A missional reading of Scripture challenges each local community of faith to assess its fidelity to the Scriptural vision of God’s people as a missional community that reflects God’s character to/for/in the world.
Communities of faith and individuals within them must take seriously a couple of key questions.
First, do we/I embody an OT missional outlook or an NT missional outlook? In other words, are we fully embodying the mission of God unleashed by the Risen Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit?
In the OT, God’s people are formed and shaped in their own land in the midst of the nations. Although there are rare exceptions like Jonah, the Old Testament does not model a missionary or “go to” ethos. The nations come to Israel if they are to receive its blessing. The coming of Jesus creates a tectonic shift in the function of God’s people. The dominant mode of communicating the Gospel is summed up in the command: Go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:18). This is not an isolated text. It encapsulates the model of Jesus’ peripatetic ministry and of the apostolic mission. Disciples are not made by waiting for them to come to worship. Disciples are made when they encounter Christ-followers in the world. It is about going and sending. Too many of our communities of faith function as dispensers of information and programs rather than as apostolic outposts that deploy disciples for the sake of God’s mission. The mark of the NT church is an outward focused “make disciples of the nations” centered understanding of mission. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. This is the Gospel. We have news to share. Are we missional? is the first order question.
Second, we must take seriously the question: Who is my mission? This question must not be answered, “Everyone!” This is the easy and obvious response, but it is a dangerous one. I would humbly suggest that if we say everyone, then it is likely that in reality we mean “no one.” There are over six billion people on our planet. Our mission cannot be everyone. Instead, the question “Who is my mission?” must evoke the names and faces of people. I suggest that we make this question our prayer. I believe that God will put the faces of persons currently in our life in our mind’s eye. Asking “Who is my mission?” forces us to think strategically about our context and our relationship with persons outside of the community of faith. It will help to clarify our priorities in terms of time and resources. It reminds us of the purpose of the Christ following movement. Alex McManus has said, “The Gospel comes to us on the way to someone else and on the way to someplace else.” The burning question for our communities of faith involves identifying the people and the places that God has called them to serve and then going rather than waiting and expecting outsiders to find their way to us.
Last, related to both of these is the issue of the global Christian movement. The 18th century English evangelist John Wesley proclaimed, “The world is my parish.” He took the Gospel across Britain and sent Methodist missionaries to the Americas. Wesley himself did not permit geography to limit his reach as an itinerant evangelist. During his lifetime, John Wesley preached approximately 40,000 sermons and traveled 250,000 miles on horse. Methodist circuit riders carried the Gospel into the hinterland of the newly founded United States. The reality today is that geography no longer relevant. Tim Tennent, current Asbury Seminary President, expresses the truth this way: It’s not the world is my parish; Now it’s the world is in my parish. Our local communities can have global impact by acting locally. Most major cities in the United States have significant recent immigrant populations. Churches near colleges and universities have the opportunity to reach out in love and service to students and scholars from across the globe. In Orlando, several local churches host Chinese scholars in their homes and offer English classes that include introduction to the Biblical narrative. Around the countries, churches are learning to minister cross-culturally simply by engaging immigrant populations in their towns and cities. Christians in Minneapolis serve a burgeoning population of Somali refugees. This phenomenon is not confined to large urban areas. Churches in rural Georgia have learned to minister to migrant agricultural workers.
Does my community faith embody a robust biblical theology of mission?
Who is my mission?
What do you think?
©2009 Brian D. Russell