
God is love. (1 John 4:18)
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:9-12)
Jesus comes to help fulfill what God is doing in the world. And Jesus describes that very clearly in Luke 4:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This is the work Jesus came to fulfill. This is the work Jesus came to teach us to do. This is what Jesus has to say to s about what God is doing in the world.
- Showering the poor with Good news
- Releasing prisoners from prisons
- Restoring sight to the blind
- Those who are enslaved, abused, exploited, and mistreated gaining freedom from those who would hold them down
- Those who have no power gaining a voice
- To finally enact a time of release and rest and renewal for ALL of God’s creation
One of he ways that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) talks about our understanding on God’s mission is right on our bulletin cover:
A movement for wholeness in a fragmented world
We believe God is about wholeness….about taking our broken world and making it whole.
Over the next several weeks of Lent as we continue to consider mission, I ask us all to keep these 3 things before us:
- Mission is first and foremost about God sending his self to the world
- We participate in God’s mission by joint God in his work, his mission, his sentness, in the world
- God’s work has to do with you and me, but more fully with all creation…it is about reconciliation, love, freedom and wholeness