When I was growing up, first in Pentecostal and then in Baptist churches in Scotland and England, I thought I knew what “mission” was. It was what missionaries did. They were special people who had responded to a call from God, directly to them, to leave behind the familiarity of home and the material benefits of a career to travel across the world to some less developed country to face discomfort and danger. They did this so that they could preach the gospel, in a foreign language. Or possibly do medical work. Healing people did seem to qualify as legitimate missionary activity, but few other professions did, and certainly not business. Teaching was borderline. Periodically those heroes of the faith would return to enliven church mid-week meetings with tales of adventures, pictures of primitive dwellings, and intriguing artefacts. Thus entranced, we would listen solemnly while key mission texts such as Romans 10:14-15 or Matthew 28:19-20 were read, and we were challenged to Go. Or if we couldn’t go, to Give. Or, if neither of these options seemed attractive, at least to Pray!
All of that continues to be true of many people as they follow Jesus and obey God’s leading. It was my story, too! Yes, I picked my way through the rainforest, preached to long-suffering locals in Scottish-accented Portuguese, baptized in the river … It was mission, but in the years since I, like many others, have been learning that God’s mission is much bigger and broader than that.
Test out that image of the missionary by means of a few questions:
Is mission only for people with a specific individual call from God?
There are certainly such experiences, but the witness of both Old and New Testaments is that the whole people of God is created and called to participate in God’s purposes for the world.
Does mission only take place somewhere else?
Every place is a context of mission, including “right here” wherever that happens to be. And the old distinction between “mission sending” and “mission destination” countries doesn’t correspond to the reality today.
Is mission carried out only by means of particular roles and activities?
When we look for it, we can see God’s transforming work achieved through a wide range of activities and occupations and in every area of life.
Does the “biblical basis for mission” depend on a few selected texts?
If we look instead at “the missional basis for the Bible” we discover a framework within which all of the Bible’s various parts contribute to the unfolding revelation of God’s intention for and work in God’s world.
So let’s try another description. Mission is the calling of the whole people of God to be in every place, living their whole lives in alignment with God’s loving character and God’s purpose for the world. As we grasp the shape of the Bible’s story of creation and redemption, enter into it and begin to live it out, we find that we are participants in God’s own mission, that derives not only from specific commands but from who and what God is. This mission includes everything that has its source in God’s love, its goal in Jesus’ rule, and its enabling by the Spirit’s energy. This is not merely an individual call. It is the calling of God’s people, including that increasingly diverse part of the people of God that comprises the Baptist Churches of New Zealand. Our challenge is to cultivate a life that is an outflowing of God’s love for the world; to align our priorities and decisions to the rule and the way of Jesus; to practice being attentive together to the Spirit who wants to draw us into ever fuller participation in the mission of God in God’s world. To the extent that these things become true of us we shall be a truly missional community of faith.
Article by George Wieland,
Director of the Carey Centre for Mission Research and Training.