Mission is a slippery word. What does it mean? Is it still useful? Should we find a different word? The debate will continue but there are at least 10 aspects that need to make up our understanding.
- Being sent. In John 20 Jesus tells his disciples “As the Father has sent me I am sending you” but also in Romans 10 Paul speaks about being sent in the context of preaching noting “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news”. Sending is a continuation of the ministry of Jesus; it is a work of apostleship.
- Paul uses the term in 2 Corinthians 5 to talk of the authority and responsibility he has as a messenger of the gospel.
- Jesus tells the disciples that empowered by the Spirit they will be witnesses to the ends of the earth. The notion of a witness is as much about being able to share what they have seen and heard than it is to be an evangelist, herald of it. A lifestyle that witnesses to our experience of Jesus and the truth of the gospel is important.
- Follow me. Jesus came to call people to follow him, to get behind him (or maybe even get in line) and walk in his ways.
- The image of light crops up regularly in the NT, Paul speaks about us living as children of light (Ephesians 5:8). Again this is about lifestyle but, in the context of Jesus use of light to describe the kingdom of God, it is also about what we show and tell.
- Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Justice is about things being in right relationship (with God) but the scope of this is a wide and generous outworking of covenant. Tied to Jesus call to love our neighbour it represents a challenge to see the world live in goodness and a stand against oppression and exploitation.
- Proclaim the gospel. Throughout the NT we see examples of publicly announcing and declaring the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. For me Bible Translation fits into this category. (For Paul, breaking bread was also a proclamation of the gospel).
- Heal the sick. The commission Jesus gave to his first disciples (for example in Matthew 10) included the authority to drive out evil spirits and heal every disease and sickness. This isn’t the blog post to discuss healing in detail, nor detail the challenge westerners like me have grasping a world view with a spiritual middle (ie not just the created world and the heavens, but the excluded middle of ghosts, demons, spirits etc) But to recognise that healing and wholeness are part of the kingdom of God.
- Make disciples. Matthew 28 sees Jesus commission the apostles to go and make disciples: teach, nurture, baptise. In recent decades we may have put too much emphasis on the ‘going’ rather than teaching and nurturing but the aim is to make disciples.
- Great commission. We often think of Matthew 28 as being the great commission but it might be better to view it as Genesis 1:28, a call to fruitful stewarding of our lives and of creation. While this call is to the whole of humanity rather than specifically to disciples of Jesus we are reminded that Jesus is reconciling all things including the created world. We might call it integral mission, but it is about all of life in its fullness.
Mission can’t be reduced to just these 10 aspects (any more than it can be reduced to the so called ‘five marks of mission’). I’ve not said anything about location, culture and context for example. Mission (or whatever other word we choose to use) needs to be understood in the context of worship and service; of church life and faithful living as co-workers with Jesus. But it is an outworking of the Bible, which resonates with the character of God and expresses God’s intention for those who call him Lord.