MISSIO DEI: THE SCOPE AND THE AGENTS OF MISSIO

Missio is not just for a few of us

When we think of missions, we tend to think in terms of a place and a time, the “10/40 window” for example. God does not think of it that way. He’s at it every day and everywhere because that is who he is. When we step out into our world, we are NOT going to a world where God is silent or inactive, or where He has left himself without witness.  We do not live in a desert.  We live in a garden where God is at work, where he is digging up the soil, and where He has already planted seeds of reconciliation with Himself. Think about it. Everywhere in Scripture, from the Garden of Eden on, we see God acting to fetch people back. It could be said that the whole Bible is the story of Man who hides and God who seeks.

When we think of missions, we also tend to think of a small, select group of followers of Jesus; the ones we call “missionaries”. But that’s not the totality of God’s missionary force. The entire Church is sent; more about that in the next chapter. But beyond that, the whole of Creation – the animate and the inanimate – is available to him as agents of his Missio.

I was World Team’s Director of Ministries for Haiti in 2010, the year of the Great Earthquake. In the aftermath of the quake, thousands turned to Christ. A Haitian pastor nailed this aspect of Missio when he said to me, “That earthquake was the greatest missionary God ever sent to Haiti.” Natural disasters, political upheavals, personal tragedies or triumphs, Jonah’s fish, his storm, his gourde plant his cutter-worm: each in turn serves as an envoy of God. And on top of it all, and at just the right moment, he sees to it that one of his disciples happens to be in the right place at the right time to frame and proclaim His message in human speech: “Be reconciled to God.”

MISSIO DEI: THE SENDINGNESS OF GOD

Missio does not belong to the Church. Rather, it is an attribute of God.

  • Missio means “to send with a purpose”. A more colorful word for it, and one that we use in daily life, is to fetch – “to go after something and bring it back.”
  • Dei tells us whose Missio it is. It is God’s Missio, from beginning to end.

Theology books usually class “Mission” under the heading of Ecclesiology. It is one of the things that the church is supposed to do. The concept of Missio, on the other hand, belongs to the Doctrine of God.

When we speak of Missio, we are not speaking of a task handed off by God to the Church. Rather, we are speaking of something that continually flows from God because of who and what He is. Missio is an attribute of God. Just as he is the Holy God, the Righteous God, the Loving God, the Faithful God, he is also the Sending God. We could call it “His Sendingness.” Every thing He touches or picks up, he puts to use by sending it with a Purpose, and that Purpose is to Reconcile the world to Himself:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” 2 Corinthians 5.17-20

Missio Dei: The Mission Is Not Ours

The mission agency with which I served has a very laudable vision of seeing the churches planted by its missionaries around the world become actively engaged in the global missionary enterprise.  The tagline used to describe this vision is “From everywhere to everywhere.”  And while it sounds exciting, I encountered a conceptual roadblock when trying to promote the idea in the countries where I served.  It had to do with the perceived meanings of the words “Missions” and “missionary”.

It is hard to believe that a mere word can be an impediment to people’s thinking but that really is the case. Let me explain.

It has become very difficult for people in countries where the North-American church has exerted a significant evangelistic effort for people to think of a “missionary” in any terms other than a white English-speaking foreigner.  They simply do not see themselves when they hear the word “missionary.”

  • For some, “Missions” has come to mean schools, hospitals, community development, and foreign money.  To fledgling churches in those countries, “Missions” means “We receive. You send.”
  • In our own minds we think of  “Missions” as something God has left up to us, and it’s up to us to figure out how to “finish the task” – either before the Lord comes back, or so that He will come back.  “Missions” is our burden – our “white man’s burden,” to borrow a phrase from Rudyard Kipling.
  • We think of “Missions” as just one of many things the church does, and  we have gone to work on the project with a will and determination. Of all the peoples of the world, we are the ones with the means, the know-how, and the vision.
  • We’ve turned Missions into a science (missiology). We’ve created corporations (mission agencies) to see that the job gets done in the most efficient way possible. We’ve entrusted the brunt of the task to a few heroes among us (the missionaries). Of course “ordinary Christians” have a role to play: they can pray, write to the missionaries, give to mission projects, and even go on workteams.

Essentially, the common view is that “Missions” is the task of the church,  particularly the American church.  But it is only one of its many tasks. It takes place far away. It is carried out by a specialized subset of Christians (I’ve often heard them called “God’s choicest servants) who are paid to do the task, and it costs a lot of money.

Sound cynical?  I apologize.

But I have stumbled on to an expression that might help us set aside these clichés and come much closer to the heart of a Biblical understanding of God’s mission in the world He created. That expression is Missio Dei.  Yes, it’s a Latin expression, but the concept it represents is not difficult to understand.

  • Missio means “to send with a purpose”. A more colorful word for it, and one that we use in daily life, is to fetch – “to go after something and bring it back.”
  • Dei tells us whose Missio it is. It is God’s Missio, from beginning to end.
  • Missio Dei It is nothing more than God’s fetching.

Now here’s the important part: It is not the Church’s Missio.  God did not entrust it to us.  He called us to join him in it.  It is God’s Missio, and the Church is only one agent of it.  There are many agents of God’s Missio.  Take for example the story of Jonah.  He was sent (Missio) to Nineveh but discovered he was not alone. Along the way he met God’s storm, God’s fish, God’s gourde vine, God’s cutter-worm, and God’s scorching wind. Every one of those were sent at exactly the right moment as agents of God’s Missio, which was not only to bring Nineveh to repentance, but also to bring repentance to Jonah, his wayward prophet.

Next up: Missio Dei: The Sendingness Of God