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.
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.
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.