What does “Life on Mission” mean?

Christians are notorious for having a vocabulary that sometimes confuses the non-Christian world. Christians may talk about the time they “walked an aisle” or how they “feel led” to do this thing or that thing. As curious or confusing as phrases like these might be to someone who doesn’t know the lingo, there is a term that has become increasingly more popular (and potentially more confusing) in recent times: MISSION.

A Mission is an assigned task to be carried out for a particular purpose. This is certainly in focus when a Christian refers to “missional living” or “life on mission.” However, in Christian circles the term “mission” was once reserved for specific people who crossed ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and/or geographical barriers for the sake of the Gospel.

In other words, mission is what missionaries do. This perspective has changed, and I think this is generally a good thing.

Since mission is no longer attached only to missionaries, it is helpful to define what we actually mean by the term now. In order to help further the conversation and to encourage active participation in the mission, I would like to offer the following as a brief introduction to the terms, phrases, and concepts that now set the parameters of the wide discussion about MISSION.

MISSION

The Father’s Mission: Mission, in its broadest sense, encompasses all that the triune God is and has been doing in the world to bring about His intended purpose of creating a people for Himself and for His glory. From Genesis 3:15, God has been revealing His mission and displaying His glory in the rescue of sinners by the means of a Savior who is both God and man (King of glory and ‘offspring of woman’). This mission culminates in the eternal glory of the new heavens and new earth, addressed in Revelation 21-22. John wrote, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1–2). The intimate and glorious relationship between God and man is restored through the outwork of God’s mission in real human history.

Christ’s Mission: Mission, in another sense, focuses upon Christ’s person and work in redeeming sinners. Of course, as I stated above, God’s mission to redeem sinners did not begin with the miraculous conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. And yet, the focal point of Christ’s person and work in human history is the apex of God’s missional work on earth (Col. 1:21-22). Jesus Christ is the supreme Prophet (revealing God’s majestic character and holy nature), He is the perfect Priest (mediating peace between God and man), and He is the most gracious King (providing benevolent authority and making perfect provision for His people). As Prophet, Priest, and King, Christ’s mission put human flesh upon the mission of the triune God; and Christ continues to operate in this three-fold office in His mission to redeem sinners to the glory of God (Jn. 6:38-40; cf. Heb. 8:1-2; Col. 3:1-4).

The Spirit’s Mission: Mission, in still another sense, focuses upon the Holy Spirit’s work of applying the work of Christ, as well as completing the mission of the Father. The word or message of God is proclaimed in the world, and it is the Spirit of God who applies that word to sinful humans (Eph. 1:13, cf. Jn. 3:3). The Holy Spirit makes dead sinners live, and brings them into the universal (spiritual) body of Christ (Eph. 2:1-10; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). Initiation into the body of Christ is not the end of Christian living, it is the beginning; and the Holy Spirit continually sanctifies the Christian (shapes him/her into the likeness of Christ’s character) throughout his/her mortal life (1 Cor. 6:11). This process of progressive sanctification is perfectly complete when the Christian enters into the glorious life to come (1 Thess. 5:23; cf. Rom. 8:29-30).

The Christian’s Mission: Mission, in relationship to the the individual Christian and the collection of all Christ’s disciples on earth, refers to the involvement of Christ’s followers in the mission of God. This concept is quite broad, and the term “mission” (as applied in this sense) may include a whole host of things (anything that embodies the concept of “lights in the world” [Phil. 2:15]). However, it is important to note that all of the things that may be included under the heading of “Christian Mission” must necessarily be accompanied by the qualifying mark of Gospel motivation and proclamation.

The Christian’s Mission is not primarily to make a better world, but to engage the world for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of Christ.

As the Gospel motivates Christian engagement with the world, so too should that engagement produce positive results in the world. But when the positive results are the main goal, then the Gospel loses its primacy and the mission is no longer Christian, and, therefore, no longer participation in God’s Mission.

