The Church in the West has got itself a little confused. It's nothing intentional, but it all centers on our view, our understanding of, mission. And here, now, I want to open up the issues and settle the confusion, and misunderstanding, once and for all. I hope, anyway.
Last summer, I was in Riga speaking at a church planting event. I had been asked to speak about Missional Church. As a church planter, leading a church plant in Tallinn, having moved from St Petersburg, I guess this was a logical subject to be asked to speak about. Not that I am an expert!
But as I sat down to write up my notes for the talk, I couldn't get away from a question that needed to be answered before anything else - what is mission?
If we are to talk about missional churches, then we'd better understand what we define as mission.
Now, the week I sat down to prepare, a few quotes appeared on Facebook talking about mission! And we'll get to those in a moment.
Firstly, though, we can all agree on this quote about mission:
"Mission exists because worship doesn't" (John Piper)
Regardless of what we define mission as, we can certainly all agree on this. The only issue is, it still doesn't tell us what mission is!
Now, as it happens, the same week I was reviewing my notes for the talk in Riga, another quote was shared on Facebook, from the same man, also talking about mission. It said, that in relation to mission, you can be:
"A goer, a sender, or disobedient"
Now, I do not want to take the overall quote out of context (so am stating nothing against the speaker) but do want to argue that this thinking, which is very prevalent in the Western church, is not very helpful.
Let's take the chair example - the black chair represents the church, and the white one represents mission. So, if two people are in church, and one sends the other 'out' on mission, we have the definition to the above quote - a goer, and a sender. The church even has a name for the person that gets sent out - Missionary. My challenge is though, that this is not a helpful understanding of what mission actually is, or where it takes place. You see, still looking at the picture, we are left with Church OR Mission. There is a separation, a divide between the two. It's as if you have to choose between the two - to be a church goer, or a missionary.
Because of the issues it creates, I will state again - I do not agree with this definition of mission.
So here is mine:
"Mission is not geographical, its a mindset."
For us to start to understand what mission is, we need to understand that it starts in our head, not 'over there.' You don't need to GO to be on mission, you just need to THINK. You are already on mission! Sometimes, that also requires you to go somewhere different.
Another good quote I heard, actually last week (I don't know who originally said it!), was:
"You are either a missionary or the mission field."
PJ Smyth, a guy I respect hugely, who leads a large church in Jo-burg, South Africa, said:
"The Church was formed BY mission FOR mission, therefore mission should significantly shape the way we do church."
So what am I drawing from all this? Mission is the great joy of the local church. I didn't 'become' a missionary when I moved away from the UK in 2008 and arrived in Russia as part of a church planting team. I didn't 'become' a missionary throughout our nearly four years in St Petersburg, working with a wide range of people including orphans. I didn't 'become' a missionary when I moved my family to Estonia to lead a church plant team in Tallinn. I actually have never called myself a missionary! Yes, a church planter. But I'm a normal, average Christian, following the call God has on my life. I was on mission in Stockport, where we moved from to plant in Russia, and we've been on mission ever since.
Church is mission. That's what it means, and why we are on the earth.
Now, don't get me wrong - I think it's great that churches send out missionaries all around the world. What I don't like, and have seen, is the local church defining it's 'mission' focus by saying "look, we've sent two families out to Africa" but fail to see the mission on their doorstep. I also find it to be destructive to those 'left' behind, the ones that can't 'go' because of other commitments - be it family, sickness, debts...anything really.
It's calling that takes someone to another city or nation, not mission. Mission needs to, and must happen, everywhere! The Bible says that, if you love God and are in a local church, then you are a missionary (to use that same word we've already used). You are already amazing placed in your own mission field. Friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, fellow students. No one has a better relationship to these people than you do.
The only real use for the title 'missionary' that I see is actually outside the church, and even then, maybe to a set few generations. My mum, for example, who is a pensioner, explains what we do to her friends by calling us missionaries in Estonia. For them, it's clearer than church planters. They understand it from their generational background.
But within the church, because of the danger of separation that I've explained above, I think it's not as helpful (unless it's being used to describe everybody).
We can't feed this divide between the two any more. If the gospel is truly to reach the whole world, we need every church member, every attender, to know their role in mission. It's not for the 'elite' - far from it!
Honour those that have moved overseas, pray for them - absolutely! I'm not saying for one minute that your church shouldn't share news from missionaries who live in other parts of the world. I just challenge churches to make sure mission is always happening at home base as well. It will actually fuel those that get sent from the local church to reach nations.
Large churches, I know, have 'Mission Departments'. I'd recommend changing the name - you don't want to suggest this is the one part of the church where mission happens, and the worship, children's and preaching department isn't!
And once we understand what mission is, planting missional churches becomes a lot easier.
How has this thinking shaped your life and the life of your church?
Who do you see as your mission field - who has God put around you?