What The Heck Are You Talking About?

If Missional is about joining God’s mission, what is mission?

When you say Mission of God, what specifically are you referring to?

What the heck are you talking about!?

…These are versions of the main question I receive regarding the missional orientation. I like Christopher Wright’s reply, “When I speak of mission, I am thinking of all that God is doing in his great purpose for the whole of creation and all that he calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose.”

In similar fashion, David Bosch says, “Ultimately, then, mission means being involved in the redemption of the universe and the glorification of God.”

To be honest, I really don’t like to give a more specific answer than what Wright and Bosch have suggested. I realize that to someone sitting back wondering about the whole deal, these answers seem a bit vague. We want specifics. We want details. And that, I believe, is both natural and problematic.

On the one hand it is natural because we’re curious…and we’re skeptical. Every time we turn around someone is trying to sell us “the next big thing.” We don’t want to simply buy into the latest fad without digging in and evaluating its worth. I get that.

However, this reaction can problematic because it often isn’t merely tied to a healthy skepticism. I have lost count of how many times someone has developed a ministry tool or model, spoken at a conference or written on a topic and warned everyone, “Don’t try to cut and paste this into your context. I’m simply describing what has worked for us and how we came to these decisions.” But do we listen? Sometimes, but usually only until we’re convinced that they’re on to something…then we scramble to find the scissors and Elmer’s glue stick.

I’ve made this mistake myself on numerous occasions. In 2001 I attended a conference on “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry” – guess what I did when I got home?

I hear people talk about Shane Claiborne’s work and writing. Some have moved to urban areas to work with the poor because of his example. Others reject the whole thing because moving to an urban center simply isn’t something they can (or will) do. Or they dismiss Claiborne because his response to his convictions is too “radical” for their taste. Or they speak longingly about the courage of Claiborne and his friends and feel a pang of guilt that they’ll never be able to pull it off. It seems that the common response is either wholesale replication or wholesale rejection.

Now to be sure, not everyone fits in these two categories – and perhaps there are, in fact, many who don’t. Particularly among the young adult/college-age group there are some very interesting experiments going on – and I hear plenty of more “sensible” adults declare that such things are fine for young single people, just not for grown ups with jobs, families and responsibilities. And yet the question that seems to escape us may be, in what ways ARE these principles applicable to my life situation?

There’s another reason I am wary of the question about defining mission. Sometimes a person already has a deeply ingrained definition of “God’s mission” and if your response doesn’t line up precisely with their favorite descriptors (and in the right order)…
I’m way past done arguing with people that just want to argue.

The term mission of God refers to everything that God is doing to reclaim, heal and reconcile this broken existence. I can’t give you all the specifics…because I don’t know all the specifics. Everything is a fairly expansive category.

Often, questions are masks. Most, if not all of us, have learned how to ask questions which are a level or two separated from the real question we want answered. Whether born from suspicion or fear…or simply a lack of awareness of what we’re really wanting to say, such questions can produce barriers to communication – because what we’re talking about isn’t really what we’re talking about.

I don’t bring this up as an accusation or slight. True, some, like the Pharisees and religious leaders did with Jesus, use manipulative questions maliciously as traps. I have little to say to such folks – I’d rather not add to the toxic sludge which is dragging them down. However, I want to believe that the majority of people are themselves afraid of being taken advantage of, and so they approach new ideas (or old ones being reintroduced) with caution. I can understand that.

So let me say this: When I use the term mission, I’m talking about introducing people to the person and the way of Jesus. I’m talking about addressing social injustice. I’m talking about love instead of apathy. I’m talking about helping people out of back-breaking poverty. I’m talking about caring for the weak, the forgotten, the overlooked and the marginalized. I’m talking about loving our neighbor – not just recruiting them. I’m talking about anticipating, hoping and practicing the full arrival of God’s kingdom – where greed, selfishness, isolation, coercive power, tyranny and oppressive control will be eradicated. I’m talking about life instead of death, hope instead of despair, light instead of darkness. I’m talking about compassion and hospitality. I’m talking about tearing down barriers which separate us. I’m talking about whatever it is that God is up to in our neighborhoods, our towns, our state, our country, our continent, our hemisphere, our world, our universe. I’m talking about things beyond me; things which I can not begin to comprehend, but for which I keep my eyes open. I’m talking about every good, noble, pure, excellent and praiseworthy thing that God is doing which we are being invited to join.

I am talking about whatever God allows me to engage for the good of God’s Kingdom.

Recently someone commented, “The more we discuss the mission of God, the bigger the category becomes. There’s too much there…how do we even begin?” This comment was presented with a tone of guilt and ineptitude.

But here’s the reality. I’ve never forgotten what a mentor of mine once said to me when I was complaining about the stress I felt in not being able to keep all the ministry plates spinning. He stopped me in my tracks when he asked, “So…are you the one who was prophesied or should we wait for another?”

Recognizing that the mission of God is enormous shouldn’t be a source of anxiety or guilt – it should be freeing. God is at work! God is at work beyond us! There’s enough to participate in that we don’t have to worry about being bored – but there’s also enough that all disciples everywhere have a role to play and work to do. Neither my little community nor someone else’s large one (and certainly not any of us individually) could ever hope or be expected to join God everywhere in everything…so don’t worry about it.

The response I usually give (which I realize is still frustrating to some) to the question, “How do I engage in the mission of God?” is this: “Look out your window. What is God doing there? Ask if you can help.”


Posted on December 1, 2011, in Missional. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Wow! What a good journey to get to the last couple of paragraphs….I could feel the weight getting heavier and heavier on my shoulders…even felt a bit of the dispair. We (I) do, in spite of our (my) best efforts do want to have and depend upon having that check-list. (and then mine just gets lost in the rubble) What a wonderful gift we have because we don’t have to worry about…well, we really don’t need to worry. Just open our eyes and hearts…

  2. Great post! I am also “way past done arguing with people that just want to argue.”

    “I’m talking about loving our neighbor – not just recruiting them.” That is a great quote – that just got posted on Twitter.

    I agree that it can sometimes be overwhelming to think about all that is included in living out our faith, but I take great comfort in the ancient doctrine of vocation. Properly understood, the Church is often realizing God’s kingdom as its healthcare workers heal, its counselors console, and its janitors clean. We sometimes make “kingdom living” too sexy. If we all quit our jobs and moved to the inner city, eventually the system would cease to sustain itself. Granted, I think most people would be surprised how little resources are need when they are shared in a communal way, but this must be managed well or it can quickly become cult-like (in a controlling sort of way). I believe that Christians are called to be ‘missional’ within their respective vocations.

  1. Pingback: What Difference Does it Make? « Missional Monks

  2. Pingback: Introduction, Part 1 « Steven's Scribbles

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