We often think of mission as something that happens “over there.” In a sense, this is not a bad definition. God does, after all, call missionaries to take the gospel to far-away places, and it is our privilege to support missionaries in this endeavor. But the definition can’t stop there. No, it must extend far past the work of the few to the work of the many. Mission is the vocation of the whole church, not just a segment of it. But even this understanding of mission is not grand enough. A dynamic, full-bodied understanding of mission must reach past the few to the many and then even to God himself.
The theological parlance for this wider missional understanding is found in the term Missio Dei (Latin for “Mission of God”), and this shift in focus from us to God is significant. As Jenson and Wilhite note in their book The Church, “This is not a mission from God, but the mission of God. Where the first emphasizes divine sponsorship of our program … the second emphasizes a divine program in which we graciously have been included.” God is on the move, and we are caught up in his movement.
So just how are God’s people caught up in God’s mission? I would suggest two ways. First, we are the recipients of God’s mission. This is seen clearly in our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. At one time, we were estranged from God because of our sin, but God has reconciled us to himself in Christ. Not only this, he now makes us new as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit and walk in the ways of the kingdom. We are first recipients of God’s mission because he saves us!
Second, we become instruments of God’s mission. Like Paul, who called himself Christ’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20), we have become witnesses to God’s saving action in the world. At times we are given opportunity to speak the message of salvation to those around us. Always, though, we are called to live the message. As Saint Francis of Assisi reportedly said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” As Evangelicals and Baptists, we believe that words are very often necessary. After all, “faith comes from hearing the message.” (Romans 10:17; NIV) At the same time, the quote above calls our attention to an important truth: the spoken word of the gospel should not be divorced from the lived life of the gospel. In an importance sense, our lives are sermons in themselves! How is this so? Because God is working in us, transforming us through the work of the Holy Spirit and leading us in the ways of the kingdom. And as he does, our transformed lives become signs to those around us of what God is doing in the world!
Of course, being an instrument of God’s mission can be intimidating. After all, we’re not perfect and often fall short of the mark. But perfection isn’t the point. Rather, responsive obedience to God’s leading and working is the key, and here is where things get interesting. As we welcome God’s work into our lives and are made new, we continue to be recipients of God’s mission, and our continued reception forms us into useful instruments of the same mission. We receive and further the mission of God, and it turns out that these roles are more intertwined than we may have thought. For our formation into the image of Christ has a missional aspect in itself, and as we walk with God, we are caught up into his beautiful movement toward the world.