All through March in house church, we’ve themed our meetings around “the mission of Christ”, or missio Dei, whatever term you use to describe it. We’ve been pondering the idea that God has been at work in the earth before we ever got here, that He is working in people’s lives before we encounter them, and will remain after we leave. We’ve talked about how we can participate in God’s mission, and we’ve encouraged one another not to spend this time just trying to “find our place” in the mission, but to try and tap into the heart of it.
In thinking and studying about this, I’m seeing how important it is that we absorb this simple truth, that mission belongs to God, not to the church. Why is it so important to make this distinction?
I’m glad you asked. 🙂
I’ve become more and more convinced that over the centuries, the church has taken ownership of the mission, and the fruits of this are not good. We have forgotten even the meaning of the term many of us use to describe Jesus’ parting instructions to His followers–the “Great Commission”. Commission literally means mission with. We have forgotten that Jesus intended us to be on this mission with Him, not on a mission for Him. And the implications of this are far-reaching. It’s not just about ministers suffering burnout because they took too much responsiblity on their shoulders. When we take ownership of this mission, it changes our whole approach to it.
Let me share just a bit of what happens when the church takes undue ownership of God’s mission. See if you concur:
- When the church owns the mission, it becomes a task, assignment and agenda, rather than a lifestyle or heartcry. When we stop seeing God on the mission, we view the Great Commission as our own assignment, our mandate from God. It becomes our task which we must fulfill to hasten the return of Christ. In other words–it’s all up to us. I believe this whole marketing approach to evangelism is based on this wrong mentality, where we see non-believers as targets rather than as people for whom Christ died. We bring this agenda into every relationship, and don’t think for a minute the non-Christians around us don’t sense it. Just like so many MLM schemes, our friends become our prospects. This is what happens when mission becomes our job, when we own it as an assignment rather than participating in something God is already doing.
- When the church owns the mission, we perceive that the world’s salvation actually depends on us–that we are the ones who bring the message of Christ to them, and that only the church can introduce people to Christ. We own the theology, truth, and method that the world must adopt in order to be saved; and we see ourselves as the only ones who can bring it to them. I’m not talking about adopting universalism here; I’m talking about who owns the truth. When we take this stance of self-importance, it is actually very dangerous, because in effect, we are supplanting the Savior, and making ourselves the mediator between God and man–a job the Bible makes clear belongs to only one Man, “the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 2:5) God owns the truth; we do not.
- When the church owns the mission, we begin to control the mission rather than participating in it. We set the rules of engagement; we decide when, and how, the good news will be shared, and we decide who is qualified to share it. I’m convinced that this mentality underlies our entire system of ordination (which I think we’ve largely misunderstood) and the hierarchy forms of leadership we’ve developed; and in fact, the entire idea of the church as an institution. As an institution, we perceive ourselves to be the guardians of the mission, the lone outpost for the dispensing of truth. We cover over these control issues by citing the dangers of error and heresy, and the need to protect people–and that sounds reasonable. But if we’re being honest, mostly we try to control it because we think we own it. (Jesus actually dealt with this kind of thing a little bit in the gospels; you can see how He approached it in Luke 9:46-50.)
It seems to me that this seemingly small error in our thinking–that mission belongs to the church rather than to God–has actually caused us to shape mission in a way that Jesus never intended. Instead of participating in something God is already doing–we have effectively hijacked the mission.
I say this so assertively because adjusting this seemingly small error in our thinking also has far-reaching implications. Simply acknowledging that mission belongs to God, that we belong to Him, and that we are participants in what He’s doing, has put this whole thing in a new light for me. I am seeing God, the church, and the world differently. I feel a fresh desire to get involved in it, and I feel a freedom to enjoy it, rather than a drive to perform, or a compulsion to control. And so I feel this is a very important shift that needs to take place in the church. We need to give up our ownership of the Great Commission, and remember that Jesus is still here doing it. He even said so: in Matthew’s version of the Great Commission (Matt. 28), Jesus ended by saying, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” He didn’t just say that to comfort us; He said it to remind us that He was still engaged in mission, that we weren’t going it alone.
I say we’ve “hijacked” the mission–but actually, that’s impossible, if you think about it. Yes, we’ve gotten off track with it–but Jesus never yielded up ownership of it. In fact, that might explain why there are so many things He does in the earth that are off our radar–things that fly in the face of the church’s protocols. Just like He did things that offended the Pharisees.
Think about that one a moment. Selah. 🙂
Maybe it’s time we get off this mission-ownership kick we’ve been on for centuries, and take a good look at what God has been up to while we were making up rules and protocols. We might be surprised at what’s happening out there.
I know it’s surprising me.