MISSIONS

This term is probably most familiar to those who have been involved in Christian community for some time. “Missions” has been used, nearly exclusively, to refer to short and longterm missionary engagement across ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and/or geographical barriers. Professional missionaries (those who are financially supported by others and sent for Gospel engagement) and average churchgoers have been involved in missions for a long time now. Missionary families and individuals have relocated for significant periods of time in order to make a Gospel impact on a certain people group. Average families and individuals have left home for short periods of time in order to support and compliment the efforts of missionaries.

In more recent years, this term has also gained a new usage for geographically localized Gospel engagement as well. Local Missions efforts may be distinguished from the Global Missions strategy, but it has been helpful (in my opinion) to understand these two as significantly related. Therefore, it may be helpful to define “missions” as any Christian effort to engage a people group, for the purposes of Gospel proclamation and instruction, that is culturally or linguistically distinct from the active Christian effort.

MISSIONAL LIVING or LIFE ON MISSION

Like the term above, the phrases “Missional Living” and “Life on Mission” are applied in a very broad way in Christian circles today. The differentiating element of these phrases from the term above (missions) is the reality that all Christians everywhere are intended to live as “missionaries” in the world. Too long, Christians have comfortably left the job of evangelism and disciple-making to “professionals.” Pastors, missionaries, and evangelists have been commissioned by local churches, and many of the Christians who have commissioned them have imagined that their part of the missional task is complete.

And yet, in recent years many Christian have come to realize that they too are responsible for making disciples. This rediscovery of biblical truth, commonly understood among Christ’s followers at various points of human history, has sent rippling effects throughout the Christian communities in America. Christian moms and dads are realizing their responsibility to disciple their children. Christian young people are grasping their obligation to evangelize their schoolmates. Christian employees are taking the initiative to engage their coworkers on spiritual and biblical matters. Christian business owners are looking for ways to sow Gospel seeds into to those under their influence. Christian families are opening their homes and lives to their non-Christian neighbors in order to make opportunities for Gospel conversations. All of this, and more, is Life on Mission.

Missional Living (1) the understanding that Christ has commissioned all Christians to be about the task of disciple-making, and (2) intentional and active participating in that task.

 

These definitions are not authoritative, but I believe they are accurate and helpful to those who participate in any conversation about mission. The most important takeaway from this article, however, is not what terms we use or how we use them. Rather, if you are a Christian, you must ask yourself, “Am I a participant in the mission of God?”

May God cause every Christian to be ignited by a passion to participate and live Life on Mission, for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of Christ.


 

How are you living a life on mission? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.

Coalescing Churches and Missionaries

The Church – the universal body of Christ – is a unique institution made up of people rather than materials or mechanisms. Established and sustained by God Himself, the Church acts most like she should when she fulfills the role for which she has been created. The oft-quoted passage at the end of Matthew’s gospel contains the commission of the Church – her purposeful assignment and the promise of her providential Lord. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says to His disciples,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Mark Dever (commenting on this very passage) says, “Jesus’ command to go ‘to the ends of the earth’ [or ‘all nations’] reminds believers that Christ is Lord over all, that he loves all, and that he will call all to account on the great day. Therefore, Christians today have a responsibility to take the gospel around the world.” Dever also understands that congregations (local expressions of the universal Church) are bearers of this same responsibility, because congregations are made up of individual Christians. “Christians together can pool wisdom, experience, financial support, prayers, and callings and direct them all to the common purpose of making God’s name great among the nations…” Dever leaves no room for individual Christians or assembled groups of the same to remain unengaged from this Great Commission when he says, “Witnessing the glory of God proclaimed around the globe in the hearts of all his people should be an end and purpose for every local church.”[1]

Involvement in this intentional activity is no peripheral matter for any local church, and many congregations have been purposefully working at it for a long time. However, recent research and contemporary conversations are revealing that a disconnect may have developed over time between the two prongs that have formed the spearhead of this Christian commission. Local churches in America seem to have been allowed to understand missions as something that is done over there – anywhere but here – by someone called a missionary. Many local churches support “missions efforts” with their financial backing, giving a portion of their budget to some kind of cooperative program that distributes funds to local and international missionaries. Sometimes local churches may even call a special prayer meetings with a “missions” emphasis, but taking ownership of particular missional efforts appears to be lacking at best. In addition, the perceived distance between missions and local church ministry has permitted most American Christians to remain personally unengaged from the Great Commission. This is a tragedy.

