Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Purpose (Vision) and Task (Mission) of Missions

What is the purpose and task of missions?  Perhaps no question is more important for those seeking to bless Muslims (or anybody!) in Jesus’ name.  Answering this question would serve as a guide for almost everything we think and do.

Here are a couple quotes from Encountering Theology of Mission that are well worth chewing on.  Here they define purpose of mission (formatting mine):

Doxology is the highest purpose of mission: God is drawing people from every nation to himself who declare his glory and become his worshippers. This worship will endure for all eternity.

Redemption is the foundation of mission in that God himself has reached out in grace to fallen humans by the sending of his Son, Jesus Christ. The work of redemption through his death and resurrection was at the heart of Christ's coming to earth. He thereby provided the way of forgiveness and restoration of the God-human relationship. This was at the heart of the gospel message and the core of the apostolic preaching.

The kingdom of God is at the center of mission in that the work of redemption results not only in personal salvation but in the restoration of God's reign over his redeemed people and through the redeemed community. The new kingdom people, the church, become a living sign of the kingdom in this age as they live under Christ's lordship and work for the cause of holiness, righteousness, and justice in all their relationships and in the world.

Eschatology is the hope of mission because we know that the kingdom will one day come in fullness when Christ returns. In this age the church lives in anticipation of that kingdom by bringing the gospel of the kingdom to the nations. This is done in the confidence that the promise of the Lord will be fulfilled: not only will the gospel be preached to every nation, but from every nation there will be those who embrace the Savior and enter the kingdom.

For this reason the nations are the scope of mission. As revealed in the scriptures, God has a plan to draw the nations to himself. Mission cannot rest until the gospel of the kingdom has been brought to people of every nation, ethnic group, language, and social standing.

Reconciliation is the fruit of mission because mission brings the message of reconciliation to an alienated world. This reconciliation begins with the restored relationship with God and moves outward to restore human relationships, becoming one of the most fundamental signs of the kingdom and evidencing genuine shalom. This too is in anticipation of the fullness of the restoration of all things upon Christ's return.

Finally, the incarnation is the character of mission. Everything the church undertakes in the cause of mission must be characterized by a spirit of humility, selflessness, and sacrifice, for these traits characterized Christ's sending. This is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, who both empowers and transforms for mission.

We conclude by defining mission in this way: Mission is the sending activity of God with the purpose of reconciling to himself and bringing into his kingdom fallen men and women from every people and nation to his glory. Mission is a sign of the kingdom and an invitation to the nations to enter the kingdom and share the hope of the kingdom promised in Christ's return. (Chapter 4)

The purpose of mission should be distinguished and united with the task of mission.  No “vision statement” (purpose) is complete without a corresponding “mission statement” (task).  Why are we here and what are we supposed to do about it?  Something must happen in order for the vision to be realized.  The task of missions is thus summarized in Chapter 6 (formatting mine):

Mission is God’s sending of Christians, the church, into the world as messengers of reconciliation and renewal to bring men and women of every nation into God’s kingdom.  They are to live as salt and light in their communities as a sign of the coming kingdom when all things will be restored under God’s rule.  However, the church has not fulfilled its mission by merely being such a community wherever it finds itself, as great a challenge as that is.  Rather such communities must be multiplied among the diverse peoples of the world, and this is the task of missions.

Thus the task of missions is the sending activity of the church to create and expand such kingdom communities among every people of the earth.  This will be done through evangelism and church planting that is not satisfied with superficial conversion or institutional advancement.  Rather, these new communities must be nurtured and challenged to manifest the reign of God in word and deed, impacting all areas of life – spiritual, social, mental, and physical – thus furthering God’s mission in the world.

I like these definitions because they integrate holistic service with evangelism and church planting while emphasizing that mission is actually God’s undertaking to redeem his creation back to himself.

So could we synthesize and summarize?  Here’s my stab at it… for the biblical mission (purpose and task) of the church:

  • Vision (what does the Bible envision?): to see lives and communities among all the nations transformed for God’s glory
  • Mission (how is that vision realized?): to foster a movement of indigenously-led, multiplying churches that manifest the rule of king Jesus in word and deed

What would be your biblical vision and mission statements be for the purpose of God through the church (there is more than one way to say it)?  You got a problem with mine?

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