This is a post I wrote for Slant33 and re-post now with permission.
In his 2006 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, Bono referred to a
spiritual leader to whom he made constant requests for prayers and
blessings on behalf of his works of justice around the world. Bono
declared, “This wise man asked me to stop. He said, ‘Stop asking God to
bless what you’re doing. Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s
So what is God doing? What is God’s mission? The term missio dei (mission of God) implies that God has a purposeful plan. Karl Barth emphasized the reality that God is at work, actio dei (the action of God). We often think of mission when we discuss the mission and activity of God, which, unfortunately, is so enmeshed in a Western mindset of saving the heathen. The script of ministry mixed with colonial ambitions has wreaked havoc throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Middle East, and Asia.
The mission of God must be understood by the church to be much more than soteriological concerns of the church to get people saved. God’s mission is much broader than expansion of the church. No doubt, the church is called to participate directly in God’s mission and activity. However, the activity and mission of God extend beyond the life of the church. God’s mission doesn’t exist because of the church; the church exists because of God’s mission. God’s work in the world has many participants beyond the church. The church must do a better job of bearing witness to the reality that others are participating in God’s mission, even those participants who may not even be aware of their cooperation with God’s activity.
The mission of God also must be understood as an attribute of the triune God. The Western church theological focus has been on “sentness”—the Father sending the Son, the Father and Son sending the Holy Spirit, and the Father, Son, and Spirit sending the church. To grasp the beauty of our triune God in relation to the mission of God, we must recover the Eastern Church Trinitarian emphasis on God’s radical communality and the movement toward restoration and shalom. We are being invited to participate in God’s mission and activity through our triune God’s perichoretic activity of relational and complete restoration.
As followers of Jesus, we must see our roles within our church communities to participate fully and passionately in God’s overarching mission with the eschatological hope of the absolute reign of God and the restoration of all things. When our future meets God’s eschatological reality, what will this new earth and new world be like? When God’s mission is complete, when God’s reign is on earth as it is in heaven, what will that look like? What is our hope?
To answer this, we must focus on Jesus Christ. The best way for us to understand the manifestation of missio dei is to see it Christo-centrically. Through God’s special revelation—Jesus Christ—we are restored and reconciled to God, to ourselves, to others, and to the entire creation. Not only are we redeemed through Jesus Christ’s salvific work but also all things—including all creation groaning for restoration—will be made new.
Through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate plan and purpose for his entire creation was made manifest and was accomplished in an already/not-yet reality. With Christ as the first fruit, we believe there will be resurrection. There will be healing and peace among people. There will be justice for all. No more hunger, suffering, and death. There will be a return of shalom.
We must broaden the vision of our young people to understand that they are being invited to cooperate with God’s mission. We are co-agents in God’s restorative work. We are Jesus’ followers engaged in God’s missional activity; we are his friends and co-laborers. This message is so much more compelling for young people to give their lives to. Focusing primarily on getting young people saved so they can go to heaven when they die is insufficient to ignite the imagination of this generation to order their lives in abandonment to God’s entire, encompassing, restorative mission.
We must engage in Christian formation of young people that leads to a more robust understanding of God’s overarching mission and activity throughout all creation. This understanding must involve a proper view of the church’s role within this mission as truly unique and special because God planned it that way. But they must also have the spiritual maturity to discern that God’s mission is greater than being bound exclusively within the scope of the church. We must know when to point to those outside the church and to activities outside the church (even in other religions) and bear witness to God’s mission and activity by proclaiming, “There it is.”