Christian mission—whether beyond or within our nation’s borders—has traditionally been understood as crossing boundaries (national, linguistic, cultural, etc.) in the name of Jesus to join God in His mission to the world. God’s mission to the world prioritizes the transformation of individuals, which results in (1) their eternal redemption from sin; (2) their relationship with fellow pilgrims in the family of God; and (3) their joining God in addressing unfair structures, acts of compassion for the poor and hurting, and care for God’s creation.
But in some traditions, caring for individuals’ physical needs is little more than a hook to secure the opportunity to do the so-called real missionary work—the sharing of the gospel. That, however, is gimmickry, not a comprehensive mission. Furthermore, any approach to mission that simply boasts of decisions—meaning the number of people who raised their hands stating they have prayed a certain prayer—is questionable. Conversely, doing good deeds without somehow articulating the reason for our real and eternal hope is hardly Christian mission.
A comprehensive mission is love-based, hidden-agenda-less, Christocentric, and attentive to the needs, both physical and spiritual, of the whole person. David Bosch puts it well:
Neither a secularized church (that is, a church which concerns itself only with this-worldly activities and interests) nor a separatist church (that is, a church which involves itself only in soul-saving and preparation of converts for the hereafter) can faithfully articulate the Missio Dei.
The invitation to personal faith in Jesus, and the invitation into a community of Christian pilgrims, remain primary in the mission. Primary in the mission does not, however, mean the entirety of the mission. Mission is broader than making disciples, though that remains the heart of the matter. Mission is our joining God in all that He is doing in the world, embracing His care for all creation. Biblical Christians are concerned for justice—that all persons be treated fairly, humanely, as if they are the handiwork of the Creator. Biblical Christians will be concerned for the planet in which God obviously delights.
So is Christian mission social action? A ministry of compassion to the poor and sick? Is Christian mission ecology? The effort to join God’s Spirit in drawing people into individual, spiritual conversion? The answer, of course, to all those questions, is “yes.” God’s mission is broad and holistic.
The following elements of Christian mission, which originated in the Anglican Communion, reflect a broadly embraced understanding of the mission:
- To proclaim the good news of the kingdom;
- To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers;
- To respond to human need by loving service;
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society;
- To safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
The central and driving theme of Jesus’ life and preaching was the kingdom of God. He came to introduce the kingdom in depth, breadth, and power that could only have been imagined before Christ Jesus. And He instructed His followers to introduce others to that kingdom. If there is any theme that characterizes the movement of Jesus-followers, it is the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God in its fullness awaits the future. But the kingdom of God is not a castle in the air, and we’re not supposed to just sit around and wait for it. In this meantime of history we, the King’s imperfect subjects, work to unleash His kingdom in limited but meaningful ways. We are to pray and work for the coming of the kingdom here and now, in every nook and niche of creation.
Enjoy this entry? You’ll find Travis Collins’ book, From the Steeple to the Streets: Innovating Mission and Ministry Through Fresh Expressions of Church helpful. It is October’s Book of the Month, which means you buy one copy, you’ll get a second one free! Get it from our store now. In From the Steeple to the Street, Travis Collins addresses the cultural realities behind the Fresh Expressions movement, as well as the movement’s theological underpinnings. From practical experience, Collins offers insights to local church leaders on how this might unfold in and through your church.