This is the fourth, and final post in the “what is missional” series. In the three previous posts (Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3) I shared that I believe there are three theological foundations that are important to consider when understanding the concept of missional. The first deals with the missionary nature of God and the church, and the second focuses on incarnational mission.
The third key theological foundation involves the concept of the missio Dei, or “mission of God.” It is God who has a mission to set things right in a broken world—to redeem and restore it to what was always intended. Therefore mission is not a program of the church. It is not something we invent. Mission is not something we initiate. Instead mission flows directly from the nature and purposes of a missionary God. It is not that the church has a mission; it is that God’s mission has a church. In other words, it is God’s mission, and the church is an instrument created by God to be sent into the world to join in his mission.
This is a complete game-changer in at least two ways. First, a missio Dei perspective should challenge the church to rethink mission. Most congregations view missions as one activity among many other equally important functions of the church. Therefore, the missions program is seen alongside that of worship, small groups, women’s ministries, youth and children’s ministry, and so on. When a church views missions in this way, the job of the missions committee is to determine where the missions budget should be spent rather than seeing that everything the church does is informed by God’s mission.
When the church begins to define itself as an agent of God’s mission, it will begin to organize every activity of the church around the missio Dei. Mission becomes the organizing principle, which means that mission goes beyond being some sort of optional activity for the church. Instead God’s mission is seen as “the organizing axis of the church. The life of the church revolves around it. This is not to say that we don’t do corporate worship, develop community, and make disciples, but that these are catalyzed by and organized around the mission function. Only in this way can we be truly missional. Merely adding serving events or special outreach days to our church schedules will not develop missional people nor make a missional church.” (Hirsch & Ford, Right Here, Right Now)
Determining where and how we engage in God’s mission is the second way a missio Dei theology influences our activity. If the mission is God’s—and it is—then how do we step into it? How do we truly participate in what God is doing? Author Geoffrey Harris provides these helpful words:
The average church member may be reassured to know that mission is instigated by the simple act of praying, and of listening to God, and following God’s guidance. In such fundamental activities all Christians can participate. In addition, it is reassuring to know that God’s Spirit is at work in the world prior to our engagement in any relationship or any work of mission. The presence of God in the world means that anyone embarking upon God’s mission already has an ally and accomplice in the work. It becomes “mission alongside” rather than mission alone.
In a small group curriculum titled Missional Essentials, I shared what I call the four D’s of missional engagement. It was my attempt to give practical handles to the kind of thinking shared in Harris’s words above. If it is about God’s mission and not ours, then how do we know where, when and how to participate in what God is doing?
Discover. The first step is to listen. Individually and collectively we must cultivate our ability to listen well on three fronts—to God, to the local community and to each other. It is simply impossible to ascertain the movement of God without carving out significant time to listen to his voice through prayer and Scripture as well as the voices of those we desire to serve. The first question we ask: Where is God actively at work in my community?
Discern. In addition to listening, participating in God’s mission involves the difficult task of discernment. Not only will we need to discern what God is already doing, but we will also need to ask a follow-up question: “In light of my (our) gifts and resources, how does God want me to participate in what he is doing?” The fact is we can’t do it all, which is true for both individual followers of Jesus and local congregations. But it is also true that God has gifted us all to do something! The point of discernment is to determine where and how to participate in God’s mission.
Do. This may seem obvious, but the process of discernment is useless if we do not obey what God is calling us to do. When God prompts us to participate in what he is doing in the lives of others, we must be obedient to respond.
Debrief. Throughout the process of engaging God’s mission we must create opportunities to reflect on our missional involvement. Sometimes this simply means we need individual down time to reflect on our activities. We may need to ask God to affirm our involvement or to ask for clarity of direction. But it will also involve carving out time to reflect with others in our faith community. We need to hear what others are seeing and sensing concerning God’s activities and to hear the stories of how others are engaging God’s mission.
The four D’s help to put the emphasis on the place God has sent us and on how God has already been working in that place long before we ever arrived. The starting point must involve an attitude of listening and learning.
This blog series has been about laying the proper theological foundation for the missional conversation—or perhaps the missional conversion. For many in the church there is a conversion of thought and practice that must take place. For most, it will not be an easy journey. Reordering our lives and the life of the church around a missional-incarnational calling will seem too risky for some. They will prefer to remain on the sidelines, while others venture into the unfamiliar. But be assured on one thing – God is already there.
Adapted from The Missional Quest