Please help us in OUR mission – the cry of many mission agencies and committed missionaries. Evangelicals have always been and will always be activists. Yet it is so easy for the emphasis to be on my mission, my calling, my sending, my ministry and when this happens it should fill us with concern.
In 1934 in response to Karl Barth and his emphasis on actio Dei (the action of God), Hartenstein coined the phrase missio Dei (mission of God). His thesis was that mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God. ‘It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.’
‘Mission is God’s way of loving and saving the world… So mission is never our invention or choice.’ The initiative in mission is God’s, not ours. We are called simply to be part of God’s mission as we follow Jesus who said: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ It’s not the church of God that has a mission, but the God of mission who has a church.
To quote David Bosch: “There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.” The role of the Church is to participate in the mission of God. The church’s mission is only a subset of God’s mission to the world and not the entirety of God’s work in the world.
Maybe in light of this we need to rethink our terminology. To quote one mission leader who said to me recently: ‘I get very twitchy at the number of agencies talking about come and join us in our mission – getting very proprietary about mission. It is actually God’s mission. We need to address this issue when we talk about selection and how recruitment is going? Are we recruiting people to our agency or to the work of the kingdom?’
Understanding the mission of God requires a change of mindset, new terminology and a new way of working. In the same way that He sent His Son, He sends us today into our locality and our world.
UK mission agencies and churches probably need to think much more carefully about the key implications of their role in God’s mission. It is not about MY mission and the promotion of what we are doing, but the work of the Kingdom.