In a recent class which primarily engaged the theology of mission, I was asked to submit a final statement regarding my own personal theology of mission. The full version is a bit longer, but in light of my recent thoughts about the church’s role in the world, I found myself returning to the conclusion of my statement. It is by no means comprehensive, but I am both encouraged and greatly challenged by where I ended in writing this. May it provide the same for you:
If I know anything, it is that mission does not begin or end with the church. Yet, here the church stands in the peculiar position of being called and at the same time unnecessary. Called, in that it has been given a mission, a purpose, an assigned task; Unnecessary in that we must confess that the work of God is in no way limited to the church’s participation, ability, or faithfulness. Nevertheless, God’s abundant power must surely not nullify the reality that scripture reveals His propensity to use the ordinary and unexpected to display his power on earth.
If mission is an assigned task or a calling, then I find the mission of the church to be relatively clear. In his people, God is making himself known. In this way, the church becomes the embodiment of the mysterious kingdom of God, the display of His ways and His character… In a world in which things have gone terribly awry stands a God-centered community that is called to participate in God’s redemptive work on earth. The church’s mission is to participate in God’s mission, the restoration of all creation. This restoration must begin in the hearts and minds of the church.
We must also seek to clarify what this redemption entails. If Christopher Wright has taught us anything, it is that the mission of God encompasses all of creation in its physical, social, economic, and spiritual state. When I say that the church’s mission is wrapped up in the mission of God, each of these dimensions becomes a reality of the world’s condition which the church must seek to address. Our mission is insufficient if it is solely spiritual. Our mission is insufficient if it neglects the spiritual reality.
As witnesses to God’s work on this earth, we have received glimpses of the kingdom of God. We are spectators of a kingdom that stands in opposition to so much of what is present in the world around us. Christian mission, the mission of God’s people, must be about the reversal of the effects of sin in the world, the righting of all that has gone wrong, the restoration of all things that stands in opposition to the kingdom of God. In both how we live and how we act, the church must embody the character of God. Perhaps, the difficult task then becomes determining exactly what in our world must change. What contradicts God’s intention for creation? What specifically must the church participate in to bring about this change and redemption? What exactly must the people of God stop participating in to bring about this restoration?
At the risk of individualizing something that is all about community, we must also ask what this mission means for us, or I should say me? Given the questions we just asked about the church’s faith and practice, it’s clear that each and every believer shares a responsibility to be constantly questioning. I must always be seeking what God’s pure kingdom looks, feels, and acts like. I have a responsibility to be ever aware of what around me contradicts the kingdom of God as I understand it. I must look both within myself and without; within the church and without.
I must be disturbed at the reality of injustice, moved by the absence of peace, and motivated by the lack of love. It should not be ok with me that many live within the reality of spiritual darkness. It should not be ok with me that many live in the depths of social neglect. It should not be ok with me that many live under a harsh reign of oppression. It should not be ok with me that many are exploited amidst their own struggle for sustenance. Participation by the people of God in the mission of God begins with an audible, “No,” to all of these things in the many ways that they can be found in our midst. In the same way, our mission, no matter where God leads us, must be an obedient, “Yes,” to all that God’s restorative action entails.