We all have different viewpoints, experiences and possibly even prejudices about the word ‘mission’. What does mission mean to you? When you hear the word mission do you think of people in faraway places wearing pith helmets or travelling along rivers in dugout canoes? Maybe you think of cross cultural church planters, medical missionaries or inspiring examples of Christian service like Mother Teresa. Maybe you even think of missions offerings.
The best way of understanding Christian mission is to come back to basics and look at our foundational understanding of who God is and how mission relates to God. What is mission all about in the mind of God? What is THE Mission? The Bible is God’s ‘grand narrative’ that outlines his mission to bring new life to humanity and redeem all creation. We could look at a number of different passages to help us understand THE Mission of God. However, a good place to start is John 20:21-22.
“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”
These verses are one of five examples in the Bible where Jesus commissions his disciples and sends them into the world after his resurrection. The key concept in John 20:21-22 is mission. The passage speaks twice of sending. In the original Greek of the New Testament the word sent is the action word ‘apostello’ from which we get apostle—a sent one. When the bible was translated into Latin they used the word ‘mittere’ for sent. From this word we get the English words mission, commission and missile. Thus a perfectly accurate translation of this passage could be ‘As the Father has sent me on a mission in the same way I send you on a mission.’ Let’s unpack John 20:21 in greater detail.
God is a Missionary…’As the Father has sent me…’
The first part of the verse describes the Father sending Jesus. It expresses a profound theological truth that has recently received increased emphasis (see quotes on the right). God is a missionary God. He does not just send us on a mission; he himself is actively involved in that mission. Our mission doesn’t start with what we do, it starts with God. This perspective emphasises God’s initiative, God’s purpose, God’s example and God’s authority in sending. We can tend to think of mission as the church sending missionaries but John 20:21 shifts our focus so we realize that THE mission is the grand narrative of God himself personally reaching out to give new life to the world.
If we grasp this in its fullness, it takes a huge burden off our shoulders. Our mission is not first our mission. It is God’s mission. The Father first prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus himself came as a missionary, and Jesus then sent the Holy Spirit to empower us for mission. In the same way we can trust that God is active in our mission activities. He is preparing the way, he sets the example, and he will ensure that the task is completed. What examples in your own life can you think of where God prepared the way for you to reach out to someone else? What examples can you think of where you needed to trust God to complete what he had started?
Jesus provides our example for mission - ‘So I send you.’
The second part of John 20:21 describe Jesus sending all of us to participate in God’s mission. However, we should not read this verse as simply a restatement of the fact that we are sent. Our sending is profoundly linked to Jesus sending. We are sent in the same way the Father ‘has sent’ Jesus. In Greek the verb ‘has sent’ describes a completed action that has on-going implications today. It suggests that the way the Father sent Jesus has a direct out-working in the way we are sent. We are sent with the same power, the same message and the same broad missional method. Jesus mission is the model for our mission. He is our missional example. From earlier in the book of John, let’s examine three ways in which Jesus provides us with an example that shapes our own mission.
1. Jesus was sent to live among us, our mission is incarnational.
One of the most radical statements for the Jews and Greeks who first read the book of John was “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). It was mind blowing for them to think that the God of the whole universe would actually become a human and live on earth. In the early church, the word for became flesh was translated ‘incarnate’ in Latin. Thus in theology we say that God’s mission was incarnational. Jesus was not a remote missionary; he was not an occasional visitor. He lived and dwelt among a particular people for 33 years. He learned their language, ate their food, and understood their culture. He was an incarnational, cross-cultural missionary. Unfortunately, we have sometimes seen mission as an occasional part-time thing—tourist trips into faraway places. In earlier days missionaries were sometimes seen as aliens. In fact the Chinese term for missionaries was foreign devils. They were foreign faces from distant places that they neither knew nor understood. It was only when the first Chinese missionaries began to wear Chinese clothes and incarnate themselves more fully in the community that missionaries were listened to in the more remote parts of inland China.
In what ways do you think we can apply this missionary principle in our own lives and workplaces?
Unfortunately there are still large parts of the world where there is no incarnational witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are 2 billion people around the world who do not have a Christian community in their midst. There are 6898 ethno-linguistic groups without an actively witnessing Christian community that lives among them (see www.joshuaproject.net). We call these groups unreached people groups. Our overseas missionary partners work with hundreds of these people groups around the world. Praying for unreached people and partnering with the missionaries that work among them is one way of participating in incarnational witness. However, we can also apply that same principle here in Melbourne. Each of us is incarnated in a community. Each of us has a missional role in our community. All of us can incarnate ourselves more deeply into the cultures and societies in which God has placed us. Can you think of ways we incarnate ourselves more effectively as a church in the communities in which we live and work?
