It is not so much that God has a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world…mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission.
– Christopher Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission
More often than we realize, we confuse the church for the mission. As Wright said, the church does not necessarily have “a mission” as much as God’s mission of redemption has a church.
There is an intentional phrasing here. Today, “missional” is a popular church word. It’s a good phrase, but it carries a little baggage. Being mission-minded is an effort to balance the realities that the church was made for God’s mission and that the church is itself a mission (in that God is consistently working in His people, transforming us to reflect the character of Christ).
When we keep both of these things in front of us, they actually balance one another out. If we forget that God is actively working in us to change us, we can become consumed with being “on mission” and end up reflecting more of the culture that we are sent to rather the One who sent us.
On the other hand, if we fail to see that the church was made for God’s mission, we end up huddled together and failing to be the instruments of redemption that we were created to be.
Our expectation is this: as we become more Gospel centered and live lives driven by the grace of God, we naturally become Mission-Minded people whose focus is on God’s mission to advance His kingdom here on earth not on building our own little kingdoms.
Since we are saved only by grace, it is our responsibility to humbly demonstrate our reliance on Christ and live out a security and peace as we confidently tell His story.
Being mission minded allows us to speak with confidence about the power of the Gospel without being condescending because the Gospel keeps us from basing our identity on the approval of others. Because our value is centered in the Gospel and our lives are Driven by Grace, we do not feel the need to win arguments or prove ourselves through evangelism. We proclaim the Gospel because we love people and we love people because God first loved us.
As a Mission-Minded church we have true hope for everyone. The gospel has produced a real hope that sees no one as hopeless since every transformation, including our own, is a miracle of God.
No one has done a better job today than Tim Keller at articulating how this shapes the commitments that we should have as church. The following is an adaptation of an essay he wrote about the need for a missional church.
We are committed to learning and speaking the language of our culture. We avoid speaking “Christianese,” using pious prayer language, in-house “jargon,” and “super-spiritual” talk.
We are committed to avoiding technical theological terms, unless we explain them.
We are committed to avoiding “we-them” language, or language that belittles people of different political, spiritual, social positions, or is disrespectful of people who we disagree. Instead, we engage people by humbly admitting our weaknesses and failures, while demonstrating the joyful difference the Gospel makes.
We are committed to talk as if non-Christians are present…not as an out-reach strategy, but as the fruit of a Gospel-changed heart.
We are committed to sincerely listening to people and their stories. We want to understand, love, and respect them unconditionally, and serve them by showing them how the Gospel meets their deepest longings.
To do this, we resolve to have a knowledge and appreciation of the culture’s movies, books, music, etc., in order to understand the culture’s hopes, dreams, stories, and fears. So we can show people that only Jesus can fulfill their greatest desires.
We are committed to being a Christian community that is counter-cultural/intuitive, showing the world how radically different a Christian society is with regard to relationships, sex, money, and power.
Regarding relationships: We are committed to celebrating diversity and cultivating unity—to radically loving each other—so that the world will see the difference Jesus makes. When there is conflict we will not just walk away but we will actively work at reconciliation with one another.
Regarding sex: We are committed to avoiding the extremes of idolizing sex and fearing sex. Instead we will hold a glorious view of sex in marriage as a pointer to intimacy with Christ. We are committed in regards to people whose sexual lifestyles are different than ours, that we will show love rather than hostility or fear.
Regarding money: We are committed to being radically generous in our giving of time, money, skills, and relationships to furthering the mission of the church and working for justice and caring for the poor, weak, and needy.
Regarding power: We are committed to sharing power and building friendships between different races and classes. This means being more involved in deeds of mercy and social justice than traditional liberal churches, and at the same time more involved in evangelism and church planting than traditional conservative churches.
We are committed to living out our Christianity in our work and play.
We are committed to learning together how to think, do, and be distinctively Christian in our work and play. This means learning:
- what in our culture is good and can be enjoyed and celebrated
- what in our culture is anti-Gospel and must be rejected, and
- what in our culture can be renewed and adapted for good.
We are committed to encouraging and celebrating Christians who are advancing the “kingdom of God” in the public square.
We are committed to showing Gospel love and tolerance toward those with whom we strongly disagree. One of the biggest criticisms of Christians is that we are intolerant. But since we are saved and driven by grace, we should be the most humble, tolerant people in society. And so this is our commitment.
We are committed to demonstrating the unity of the church in the city, celebrating what God is doing in other churches, instead of criticizing other churches.
We are committed to developing alliances with other like-minded churches in order to serve our city together, even if it raises some areas of tension.