Lately, my mind has been occupied with the idea of what it means to be a missional people of God. It’s something that has been simmering on the back burner for about a year. But now I feel God is bringing it into a growing place of prominence in both my thinking and hopefully my practice. I don’t have time to write a concise paper on it, so I’ve decided to throw some ideas on the table. Here are a few things that I’m thinking about:
First, God is a missional God. There is a constant motif throughout God’s Story – God’s interaction with humanity is one of revealing and reaching out to us. As James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” A consistent theme of God’s Story is his initiative toward us.
Second, being God’s people means being a missional people. This was clearly formulated with God’s calling of Abram to become the father of a new nation dedicated to being God’s people among the other peoples. This nation would be blessed by God’s presence in order to be a blessing to the other nations. Blessing the nations is part of the DNA of God’s people, whether it is the nation Israel in the Old Testament or the Church in the New Testament.
Another thing that has captivated me is how Jesus is the model of a missional life and community. His mission isn’t simply to do “great things” for God. Rather it is to “incarnate” or “embody” the fullness of God. Jesus stated in John 14:9, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” He’s referring to who he is – to the fullness of God that abides in him – not just the deeds he’s accomplished. Jesus embodied God in conversations, at meals, while playing with children, working alongside others, walking on the road, telling stories and in everything else he was and did. His incarnation never turned off. Therefore, mission is more of who I am, and then as an expression of who I am, what I do and say.
That’s why I love the phrase borrowed from Todd Hunter – “to embody, demonstrate and announce” God’s fullness and kingdom. It’s got to be in that order. We can only talk about what we are genuinely doing. And we can only do what is genuinely an expression of who we are. All three must be in sync or our lives become hypocritical.
Let’s be honest, how many times have we done things for God with a cruddy attitude? Can God’s incarnational mission flow from envy, unforgiveness, anger, competition, greed or anything else that’s not part of God? God is light and in him there is no darkness. The same thing can be said generally about his mission to the earth and its people and specifically about Jesus’ expression of that mission. Therefore, we must be growing so that the same thing can be said about our mission.
This means that incarnational mission, by nature, must flow from spiritual formation. In Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard has a great working definition of spiritual formation. He says it is the “Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.” So if incarnational mission flows from this process, maybe we should have a corollary definition for mission. It should be something like, “Incarnational mission is the Spirit-driven process of forming the outer world of human life in the same way that Christ transformed his outer world.”
This definition implies three things. First, it implies presence. We must be present in the world in order to influence and transform it with God’s fullness and kingdom.
Second, it implies embodiment. We must actually be people who are poised to routinely embody, demonstrate and announce God’s fullness and kingdom. Both the inward and outward aspects of human existence are in sync with each other and God’s purposes.
Third, (and this ties the first two together) it implies that daily disciplined engagement with God’s grace is necessary for the forming of our outward lives as much as it is essential for the forming of our inward lives. In other words, I must learn to practices disciplines of incarnational mission. I must practice both disciplines of presence and disciplines of embodiment. These disciplines, like any other spiritual exercises, engage God’s grace in the shaping of who I am. Therefore, these “missional” disciplines, like other spiritual disciplines, must become a natural part of my daily spiritual rhythm.
Jesus stated in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” As Jesus apprentices and ambassadors, we are sent into our world just as Jesus was sent. By being an incarnational presence of God’s fullness and kingdom in our world and among its people, we join God’s Story of re-beautifying a world vandalized by destructive self-indulgence; of restoring portions of our earth that have been dislocated by exploitation and evil; of re-creating what has been devastated. As we call people to follow Jesus back to their purpose as the image-bearers of God, despair is replaced with hope; selfishness with compassion; destruction with beauty; exploitation with stewardship; oppression with servanthood. And the entire cosmos is drawn ever forward to its final re-creation into a world and society of love.