2. Jesus was sent to serve, our mission is holistic
Jesus was sent with a purpose. We could summarise that purpose in a wide variety of ways but perhaps the most succinct and yet comprehensive is that Jesus was sent to serve others. He explicitly says in Mark 10:45 ‘Even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many’. In John chapter 13 we see Jesus demonstrate that purpose in the powerful picture of washing his disciples’ feet. He then calls this act an example for us (John 13:15). THE Mission is to serve others.
Service is a broad term. It encompasses the full breadth of Jesus ministry. Jesus did not just preach and teach. He prayed, healed the sick and picked up a towel to wash the feet of a guest. We are also called to serve. No servant is above his master, nor are we greater than the one who sent us (John 13:16). Jesus ministry was a holistic ministry that served others in multiple dimensions. In the same way our ministry should be holistic.
What is the message of the cartoon on the right? To me it speaks of mission without a servant heart. Our overseas mission workers deeply understand the need to link compassion with church planting in holistic ministry. You cannot preach Christ in a developing nation without also demonstrating Christ’s compassion to the poor. What application does this also have to our missional calling at home?
In his book Christian Mission in the Modern World, which is now regarded as a mission’s classic, John Stott (1975) points out that understanding mission as service releases us from the false divisions between evangelism, social service and vocational calling. Too often we have separated out evangelism and social action without seeing the importance of both. Social action and evangelism are both an expression of God’s mission-they do not compete they complement. Stott argues that our jobs, our work-place and our careers can all be missional. We are all called to a missional vocation, some as educators, some as accountants, some as businesspeople, some to administration, some as trades people, and only some as paid pastors and missionaries. How is your work or study an expression of your missional vocation?
3. Jesus was part of a team – Our mission is in Partnership with others
Jesus did not come of his own volition or without help. He was part of God’s team—the Father Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus also prays that we would be one as he and the Father are one so that the world might know we are sent by God (John 17:22-23). Sending is not individualistic. Jesus sends us as a team. The mission involves all of us. God’s mission is not just for a few. When Jesus says so I send you he is speaking to every one of us. The word ‘you’ is plural in Greek. In English we don’t have a plural word for ‘you’ but Greek does. The verse means Jesus sends us all. It is also not just written for the 11 disciples. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, John wrote a message for every future generation of Christians. He is quoting Jesus words with application to us all as disciples today. God wants us to work together in mission.
We can all partner with others in God’s mission by:
- Praying - We can all pray for our overseas and cross-cultural missionaries and church planters in different nations of the world (see www.joshuaproject.net for resources to help you pray for unreached people))
- Going - We can all support and encourage our long term cross-cultural missionaries by visiting them and working alongside them in short term missions teams.
- Giving - We can all be involved in cross-cultural missions overseas through partnership in missions giving to our World Impact ministry.
- Serving - We can all serve vocationally in our own culture and community and be a missionary for Christ where he has already sent us.
We are all participants in THE Mission—the story of God’s mission
Just as Jesus was sent by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit in the same way we are sent with a missional calling to impact our world. We are all participants in the big story of God’s mission. Each of us participates with God in writing further chapters in the story of God’s mission. Each chapter is important and each chapter contributes to the whole by passing on a theme, a message and dynamic energy to the next chapter. And it is not just our overseas mission workers or the amazing pioneering missionaries such as William Carey or Mother Teresa who are writing new chapters to God’s story. We are all part of God’s missional story, we are all part of THE MISSION.
- What do you think about when you hear the word mission?
- Share an example from your own life when God has prepared the way for you to reach out to someone else.
- Share about a time when you needed to trust God to complete what he had started in the life of someone you were reaching out to.
- Jesus mission was incarnational, holistic and part of a team. In what other ways does Jesus set us an example for our own mission in the world
- How do you think we can apply the principle of incarnational witness our own lives and workplaces?
- In what ways do you see your work or study as a missional vocation?
- Discuss some practical ways you can partner with one of CityLife’s overseas missions workers who are serving incarnationally among unreached peoples.
- Discuss some practical ways your Life group can engage with your community and neighbourhood.