Thursday, May 9, 2019

One Big Mission Umbrella

Fearless readers, today we are plunging ahead in our series on what missional is and why it matters!

Thus far we have laid out these key points from the missional movement:
Point #1: God is on a mission (which flows out of the love intrinsic to His nature).
Point #2: The church is a product and expression of God’s mission and exists for that mission.
Point #3: We don’t get to determine the mission, God does.
Point #4: We don’t get to determine the methods for mission, God does.

So, drum-roll please for Point #5: Mission is the organizing principle for the church.

In other words, mission is the big umbrella under which all activities of the church take place. This stands in contrast to the mindset of mission as one ministry among many others (kids, youth, discipleship, worship, etc.) in the church. The diagram below (from ReThink, by Brad Brisco) is one way to picture this shift:

This point usually ruffles the feathers of many who believe that (corporate) worship should be the the organizing principle of the church. Certainly corporate worship has the pride of place as the organizing principle of most strains of traditional Christianity. However, the missional movement reminds us that worship is not a program, but a lifestyle ("offer your bodies as a living sacrifice..." and all that good stuff). As such, worship is not in anyway lowered in importance by organizing around mission. Further, our corporate worship is an expression of our mission; it is one critically important way that we witness to each other and to the world. So worship isn't threatened by mission here. Rather, we're ensuring that our corporate worship is aligned to, and reflects the mission we've been given by God.

At this point it's difficult to proceed without a lengthy discussion of what the mission of the church is, and I don't want to go there yet. Rather, I want us to grasp that this should be the outcome of believing that we (the church) are the/a fruit of God's mission, and that we exist for that mission (however we define it). If we exist for mission, we ought to organize ourselves around it, and everything we do should be clearly connected to it.

Organizing around mission is a big deal for three reasons:

1. It strikes a blow at institutional inertia. 
We all know that after a while churches, like any other institution, simply do things because of preference and history and inertia. These programs and activities are no longer connected to God's mission, and distract from the mission. They are usually not bad in and of themselves, but we must always evaluate our activities and programs for their connection to the mission. Are these activities and functions helping us faithfully carry out the mission, or are they distractions?

2. It strikes a blow at institutionalism.
Worse than disconnected programs are institutions whose mission is simply to keep existing. If we're more concerned to keep the form of our institution going than God's mission then the game is lost.  By organizing around God's mission we remember that our institutional existence is always of secondary importance to God's purposes: His mission continues even if our institution dies. (And we should remember that the true Church, the Body of Christ in the world, is not an institution.)

3. It gives priority to the commission we received from Jesus.
There are some people who believe that missional Christians are unbalanced by the focus we give to the commission that Jesus gave His disciples. So be it! All of our gospels end with a commission: "Go make disciples... You shall be my witnesses... As the Father sent me so I send you." Jesus organized His life and ministry around God's mission, and so should we. Our mission is not exactly the same as Jesus', to be sure, but arguments against making Christ's commission our organizing principle fall short. Yes, there are other scriptures and important theological issues to consider, but when the God-incarnate, resurrected Lord gives you one final task it should go to the top of the list! (For the record, I believe that the whole New Testament reflects this focus on God's mission, even if it looks different in different writings. But we'll save that for another time!) 

Book Recommendation: Missional Church, edited by Darrell Guder

A classic for the missional movement!


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