The crisis of the church in our age is none other than a crisis of mission.
How we understand and practice mission is at the center of all of our questions about how we talk about the church and how we perceive our relationship with our neighbors. Our confusion about worship practices, our ambivalence about authority, our problems with reading scripture, our malaise about the competing moralities of our cultures, our fear of suffering, our surprising incertitude about what it means to be a church member and our ongoing struggle with nominal Christianity—none of these (or any other currently critical issue) will find their resolution without surer grounding in the practice and understanding of mission.
I’m convinced of this because none of these can be resolved on our own terms. None may be resolved apart from God. And “mission” is the precise place where we meet God, or better, where God comes to meet us.
The fruitful understanding of mission we need doesn’t begin with an idea of “our” mission. It comes with the understanding that God has a mission. Everything we know of God is a result of God’s pursuit of the divine mission—God’s desire to fill the world with justice, righteousness, and life. It’s a result of the Son’s incarnational mission, and the ongoing mission of the Holy Spirit. If we know anything of God, it’s because the Son and the Spirit were sent to invite us into God’s own life, and it’s because that same Spirit and Son formed a people in the world, and it’s because that same Son and Spirit have sent that people into the world to draw others into God’s life. All of this testifies to the initiative of God—God acts, because God desires something in the world. God has a mission.
Everything true about our faith, and indeed, our very being, grows out of this reality—that God has a mission. Every confusion we have about our religious lives stems from confusion about what, exactly, God’s mission is, and what it means for us to receive and to participate in that mission. All the impasses in our spiritual growth and all the gaps that have become problematic between aspects of our faith and other dimensions of our lives; each one is created by a stunted sense of God’s mission in the world. Each text that confounds us does so because we have yet to grasp what God might be working to do in and through that text; its relationship to God’s mission.
Speaking from my life in the church at Cedar Lane, there will probably always be things that we label “missions”, because we have no other, more particular language to use when we think of places like Arequipa; places where it feels that the entire extent of our connection to that place is our participation in the mission of God. In reality, this doesn’t make those places unique in comparison to the rest of our lives. They aren’t different in kind—our relationship to them is only simplified, clarified.
The truth is, this is the reality here at Tullahoma, too. There are not many, many things. There are only the many, many facets of the one thing: our participation in the will of God. Mission is not a piece of the puzzle; it is the whole picture. There is only the mission of God for the world. The call to share in that mission is not for the sake of a holy corner of our lives, but for the whole of our being.
Our response to this call is what defines us. It is what shapes us, and forms within us the capacity to follow God faithfully in the midst of any of the crises of our age. It is what leads us into the age to come, where God’s mission will be finally fulfilled.