Churches often use the terms mission, commission, missional and missionary. While the words are related, we need to know the difference between missional and missionary as we participate in the Great Commission.
The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus commissioning the 11 disciples. Have you ever noticed that Matthew begins his Gospel in a similar fashion that he ends it? In the first chapter we find the angel of the Lord telling Mary that Jesus was being sent to be the Savior. He is the missio dei (mission of God). Then, at the end of Matthew we find that Jesus, by sending the 11 and the church, is inviting (sending) us to participate in that mission. (For more on this, see Rick Shallenberger’s article “Missio Dei.”)
The Gospel of John brings further clarity to this concept, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). Our understanding of mission lies solely on who God is. He is a missionary God who has always been sending. He is the one who was sent by the Father to restore, redeem and reconcile humanity to himself. As stated by missiologist Christopher J. H. Wright, “It is not so much that God has a mission for His church in the world, but that God has a church for His mission in the world” (The Mission of God, 62).
The praxis of missio dei revolves around Jesus—he is the posture—the reference point—for our participating in mission. The mission is to make disciples—and I believe that disciple-making has a lot more to do with relationships than information. It is often said that the incarnational model of Jesus for disciple-making is life-on-life, sharing life with each other and carrying our burdens in unity with Jesus. If this is true, then we must be willing to go deeper and share our lives with those who Jesus has called us to disciple.
With this understanding, it is crucial for us to make a distinction between the different environments in which we do mission—both individually and corporately. I like to think of mission in the following two ways:
Missionary environments: a missionary environment is one where there is a great culture divide. There could be language barriers and drastically different life rhythms. People live and act different—it’s a crossover space that requires drastic change.
While most of us think of missionary environments as going to do mission in a foreign land, we can find ourselves in missionary environments in our own back yards. I am often reminded of the most difficult and frightening funeral I had to perform. It was for an 18-year-old young man who was viciously murdered by gang violence. He had a loose affiliation with a gang and came from a family with that sort of history. It was difficult because I had the privilege to journey with him as Jesus was transforming his heart, but it was frightening because I had never been in the same space with so many gang members as I was that day. As the clergy doing the funeral, I was made aware that LAPD had an undercover presence in the crowd. This knowledge did not put me at ease—on the contrary—I became more nervous. This was not the only funeral that I had to be a part of. A couple of years later I was doing another funeral for another young man. Soon after, I figured out that I was in a missionary environment where I was not willing to share life, and therefore disciple-making was hindered. It was not a missionary field I was being called to.
Not many are called to domestic missionary environments. If disciple-making is truly life-on-life, then we must ask ourselves if we are willing to share life with those who have severe addictions, those without homes (homeless), those involved in a gang life? These tend to be crossover environments that require calling and giftedness. Please don’t misunderstand the point that I am making. God is for all, but we have all been gifted differently.
Missional environments: this is discerning Jesus movements in our everyday spaces and engaging in those movements. It is activating the missional mind, heart, and hands for gospel proclamation and demonstration in everyday life. In living missionally, we purposely create missional spaces where sharing life can occur, and discipleship can flourish.
We all live in missional environments in the everyday rhythms of our lives. Most of us travel daily to a workplace, a school, a grocery store or a similar environment where we engage people in a marketplace-type setting. Some of us like to visit what are called third spaces—like a coffee shop—where we hang out or get some work done. These become part of our life rhythms. In these environments the Holy Spirit often creates opportunities for us to go into deeper conversations. We tend to befriend people with whom we share a lot in common; as conversations and relationships go deeper, we share life. It is easier to become more intentional in these environments. We can even create intentional spaces for missional living. Shared interests—like playing sports and creating book clubs—provide space where life sharing can go deeper.
I believe we need to give thought to these concepts as we plan outreach for our congregations. I would rather mobilize my congregation to sponsor financially and participate with a kid’s soccer team in my local park than participate and sponsor a prison ministry. When we plan mission, we want to be sure we are aligning our values and our calling and we are making connections back to the local church – the body of Christ where people can be discipled. Church leadership carries the responsibility to create spaces for missional living for the church body; in doing so, it is healthy to consider our posture in the love venue and what kind of missional environments Jesus has already created for our participation.—Heber Ticas, GCI pastor, Superintendent of South (Latin) America and Church Multiplication coordinator.