Missions and Missional: Embracing Both for the Glory of God
“Missions” and “missional” are separate terms that push different, but complementary, theological issues. Here I would like to show how and why we must embrace the biblical connection between both as the people of God.
The missional conversation has been a refocusing on the fact that mission originates in God, for God is by nature a sender. The Father sent the Son, the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit, and Jesus sends the church into the world as his witnesses. There should be therefore a compelling God-centeredness in any missional church focus. And naturally that God-centeredness should move us to embrace the agenda God sets. In other words, to say that being missional is to join God on his mission but then not identify what God’s mission is, is to simply create a new word without any helpful focus.
We should all rejoice with healthy missional churches as they are considering anew the nature of God as One who sends. But, the question then becomes, what exactly does he send us to do? It is fine, but never enough, to say we are to be about his agenda in the world. We must consider both the work itself and its scope.
Missional and Global
One of the challenges in the missional conversation is that for many it’s a rediscovery of the personal dimension of mission, but often leaves out the global dimension of mission. Correcting this problem is perhaps best found in going back to the origin of a missional focus. Where does the missional focus come from? Well, there are several passages throughout the scriptures that point to God as sender, but one of them tends to be called “Great.” That is, the Great Commission:
Then Jesus came near and said to them, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20 [HCSB]).
This verse (and many others) remind us that any missional focus must include the global mandate. We see throughout the sending in the Scriptures that the hearers of the sending call responded by going, telling, evangelizing, and congregationalizing. So for us to rediscover the missional nature of God and our missional focus as believers in the church, it should lead us to a missional focus that includes a missions mandate to take the gospel to the nations with the aim of seeing hearts converted, churches planted, and the mission continue. Our desire is that men and women from every tongue, tribe, and nation would be gathered around the throne to sing his praise — missions leads to worship in many tongues.
I Also Send You . . . into the Nations
If there were ever a people who understood that they would join Jesus on his mission, it would certainly be his disciples in the early church. They lived with him. They heard his teaching. And then he says to them in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” One of the basic principles of hermeneutics is to ask what did the words mean to the original hearers, and it seems self-evident that when they heard John 20:21 they responded by going to the nations. Paul yearned to go to Spain. Thomas went to India. The Apostles responded to this “sending” with global engagement.
Thus, when we say that mission exists because worship doesn't everywhere exist, we understand that central to the mission of God is the proclamation of the good news of the gospel so that men and women everywhere might hear, respond, repent, and give glory to God. Jesus sends the church out — but he specifically mentions that this is to the uttermost parts of the earth. Any talk about missions that ignores the lost and hurting immediately around us is missing part of the mission itself. But any talk about being missional that does not sense an urgency to move beyond our local territory into other tribes, tongues, and nations leads us into a biblical-theological dead end.
As the recipients of amazing grace we are compelled by divine love to join Jesus on mission so that his name and his fame might be known, not only through our individual lives and local churches, but also all over the earth.