2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

Biblical Seminary’s tagline says that we are “following Jesus into the world.” It indicates that we desire to participate in God’s mission rather than our own agenda. While this thinking is not new, we are suggesting that it is easy to confuse our mission with God’s mission. We are not alone with this thinking. The Cape Town Commitment also expresses the need to connect theological education to the mission of the church and the mission of the church to that of God’s mission,

The mission of the church on earth is to serve the mission of God, and the mission of theological education is to strengthen and accompany the mission of the Church.

But what is God’s mission?

Ever thought about this question before? Maybe you asked it in a different manner. “What is God really up to?” “What is the whole purpose of this life, this world?” We often ask this during difficult times but of course with less words.  Really!? There’s more, right????

But in less stressed times, what would we say is God’s mission?

  • To save the lost?
  • To get glory?
  • To establish his eternal kingdom?
  • To make himself known?

In Let the Nations Be Glad John Piper argues that glory and worship of God is the prime mission, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t” (p. 15).  Worship of God indeed seems to subsume the other bullet points. God makes himself known by saving the lost and establishes his kingdom to receive the worship he is due.

True. Very true. But, I don’t believe it captures the totality of God’s mission.  Richard Starcher, in a recently published article in Evangelical Missions Quarterly (October 2012), argues, “Mission is about relationship.”  Or, as my colleague Todd Mangum puts it, mission is about redemptive relationships, about redeeming relationships.

God’s mission is redeeming relationships

2 Corinthians 5:11-21 and John 17 remind us of God’s mission to redeem and reconcile broken relationships. We have been reconciled to God and are now on mission to participate in the reconciling of others to God. Jesus prays to the Father about the deep connection between Father and Son and the connection all believers have as a result of that relationship.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.(v 20-22).    

Oh, and notice throughout John 17 that there is a focus on glory. Jesus is glorified. The Father is glorified. But note this: this glory (grace, honor?) is given on to us.

Who cares?

Okay, some readers might wonder what all the fuss is about in talking about relationships. Here’s where Richard Starcher helps us again. The whole point of his essay, “How (Not) to Collaborate with a Majority World Church,” is to identify how we Western Christians sometimes reveal that we think God’s mission is to accomplish tasks more than to restore relationships. He tells the story about a time he brought together a group of Africans to strategize how to equip church leaders in refugee camps. He had a goal: define the need, identify resources, act, and evaluate. He came to realize that while his enlightenment focus might prioritize efficiency, it did nothing to help build trusting and redemptive relationships. Even the wise “plan” to create self-supporting, self-propagating indigenous ministries can promote a policy over authentic, collaborative relationships. As it turns out for Starcher, the Africans with whom he built relationships weren’t all that uncomfortable with a semblance of a parent/child relationship between them. Starcher later muses, “I wondered if my insistence on not allowing our relationship to be described in paternalistic terms was actually an instance of my acting in a self-contradictory, paternalistic manner” (p. 422). The only way he could work through this conundrum was to prioritize the relationship building times in order to reach true collaboration.

The mission of God is all about redemptive relationships, between God and his image-bearers and between enculturated, broken communities.     
 

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. Recently, they started the Global Trauma Recovery Institute. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/philip-monroe

Comments 

 
+1 #2 Philip Monroe 2012-11-04 20:33
Todd, not only are relationships the phenomenon that that Gospel speaks into...it is the medium by which the Gospel is delivered as well. I think of a pastor's line that sticks with me: "We are the plan."
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+1 #1 R. Todd Mangum 2012-11-04 13:02
Great piece, Phil. And I'd say that even if I didn't get a shout out. . . . :-)

The older I get, the more I recognize that relationships are inherently "inefficient." And, because we are broken, wounded people (not to mention sinful), they're hard work and carry pain even with the pleasure of them, too. This is the phenomenon that the gospel speaks into. . .
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