Missionary. What idea does the word conjure up? ‘Missional’ has become a modern buzzword. But what if it was less about the frenzied activity of a few special people and more about the identity of all God’s people?
Jesus started his earthly ministry by proclaiming the rulership of God on earth and calling everyone to prepare through repentance. He focused his call toward twelve men whom he called to live with him personally. They were to follow him closely, becoming apprentices of his new ‘kingdom’ way of life.
For three years they absorbed his teaching and watched what he did. Although they often annoyed him and got the wrong end of the stick, slowly but surely, they learnt.
No one had ever seen anyone quite like him on the whole face of the earth. He healed the sick, taught with authority, made some pretty bold claims, ran rings around the nation’s wisest scholars with his wisdom and even raised the dead. Soon, though, he started handing them the reins. They were going to do what he did, only in a more impressive way!
And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out…
Notice how Jesus called his disciples ‘apostles’? That’s a funny word, but it means ‘sent one’ or ‘messenger’. It’s similar to the latin ‘missio’ from which we get ‘emit’, or ‘mission’. So we should understand the word ‘mission’ to mean an important assignment on which we’re sent.
We could say Jesus started his ministry with the word “come” and finished it with the word “go”. Just as he had been sent by the Father in the power of the Spirit, he now “missio-ed” them out in the power of the Spirit. Mission is the undercurrent of discipleship, as the whole purpose Jesus called disciples to himself was to send them out to make disciples in turn.
Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
This is extraordinary. Because of the Father’s deep love for us, He sent the eternal Son into the world to work in the power of the Spirit. Now because of that same love, Jesus sends them (and by extension, us) out in the same way he had been sent by his Father, with the same Spirit.
God had only one Son and he made that Son a missionary.
– David Livingstone
God was already a missionary before He ever called us. God is our ultimate role model and supreme example, so everything we should be is what He is.
This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement: in this world we are like Jesus.
1 John 4:17
So in sending them out in like manner Jesus didn’t just give them a job to do, he gave them a new identity and a true purpose. This missionary call was the garden in which the early Church grew. The way of Jesus was the only way they knew of loving God and their neighbours.
For them Church meant worship, community and mission. Just as much as Church is a community of worshippers, mission isn’t merely something the Church does, it’s something it is: a worshipping, missionary community.
C.S Lewis expressed this truth with his usual clarity:
The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.
C.S Lewis, Mere Christianity
Of course we must distinguish between what Lewis meant by ‘missions’ as a mere side activity, as opposed to mission as an overarching purpose for which we’re sent, i.e “draw[ing] men into Christ”. Others have said the same:
Mission was, in the early stages, more than a mere function; it was a fundamental expression of the life of the church.
Heinrich Kasting, Die Anfange der urchristlichen Mission
God’s church falters from exhaustion because Christians erroneously think that God has given them a mission to perform in the world. Rather, the God of mission has given His church to the world. 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. The church’s involvement in mission is its privileged participation in the actions of the triune God.
Tim Dearborn, Beyond Duty: A Passion for Christ, a Heart for Mission
If a church loses sight of her mission she forgets who she is and why she exists. She soon regresses into lifeless routine. The more this continues the harder it will be for her to wake up, and eventually a lost mission will mean a lost church. How can a body survive long in rebellion to its head? It’s impossible. It will soon become just another club, no longer a living body of Christ.
A church without a mission or a mission without the Church are both contradictions. Such things do exist, but only as pseudostructures.
Carl E. Braaten, The Flaming Center
Mission cannot be something separate from or added to the essence of the Church. The essential nature of the local congregation is, in and of itself, mission, or else the congregation is not really the Church.
Charles Van Engen, God’s Missionary People
So if you consider yourself to be a member of a church, your church has a mission. If you consider yourself a disciple, you have been sent. The question is how aware you are of your shared raison d’être?
Yes, but what does that actually look like in practice?
Well let’s paint a picture. Let’s imagine how a few church groups could start working out their missionary identity.
Of course these examples are descriptive rather than prescriptive so they illustrate a principle, not a blueprint.
A new way of seeing precedes a new way of doing.
If this post speaks life to your dream then get serious with God about it. Seek Him in prayer and start taking the first step to seeing it come to pass.
But remember that usually the dreams worth dreaming aren’t those that can be fulfilled overnight or by one person. This kind of new direction won’t happen because a few people in authority arrange it. The kingdom starts small and hidden like mustard seeds or leaven so you won’t see this kind of change immediately.
We believe the sending and sent God is still very much at work in His world. Let’s join Him.