Grad school is a lot. With every new assignment, my mind is stretched in ways that make my head spin, my faith grow, and my husband wonder if I’m still sane.
I just wrapped up a final project for a course titled “Biblical Theology of Mission.” In my mind, this course was going to be cake. I’ve been working in the church/nonprofit/mission world for nearly ten years. My husband and I’s missional community for our church grew so rapidly in our city that we ended up as church planters. I’ve experienced so many wins and losses that my decade-long ministry timeline resembles the delivery room chart that measures a woman’s labor contractions. Biblical Theology of Mission?! Let’s do this.
As the course came to a close, our final reading assignment was “A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story”, a book written by Michael Goheen. THIS. BOOK. WRECKED. ME. I’m not talking wrecked like how the tears flow when your kid starts singing a worship song after you’ve told him or her to put on shoes for the tenth time and you’ve gone from Mary Poppins to full on Batman voice, then out of nowhere you’re a puddle on the floor praising Jesus for giving you this angel child. I’m talking wrecked like questioning everything you know to be true, shouting “AMEN!” every three paragraphs, and now wondering how on earth you’ve survived as a Christian up to this point.
Once I composed myself fromasking how many lives I’ve destroyed by getting mission all wrong, the HolySpirit interrupted my drama with a time-stopping thought: Is mission the focus?Or is it reconciliation?
Think about it.
Today’s church has a missiontheology that has been reduced to an ideology of doing good and outreachprojects where we share bible stories. Sometimes we go one step further to formsmall communities for studying Scripture and we strategize how to take theGospel all over the earth. We tell people to “live on mission” and train ourcongregations that every place God has us is our mission field, but what wemean is that every place is an opportunity to speak Jesus’ name and we shouldpat ourselves on the back for doing so.
We’ve come up with a thousandways to tell people about Jesus, but have we done our job in telling peopleabout the Imago Dei and their relationship to their Creator?
These concepts and strategies are important when informing our approach to the world outside those who know Jesus as Lord, but isn’t the grand metanarrative of the Scripture about the redemption of the world and reconciliation of all creation to its Creator? So now I must ask, should the focus move from living our lives as a mission to living our lives in pursuit of reconciliation?
When mission is the goal,projects and programs become the focus. But, when reconciliation is the goal,people become the focus.
The New Jerusalem ofRevelation 21 is not the culmination of a successful project or outreachprogram. The New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 is a symbolic vision of the worldreconciled to its Creator. The New Jerusalem is the image of God manifested inthe pinnacle of his creation – humanity in a sinless form living in harmonywith God and one another. The New Jerusalem is the fullness of reconciliationrealized.
Mission, as we have come to know it, is not bad, just often a misused term. Reconciliation is not better, just often forgotten as a necessity in mission because we live in a world that values measurable outcomes and reportable statistics. Mission trips, projects, and programs can be measured by attendance, baptisms, completion, and budgets. We feel good about checklists and timelines. We are comfortable with mission as it pertains to projects, programs, and outreach.
But, what if when the tripends, the project is finished, the dry sinner is now a wet one, we staycommitted to the spiritual development of people and seek reconciliation oftheir souls to their Creator? Perhaps, there is no separation between missionand reconciliation because mission is, or should be, about service ANDreconciliation.
Jesus spoke to the masses(events) but he also made breakfast for his disciples and sat with them afterthe resurrection to make sure they grasped what just happened and theimplications of it (reconciliation).
I suppose the proper questionto be asking is not “mission or reconciliation?” Rather, the question to beasked is, “what now?”
Stick with me as I try to answer that, too.