Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Tentative Theology of Mission

The following post is a brief, highly condensed outline of my understanding of the theology of mission. It is based on (1) my personal interaction with scripture, (2) my observations of how God has used others throughout the history of the church, and (3) my own experience in cross-cultural ministry. Depending on how much interest this particular post generates, I may choose to elaborate on each of the following points in greater detail at some point in the future.

At this point, I will not attempt a lengthy explanation as to why a theology of mission is necessary. Rather, I will simply point out that as Christians everything we do should be guided by the teachings of scripture and the task of world mission is no exception. Thus, I hope that this brief sketch provides a basic framework for understanding how we as the church should carry out the work of missions.

1. Mission is the vocation of the Church. Mission is a task that each and every member of the church is responsible for, not something that should be relegated to professional missionaries, pastors, or church officers. Whether we serve God at home, an adjacent neighborhood or community, or abroad, each of us should be able to find a role in which God has called us to serve. We may pray, give our time and talents, or provide financial assistance to the task of mission (Matt 28:18-20).

2. Mission is incarnation. Jesus Christ did not commute back and forth from heaven to conduct his ministry here on earth. Rather, he chose to relocate to earth so he could live and minister amongst us for the duration of his ministry (John 1:14; Phil 2:5-8). Likewise, many Christians have recognized that their ministries are most effective when they choose to reside amongst the people they hope to reach, even if that means leaving the economic comfort and cultural security of their homes and neighborhoods to do so. It is only by living side-by-side, in solidarity with the others that one can truly understand their needs and problems and, ultimately, the solutions that are needed.

3. Mission is evangelism. Evangelism is verbal proclamation of the Gospel message in such a way that it can be understood and responded to by a non-believer. Such verbal witness, however, is only meaningful to the unsaved when it is accompanied by the example of holiness lived out by those issuing the verbal proclamation. An affirmative response to the Gospel message results in one’s salvation, baptism, continued spiritual growth (discipleship), and eventually, a level of spiritual maturity in which the new believer conducts an active lay ministry of his or her own. In areas where churches are non-existent, insufficient in number, or culturally irrelevant, new church planting may result from evangelistic outreach.

4. Mission is social action. Social activism (Matt 25:31-46) seeks to address the broad category of human need. While human need is often physical and needs to be addressed by providing food, shelter, or health care, we must also recognize that much of human need is psychological and emotional, thus requiring different ministry strategies (eg: counseling, big-brothers/big-sisters, etc).

5. Mission is political activism. Political activism addresses the broad issues of how injustice is perpetuated through the social, economic, and political structures of society (Matt 5:9). Whereas a social ministry might provide food, clothing, or counseling, political ministry would seek to modify laws or improve economic conditions that perpetuate chronic social problems.

6. Mission is radical obedience to God. We must recognize that our obedience to God takes precedence over all other earthly priorities. Taking seriously the mandates of scripture may require us to give sacrificially, economically and otherwise. We may be called to live in a different country or even a different neighborhood of our hometown where our norms for safety and comfort will be significantly diminished. In some cases, we may find that obedience to God means that we must disobey the laws of man, resulting in fines, imprisonment, social ostracism, persecution, or even death (Acts 4:18-20). This aspect of mission is probably not popular among many of us today, yet history shows that all of these hardships have been routinely faced by Christ’s followers in all parts of the world.

In addition, Jesus’ teaching reminds us that we should “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt 7:13-14). In most cases, God does not call us to give up our lives but rather to give our lives to him as a “living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1). But how many of us have done that? How many of us have followed Jesus’ counsel to the rich young ruler and given everything we have to the poor so that we can serve him (Luke 18:18-30).



Blogger Global-South said...

Thanks for sharing your thots. Though simple, it summarizes the multi-facet aspects of mission.

Will come and read more!

May Jesus be glorified!

Saturday, July 28, 2007 at 1:55:00 PM EDT  

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