What is worse is that missionaries, having such a strong commitment to go and tell, are continuing to do so without an essential and healthy attachment to a local church or churches. “The problem is that there are now missionaries all over the world with virtually no connection to local churches to love and care for them, shepherd them, and join them on mission.” To compound the loss, “there are also local churches full of laypeople talking about being ‘missional’ without the benefit of learning from those who are actively crossing cultures with the Gospel. They are talking about mission without the input of missionaries (emphasis added).”[2] If one is to understand what it is to be missional, it is imperative that one understands what it is to be a missionary.

Ed Stetzer helpfully defines the term “missional” in his standard-setting work on the subject of “missional churches.” He says, “Missional means actually doing mission… adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound.”[3] With this definition in mind, it is helpful to consider that missional living may only realized in the local church context as missionaries and their efforts are appropriately known and celebrated in the local church.

The bringing together of missionaries and the local church is a combination that regains the benefits of the multi-membered body of Christ. If the missionary is the extended arm of the local church, then the local church is the core, which lends stability, resources, and strength to the missionary. Just as the arm needs the core to function properly, so the core needs the exercise, reach, and functionality of the arm in order to remain healthy. There are many more aspects of local church ministry that may not include a direct relationship to missionary efforts, but all of what the local church is and does should center around the idea of living missionally in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – both in the context of its own community and in the world at large. These two distinct branches of missional engagement (missionaries and the local church) are so intertwined that each compliments the other in multiple ways, particularly when they are both functioning healthily.

The pervading goal of the missionary is the same as the local church, namely the Great Commission – make disciples, baptize them, and teach submission to Christ to the glory of His great name. If this directive is embraced and acted upon, the result will inevitably be a plurality of baptized disciples who will be life-long learners who grow in their submission to Christ. This plurality of Christians, if the missionary is properly focused on the task, will be formed into a local church themselves. “The result of [the missionary’s] work should be biblical, local, independent churches that reflect the soil in which they are planted.”[4]  Therefore, the missionary is most effective when he is planting local churches with those baptized disciples who have benefitted from his proclamation of the Gospel.

These locally planted churches will be better churches if they resemble the same kind of local church(es) that have cultivated a quality relationship with the missionary who facilitated their own rooting and grounding. If missionaries and local churches work in tandem (as it seems they were designed to do), then the cycle will simply continue. Aubrey Malphurs says of church planting and its ultimate goal,

“We are not to start just any kind of church; they should be Great Commission churches. These are churches that take most seriously Jesus’s command to make disciples! Making disciples begins with evangelism and continues with edification or the building up of the saints in the faith with the ultimate goal of their attaining spiritual maturity (Col. 1:28–29; Heb. 5:11–6:1).”[5]

Malphurs’ statement brings us back to the beginning; the Church acts most like she should when she fulfills the role for which she has been created. The goal of newly planted church is the same as the missionary, and it is the same as the established local church congregation. When the established local church is healthy, she will serve her role well as a support structure for the missionary and a model for the church plants that (by God’s grace) result from his efforts. When the missionary is healthy, he will serve his role well as an evangelist and facilitator for the eventual indigenous church plant(s) as well as a motivation and inspiration for the congregants who support him. When the indigenous church plant is healthy, she will repeat the cycle with new missionaries and fresh groups of newly converted Christians.

There are so many benefits to this relationship that a brief work such as this cannot explore them all. Suffice it to say that the coalescing of churches and missionaries is a recipe for enjoying vibrant, Great Commission assemblies of vigorous, missional disciples of Christ – both locally and globally.

 

[1]Dever, Mark. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012.

[2]Crider, Caleb, Larry McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Wade Stephens. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. Portland, OR: Urban Loft Publishers, 2013.

[3]Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

[4]Crider, Caleb, Larry McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Wade Stephens. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. Portland, OR: Urban Loft Publishers, 2013.

[5]Malphurs, Aubrey. The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting: A Guide for Starting Any Kind of Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.