(HT Tall Skinny Kiwi on this image) A few weeks ago I was at Biblical Seminary teaching in their D Min program in Missional Leadership. It’s a great place – good people – and it was a highly charged class. In the class, I proposed a rubric for understanding the cultural shifts and theological assumptions that shape a church’s formation into Mission. I put forth 4 fundamental “building blocks” for shaping a church into Mission. They are theological/cultural ideas. They are: 1.) The Church as part of Missio Dei, 2.) The Church’s Incarnational Engagement in the world , 3.) The Church as Witness, and 4.) The Church in Post Christendom. They are already familiar ideas to most of us who read missional literature. The student’s challenge was to understand their own church ministry in these terms and propose a plan on leading their ministries/churches into a missional engagment in their context (If you’re interested in pursuing this kind of theological/cultural study see here). The class gave me a chance to revise and further engage the implications of these key ideas. In the next four posts I’ll summarize each of the 4 ideas and how I think they need to be further examined. I’m looking for dialogue as to how these ideas have impacted the way you think about/ lead church. Join me won’t you? Here’s the first idea: missio Dei.
Jesus said to them, “As the father has sent me, so send I you.” When He had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Recieve ye the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgivene them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20: 21-23.
Missio Dei – translated God’s Mission – communicates the now common idea that God is a missionary God, a sending God and that the church is an extension of the Trinitarian God’s mission in the world. As David Bosch famously wrote, “Mission [is] understood as being derived from the very nature of God. It is thus put in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity, not of ecclesiology or soteriology. The classical doctrine of the missio Dei as God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit [is] expanded to include yet another ‘movement’: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world” (Transforming Mission, .390). In this classic statement, the church is redefined from “having a mission” to being part of God’s Trinitarian mission in the world. Missio Dei is important because it recovers the doctrine of the Trinity for the ways we see God at work in life and mission in the world. As Craig Van Gelder has said, when we lost the Trinity, it meant “losing the primary way Christians envision God’s active presence and engagement with the world , not only in the past, but in the present and future.”
The doctrine of missio Dei changes the way we understand the church’s identity, its very sociality, its reason for being. Mission is no longer something we Christians do as part of our duty as members of the church. It is something God is doing of which we are invited to participate in. The harvest is plentiful, God is already bringing it to fruition, yet the laborers are few, we must participate. (Luke 10).
The Potential Pitfalls
Many years have passed since missio Dei achieved prominence in the IMC meetings in 1952 and the writings of people like Bosch and Moltmann. Its re-shaping of the church’s identity has been profound. Looking back however, over the recent 15,20 years of missional literature, there have been two potential pitfalls. To over simplify, there has been the tendency to a.) “backload” the missio into the sending of the Son, and/or b.) “frontload” the missio into the Spirit’s work in the world. The modus operandi of the church then CAN become either a.) the following of a “personal Jesus” (or even “a Wild Messiah”) as individuals into mission (Hirsch and Frost) or b.) the joining of individuals in with justice movements in the world (Moltmann?). In either case there is the possibility that the church gets dispersed out of existence losing the wherewithal for political formation. With a.) the church becomes a post facto work after individuals have been working in a context, and in b.) the voluntarist church gets dispersed into the world’s struggle for justice. Now admittedly, this is less of a problem as long as there is already a church from which to recruit individuals for this missional involvement. As long as there is a church, individuals will go forth into mission. As the church diminishes however in the West, the problem becomes more acute, where will these individuals/or groups come from that follow the Wild Messiah or enter justice movements in the world without the political formation of the church which shapes these individuals into the church as mission?
This is admittedly controversial. For there are those who suggest that to argue any political entity called the church in Mission, is to devolve back into the church for church’s sake, the church as territorial, the church as fighting for its continued institutional survival. I don’t think so. I suggest the church as a place for the formation of a people is integral to its participation in God’s Mission. What do you think? Need the church’s formation as a viable social way of life work against its participation in God’s mission. Why? Why not? How has missio Dei changed the way you lead church?