What is Mission?

by The Rev. Dr. R. Leigh Spruill

I welcome a guest contributor to this issue of 'A Light for the City' the Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon (PhD), Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Josiah is a dear friend and visited with us at SJD in the fall of 2021. The following is an excerpt of a paper Bishop Josiah delivered to the Synod of the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands on April 21, 2022. It is offered here with his permission. ~ Leigh

Let’s begin by defining what we mean by the church’s mission.

Mission (from the Latin ‘to send’) is the purpose for which the church is sent into the world. Mission answers the “Why are we here?” question.

There will be many tasks involved, many roles to play, and many penultimate goals in the fulfillment of the mission. But when we identify ‘the mission of the church’, we describe the ultimate way the church is to relate to its Sending Lord and the world to which it is sent.
Our proposed topic describes for us what the mission of the Church is: the mission which the church has received from its Lord is to make disciples of all nations by proclaiming Christ. This is the ultimate answer to the question “Why are we here?” There may be other tasks, yet those tasks ought to serve the ultimate mission and not usurp or distract from it.

The Origin of Mission: Some will view this definition with suspicion. Many will assume that such an evangelistic thrust originates from a certain doctrine of the last things, the reality of judgment, the urgency of the gospel, the need for regeneration, the lostness of humanity, and a belief in preaching. All of those motivations are true and right concerns and ought to be decisive in their own way. Yet our theology of mission does not begin here. A true theology of mission arises from a true doctrine of God.

The Missio Dei: The phrase just means ‘the sending of God’ and it means this: From eternity the Father has always sent forth His Son who is Himself the shining out of the Father’s glory. God’s very being is as a sending God, even before the world began. Sending (i.e. ‘mission’) is therefore not just an action that God wills or a response to the world. It is the nature of His eternal life.

Because our God is Trinity there is not a divine life that then decides mission is a good idea. It’s not so much that God enjoys a life of eternal beatitude, unity, and worship and then wills to speak or to shine or to send. Rather, those things find expression as He speaks, shines, and sends. God’s life of unity and worship is a missionary life – one of out-going, spreading goodness. God Himself is a missionary community.

This means that the origin of mission is not in human enthusiasm for outreach. It is not the keen evangelists who ‘get the ball rolling.’ Mission is the spreading goodness of God Himself as He determines to create, restore and bless in His Son and by the Spirit. We are never the initiators of mission. We are first spectators and beneficiaries of mission before we are ever participants.

Participating in the Missio Dei: We become participants when the Sent One adopts us by the Spirit into His own way of being. That is, Christ draws us into His own life of sent-ness for the salvation of the world. Before Christ ascended back to the Father He said to His disciples:

“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” And with that He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)

The church is the result of God’s mission. And more than this, the church is swept up by the Spirit into the purposes of the missio Dei. . . Christ’s ministry of reconciliation is to be continued by His Spirit-filled followers sent out into the world. The church is created by and carries forward God’s own mission (2 Cor. 5:18).

My assumption is that some of our congregations within the diocese are zealous for missionary activity; they qualify to be called 'sending churches.’ By this we mean that these churches are senders, and those full-time gospel workers who they support are considered to be the ‘missionaries’ – the sent ones. This mission is considered one activity among many that the church undertakes. Such congregations may seek to enlarge their “sending arrow” greatly. They may tirelessly champion missionary work, hold constant prayer meetings for the workers, schedule regular missions’ Sundays with special fundraising efforts. They may even have a missions or outreach committee with a significant budget to support the work.

Synod delegates and friends, as helpful as this may be, mission is not something the local church does. The church is not the sender of gospel witnesses. The church is the body that is sent. We are the missionaries – the church as a whole. Our very existence is an existence on mission, wherever we may be. We have our being as church in the commission which is laid upon the whole body to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Mission is not what we do, it is who we are.

As members of Christ’s missionary body, we find ourselves, wherever we are, as His ambassadors, God making His appeal through us (2 Cor 5:20). This is not a function that we resolve to undertake (whether poorly or eagerly), it is the very nature of our life together. And this means that mission is not one activity among many. It is not one line in the budget, or one committee among others. It is the coordinating purpose for all that we do as church.

This does not mean that all of church life becomes an endless round of guest services and evangelism training. But it does mean that every aspect of church life reflects its true nature as a witnessing community.

~ The Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon (PhD), Secretary General of the Anglican Communion

Wisdom for the Week

Weekly Wisdom Issue 14
"People in need almost never show up when we’re all caught up with everything and just looking for someone to serve. No, it’s generally at inopportune moments... That means you should manage your life so that you can be open and watching for divine interruptions God might bring your way this week, as he attracts people to you who need to be served in the name of Christ."

—Mark Mittleberg, Contagious Faith

One Good Recommendation

The quotation above comes from a helpful book I am currently reading called Contagious Faith: Discover Your Natural Style for Sharing Jesus with Others (Zondervan Reflective, 2021). Mittleberg is Executive Director of the Lee Strobel Center for Evangelism and Applied Apologetics at Colorado Christian University. This is a very accessible book and is based on the fundamental premise that we were all made to know and share God with others. Mittleberg describes five base “faith-sharing styles” to help us understand better how we are uniquely gifted to introduce others to Christ.

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