The Mission of God and a Missional Church
by Penny Vann
Recently in Advent Christian Voices, there was a call for a conversation discussing what it means to be a missional church. The idea of a missional church is not new. Two decades ago the term 'missional church' was coined. The term suggested that "the church is to be understood not as an organization with a mission; rather the church's very identity is mission” (Ott, Strauss and Tennent 2010, 197 in Raven, 2017, 164). Too often the Church's mission has been put to activities, programs, or auxiliaries. The idea of a missional church, however, centers on what the church is rather than on what it does. This, according to Guder, means a “reorientation of our theology under the mission of God” (Guder, 1998 6-8). In a sense, all other ecclesiology must submit to the idea of the mission of God. When a church does this it is considered a missional church. The reason for this reorientation is clear. While the Church does many good things if it is not in line with what Christ created it to be then it is missing the mark.
Often, when people hear the terms missional and the mission of God, they think foreign missions. While going into the whole world to reach every ethnic group with the gospel is part of the mission of God, it is not the entirety of God's mission. The mission of God is by definition the sending of God. Our God is a sending God. The Father sent the Son. The Son sent the Holy Spirit and the Church to the world. It is as the church recognizes itself as sent ones that its identity in God finds its fullness. In 1 Peter 2:5, Peter calls the church “to be a holy priesthood,” and in verse 9 he says “you are ...a royal priesthood.” Note here the verbs being used are not of action ---but of identity. It is after identity is established that Peter says what we are to do as part of our very DNA.
So why is God sending? God's first purpose for sending people into the world is so that He might be known in all of it and thereby receive the glory due him, ( Nu. 14:21, Isa 6:3, Hab 2:14). In, Exodus 9:16, God tells Pharaoh, “It is for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” By these passages, we see God's aim is to be glorified. God sends the church to be a people who not only glorify Him in every aspect of its life but also to make Him known so that others can do the same. His priority of being glorified is not selfish or wrong; God deserves all glory and there is no other. He created the world and all that is in it to glorify him and give testimony of his greatness. This mission involves the whole life of the church. Everything it does is to glorify God and help all creation to do the same. When the church misses this purpose of being sent, it first ends up doing many good things but not declaring its reason for doing it. Secondly, it begins to think that only what is done in the spiritual sphere (singing, praying, listening to sermons) gives God glory rather than the whole of life.
The second reason for God to send is to raise up a people to himself out of every tribe and tongue and nation to do good works (Eph. 2:10), to tell his salvation day after day (Ps. 96:2) and to make disciples (Mat 28:19). We know God sends his church out to the world. Jesus said he sent the disciples out as sheep among the wolves (Mat 10:16). He sends them out not to hide from the wolves but to convert them (Platt, 2013). He is not willing that any should perish, even wolves (2 Pet. 3:9). Too often the church cowers and desires to stay safe within its four walls. Too many times it chooses to die safely than to act boldly on who it is. Becoming a missional church means that outreach is who we are, not just a program we do. Becoming a missional church means we boldly live up to what we were made to be.
The idea of being missional is not new for Advent Christians. In the 1800s, Millerites and Advent Christians traveled thousands of miles to preach. Leaving husbands, wives, or children behind they began schools to teach freed slaves. One Anna Boyd Smith set up medical clinics in the poorer sections of New York City, all the while church planting in New Jersey a congregation that averaged 1,100 members (Dean. 2008, 22).
So, how is the church now? How does knowing that ecclesiology starts with God's Mission to the world change Sunday Mornings? How does it change the church's view of its neighbors or view of self? These are questions one must answer from scripture. Here, however, is one thought, since the church is called to make Him known to every nation, then the recent influx of immigrants into the US, especially from “closed” countries, however they got here, is a work of God and therefore, these are people he is sending His church to.