“Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
Christians have reflected on this via a Latin phrase, ‘Missio Dei’, which means ‘Mission of God’.
And this is not a mission that is stuck back in the pages of the Bible – it is a mission that continues today…
The Purpose Of The Church
Being human we tend to be very me-centered (or at best us-centered), including in our understanding of the purpose of the church. So often we talk and act as if the church exists for our benefit, with decisions driven by our preferences and desires. Thus results a local church that is primarily focused on serving and feeding her members, with just the occasional bolt-on mission activity that is an optional up-grade for the especially keen.
Missio Dei reminds us that the mission (or purpose) of the church is a subset of the mission of God. We don’t get to chose why we exist – Jesus has already shown us! We are to join God in his great mission of restoring all things to him. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
To put it another way, Missio Dei reminds us that it’s not the church that has a mission, but the mission that has a church!It's not the church that has a mission, but the mission that has a church Click To Tweet
Understanding Missio Dei
What is God’s mission? He is constantly seeking to reveal who he is to us, and to invite us (back) into deeper relationship with him. He shows us his heart, his character, his ways, his intent for creation – and invites us to respond by faith. And as he blesses us with his presence and love, so through us he will transform the wider world. As God says to Abraham in Genesis 12, “I will bless you… and you will be a blessing.”
This revelation comes both at a cosmic whole-of-the-universe level (see the majestic creation account in Genesis 1), and simultaneously at an intimate level, for you and for me personally (hence the deeply relational creation account in Genesis 2. The two chapters are two sides of the same truth). In other words, this Good News impacts both individuals and the culture.
The Father’s goal is to redeem and transform, to set us free from sin and sickness and evil and death. The Kingdom of God is aggressively advancing now, to restore all of his creation into right relationship with him, which is where we find fulness of life. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). Missio Dei is about walking with Jesus who is the source and fuel for all true life.
We Join God’s Mission Through Relationship
As we hear about God’s mission, there can be a temptation to see it purely as a task list. These neighbors of ours need to be converted; such and such institution needs to be transformed. Yet that cannot happen in the absence of relationship with God, whose Fatherly love is both the means to and the end of this renewed creation.
We as God’s people are constantly holding together a pull to draw closer to the heart of God, to know him more deeply, and a drive to go and represent Him in the world, to represent Jesus wherever we go. Actually, like many, I have found that this pull empowers the drive, and the drive deepens the pull. Together they are how we are to live, and they frame our mission. By drawing close to God, and thus his people, we are empowered to bring the lost into rich relationship with their Creator.
This rescue plan is carried out personally, as Jesus the great missionary comes to earth in human form, to show us how to live in right relationship with the Father, and then to deal with all the sin and evil that prevents us living like that. It is the love of the Father that drives this – hence the most famous verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, God’s empowering presence, the Holy Spirit, is made available to all believers. This is not just to give us warm fuzzies, but so that we now can scatter and spread throughout time and space, representing our missionary God in every nook and cranny of culture and society where we live, work and play. We are the ones called to go and make disciples everywhere (see the Great Commission of Matthew 28). Yet this scattering is to be done as part of authentic Christian community – the church – as a place where we reveal to the world how to draw closer to the Father and be empowered as agents of the new creation.
The Challenge Of Missio Dei
The challenge for the church is to keep recognizing that God is at the center of mission. In other words, church leaders have to help Christians shift their focus from a church-centered mission to a mission-centered church. The church’s agenda must be defined by the heart of God for his creation, rather than by our inherited activities. As you can imagine, the implications of this are far reaching for each one of us.
Ultimately, though, all mission is God’s work, and what we do occurs in response to what the Father is already doing and we simply join in the fun! By doing it that way, the Spirit even provides all the resources that we need, so we don’t have to rely on our own strength and power. Jesus models this for us in John 5:19: “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees the Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
You are called to join God in his great mission to the world, his Mission Dei. How are you going to live that out today?
How can you practically allow the idea of Missio Dei to influence the way you live amongst your friends, neighbors and colleagues?
Use the comment section below to share your thoughts and experiences.
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