What is mission?

I wonder how you would answer that if asked?

I have recently stepped down from a leadership role for a Christian charity that had mission in its title. For the three years I was there I had been struggling to adequately define what biblical mission is – without being too reductionist. I came across a short paper on mission that helped me enormously. It is written by Chris Wright of the Langham Partnership – an organisation set up by John Stott.

I am hoping that my summary may help you as it has helped me to answer this important question.

Whose mission is it?

It is the mission of God. We have a part to play but it is his mission. A good description of it can be found in Ephesians 1:9-10 and Acts 20:27

“He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ”.

Paul says that God’s plan is to bring healing and unity to the whole creation in and through Christ. Chris Wright says “The mission of God is to redeem the whole of creation, broken by sin and evil, into the new creation, populated by the redeemed from every culture, through the cross and resurrection of Christ”

It is the plan of God from Genesis to Revelation and therefore the whole biblical narrative: Creation – Fall – Redemption – New creation.

So What?

What about us, and what are we here for in the context of God’s plan? Fundamentally, God calls us to participate with him in fulfilling his own great purpose for creation and humanity. That is a big agenda.

Chris Wright helpfully summarises our role in God’s mission (biblically) as:

  • Evangelism (proclaim the Good News of Jesus)
  • Teaching (teach, baptise & nurture new believers)
  • Compassion (respond to human need in loving service)
  • Justice (transform unjust structures in society)
  • Care of creation (safeguard creation and sustain life on earth).

What about the great commission – Matthew 28:16-20?

Doesn’t this simply tell us to go and evangelise the world? It does but not just that. Chris Wright argues that this is not a single command but several and it starts with a statement that ‘All authority in heaven and earth is given to me.’

“Everything flows from that. We build the church because Jesus is Lord of the church. We serve society because Jesus is Lord of every nation, government and culture. And we care for creation because Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth – ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.’ “

So what does it mean for us?

  • That we embrace the full scope of God’s Mission. We would call ourselves biblical evangelicals and that means we need to hold all that the Bible says together and not just focus on one aspect.
  • God’s whole mission is for God’s whole church (but everybody can’t do everything). It is not a case of everybody doing everything, but everybody being intentional about something, according to the gifting and leading of God. Where does your gifting lie in these five areas? If climate change is your thing, then don’t leave it for the non-Christians to do the heavy lifting.
  • The whole church’s mission includes every church member (but we have different callings and sendings). We need to challenge the mistaken view that only some members are ‘mission partners.’ All of us should live out the calling of these five areas of God’s mission, though some may be called to focus on specific areas full-time. We are all missionaries (or should be).
  • Every Christian’s mission includes the whole of life (there is no secular-sacred divide). We must change our view of two spheres – that there is a ‘religious’ part of life that God is interested in – church, Christian activities, worship and prayer, evangelism, and there is the rest of life, where most of us spend most of our time – work, family, leisure. God is interested only in our whole life.

To summarise…

Mission is not an agenda, to be tackled by people assigned to ‘do it for the rest of us.’ Mission is the mode of existence for the whole life of every member of the whole church. The whole paper by Chris Wright can be found here