This coming Sunday is the last Sunday before we begin Lent. For the last four weeks, I have written on the theological understandings of faith, hope, love and evangelism. Today I am writing about something that is close to my heart and really encompasses all of these understandings, and that is mission.
Presbyterians are a reformed church. This means that at our core we have certain values which all lead back to a belief and faith in Jesus Christ. Without Christ as a central part of the church, our mission, and our call, we really have no purpose in existing. Anytime we place anything before our worship and celebration of Christ, we risk losing the essential understanding of what it means to be a reformed Christian. This includes our rules and guidelines, whether it is in the denomination or in the congregation.
Within the reformed church, the most important ways in which we respond to God’s mission in our world is through our actions (i.e. prayer, worship, learning, and service). I believe that it is through service that we really get into the depth of God’s mission for this world. This understanding of service comes from the notion that God has called us out of this world to be in relation to God, while simultaneously calling us into this world to work for justice and to propagate God’s mission. Karl Barth, the great 20th century theologian, talked about it in terms of Missio Dei, or the mission of God.
Karl Barth writes:
Thus the ministry of this people also takes place in the course, in the constantly changing stages and situations, of ongoing human history. And its ministry of witness, ordered in relation to that of Jesus Christ, is also both a ministry to God and a ministry to [people]; and a ministry to God in which it may serve [people]; and a ministry to [people] in which it may serve God; and therefore a ministry to the God who speaks to [people] in His Word, and to the [person] who is already called and now summoned to hear, proclaim and accept the Word of God. (IV.3.2 p.831)
As a church, Presbyterians are not called to be inwardly focused; rather, we are called to be part of God’s mission in this world, what I refer to as being a Missional Church. We are forever being called out of ourselves and into something more with the focus of propagating the mission of God. More than anything else, we must listen for the ways in which God is calling us to serve him, not the rule and institutions which we created to worship him.
In the early church, there was very little difference between mission, ministry, and service. In fact, they all come from the same word, diakonia, which is the root of our word "deacon." For Paul and the early church, the diakonia were given the charge, just as deacons are today, of service to God through their ministry. Thus, the goal and purpose of mission was more like the understanding found at the end of the gospel of Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Often this is summed up in the Greek word, oikoumene, which means "world" and is understood as "world mission."
Individuals are called by God into a missional life. This is a life that has a beginning but has no end. Once called into that life, the missionary is called to surrender their human life in order to live one that is focused on God.
Our mission and service always have to come back to God through Jesus Christ, and we must constantly challenge ourselves to answer both why and how we are serving God. I really like one sign that a church had in their narthex as you walked in: “Under the same management for 2,000 years.” We cannot forget that we are called to be the church, to be the body of Christ, by Christ and we are called to serve only one God, our God.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen