“The church doesn’t have a mission; God’s mission has a church.” I first heard Neil Cole share something like that and it stuck. It was a paradigm shift—a turning upside down of my accepted reality. Recently when reflecting on my local church’s role in mission in light of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20), I stumbled across a few miscues of my own that needed to be shifted in order to influence properly how I think about mission. While they are not unique to church plants, they can help form the missional DNA of an emerging church.
Shift 1: From “We go on mission because the need is great” to “We go on mission because Jesus is great.”
Matthew’s gospel ends with words of Jesus: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples…” (italics added). Did you see the ground, the foundation of mission? The greatness of Jesus. I know, I know. We have all heard missionally oriented sermons on Matthew 9:35-38 where Jesus sees the harassed and helpless people. And the temptation is to see the bleakness of the world around us. Yet even in that passage the motivating factor is not brokenness, but optimism. “The harvest is plentiful.” And why is the harvest plentiful? Because the kingdom of God is breaking in through Jesus’ healing and preaching (Matt. 9:35).
Shift 2: From “We go on mission with actions more than words” to “We go on mission with words and actions.”
Have you ever heard of the “Genius of the ‘and’”? It’s a simple concept. It simply says, “Too many times we create unnecessary dichotomoties—either/or scenarios. Geniuses figure out how to use ‘and.’” We draw an unnecessary dichotomy between actions and words when it comes to mission. Jesus told his disciples to baptize and teach the nations (Matt. 28:19-20). We try to create space between words and actions. We shouldn’t. Mission involves both actions and words. I once heard that witnessing is like breathing. When we breathe, we inhale and we exhale. Do you know what the most important part of breathing is? It’s not inhaling. It’s not exhaling. It’s whichever you just didn’t do. Neither inhaling nor exhaling is more important. It takes a rhythm to work. Likewise with evangelism. Are words more important or are actions more important? Whichever one you just didn’t do. If you’ve just used words, find a way to witness to the reign and rule of Jesus with actions. If you’ve just enacted it, find a way to witness to the reign and rule of Jesus with words.
Shift 3: From “We go on mission for Jesus” to “We go on mission with Jesus.”
Jesus promised his disciples that he would continue to be with them—even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). Jesus does not need us for mission. In the 1st century he appeared to the Apostle Paul and knocked him off his horse and (life) course. In the 21st century we hear stories of his appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions. Jesus has not stopped going on mission. To imagine that Jesus needs us is incredibly arrogant. No, he does not need us; he invites us. Mission is not about accomplishing something that Jesus cannot do without us. It is about being part of something that we cannot do without Jesus.
Which of these three missional shift resonates with you? Which would you challenge? What would you add?