We live in an era where definitions have become extremely important. Definitions are important because our present culture encourages the adoption of a paradigm in which you create your own truth and reality. When everyone has their own ideas of truth, it becomes increasingly more difficult for one to explain their own thought processes, word choices and ideas with clarity in order to effectively communicate the intended meaning. When I say the word “church,” it is open to subjective interpretations unless I clearly define my intended use for the word. Even though I may think the word “church” is clear enough, others interpret the word according to their own beliefs and values. There is a culturally accepted breadth to that word, whether I am aware of or in agreement with that breadth or not. The end result is that unless I clearly define the word, I may not be communicating the thoughts and ideas I intend to communicate. I believe this is the precise dilemma we are facing when we look at two key concepts of Christendom: Worship and Mission. I find it alarming that two of the most summative words for the purpose of believers are often misunderstood or defined in ways that direct our attention away from their true Biblical intention. Worship is the mission of the church. John Piper reminds us that missions exist because worship doesn’t. (Piper: 11) Missions is not the goal of the church, worship is. However, even this most basic statement of purpose is disturbing to some and unmotivating to others because we have limited understanding of the true Biblical definition of worship or mission.
Recently, I was conversing with a group of pastors from various church backgrounds. In that discussion I noted that every time the word worship was used, it was referring to a congregational event – usually a portion of their church service that included the singing of songs. One pastor even stated that he believed, “We are spending way to much time in worship. We’ve got to cut back in order to make more time for the Word.” While this statement draws our attention to a common tension within the church, I find it more disturbing to note that a) the pastor wants to get worship over with and b) makes use of the word worship in a way that does not clearly represent its Biblical meaning. Worship (glorifying God) is the purpose of our very existence. Does it not then, seem alarming that we just want to get it over with? I realize he was referring to the song service, but his use of the word worship in his statement clearly illustrates the fact that many believers do not understand the word or concept at all. To complicate the issue, I’m not convinced that very many believers understand the fact that worship and mission are two sides of the same coin. The relationship between these two ideas is close and intimate. Worship is the mission of the church. Worship is not just an experience for the believer. It is always unto the glory of God. And what glorifies God most? When more and more of humanity are witnesses of His beauty and casting their affections toward Him. God is glorified when the diversity He created within the nations is reflected back to Him in praise. Therefore, when we talk about missions, even the reconciliation of man, we must realize that the aim of man’s salvation is God’s glory. We are reconciled to Him so that He receives the glory He deserves. My point here is that our understanding of the word worship must include the idea of missions. The converse is true as well: Our understanding of the word missions must include the idea of worship. It is this truth that provokes me to address the words together as the idea of missional worship, which could be defined as the act of glorifying God and intentionally inviting others to that lifestyle.
“I’m not called to missions!” Even working within a missions organization, I often come across people who confidently declare that “missions” has no role in their future. While I agree that not all are called to live cross-culturally as those who proclaim the gospel, there is a need within the church to recognize that all of us are called to be global Christians. We have to realize that God has always been about the nations and intends to spread His glory throughout the earth. Since this is on the heart of God, and we are called to be His friends, we should be willing to care about what is on the heart of our friend. One of my favorite passages that demonstrates what God cares about comes from the Psalms. Psalms 46:10 states, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted in the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” In recognizing God’s lordship (Be still and know that I am God…), we must come to the realization that the expression and intention of this lordship is not just for our personal comfort or experience. Rather, we must recognize His sovereign intention to see His lordship expressed throughout the whole earth. He has always had a heart for ALL nations to know Him and glorify His name. In stating that God’s intention is to reveal His glory in the whole earth, we cannot just simply cite isolated passages to support this thought. The implications of this concept are far too reaching to simply place it in a category of minor descriptions of God’s character. God’s heart for the nations is not just a part of scripture; it is the theme of the Bible in its entirety. To support this thought in brief, we can examine some of the major “Biblical covenants.” (Lockyer: 148) The Adamic Covenant as described in Gen. 1:28-30 reveals that when God blessed Adam, the blessing was given with the intention that Adam would “be fruitful and multiply…and fill the whole earth.” God’s blessing for one was intended to be spread throughout the world in order to bless all. Although Adam’s disobedience frustrated this covenant, the intention and mission of God is revealed. The Abrahamic Covenant further reveals God’s heart for the nations and His ultimate aim to be glorified in the whole earth. The first mention of this covenant can be found in Genesis 12:1-3:
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
In this passage, God is making a promise of blessing, but that blessing still had a purpose. God’s blessings are unto something: the fulfillment of His purpose to be glorified in the nations. All nations were meant to be blessed through the blessing God was giving to Abraham. A Biblical theme is being developed here. The theme God reveals through scripture is that His mission and purpose is to be exalted and glorified in the nations. Finally, as heirs of God’s Covenant of Grace, also referred to as the New Covenant, (mention of this covenant can be found in 2 Cor. 3:6, Heb. 6:13-20, 8:6-13, 9:16, 10:12-28, 13:20), we are blessed with the gift of God’s grace unto eternal life. We have been reconciled through the blood of Christ. However, many believers stop here. We stop at the blessing that ends in us (salvation for me), rather than recognize that God blesses us in order to be a blessing to the nations. Further examination of the God’s interaction with Israel, the Psalms, the prophets, the gospels and the epistles 2 reveal that God’s desire has been to glorify Himself in the nations. Now that we are called by His name, we are called to His mission. For this reason, believers should be compelled to closely examine God’s mandate to His children to “go” into all the earth. The Great Commission as stated in Matthew 28:19-20 says:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This commandment is a revelation of God’s heart for the whole earth. Further expressions of this commission can be found in Mark 15:16, Lk. 24:47, Acts 1:8 and Acts 13:47. In every instance, we are challenged to be vessels of God’s glory in the whole earth. The promises of the New Covenant are not meant just to be about me. I am blessed to be a blessing. If one is to struggle with the idea that our mandate to glorify God implies a certain selfishness about His character, then we have not come to the realization that we are most fulfilled and become the best “self’ we can possibly become when we walk according to our intended purposes at creation. Isa. 43:7 reminds us of our intended purpose: “…every one that is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory, whom I have formed, yea, whom I have made.” (emphasis mine) When we do exactly what we were created to do, then we are most satisfied and able to experience life as it was meant to be. Our service to God’s glory is ultimately to our benefit as well. Now, what does all this have to do with the definition of missions? In order for us to understand the word “missions,” we have to understand it in its Biblical context. I have set out to demonstrate the mission of God so that we can align our mission and purpose with His. I feel this is needed because the definition for the word “mission” within and without the church has become so broad that it has come to mean nothing. I was introduced to a phrase recently in which Stephen Neill says “When if everything is mission, nothing is mission.” (Neill: 81) With so much breadth, the word has lost its significance. My experience has often been the one of two extremes: More frequent is my observation that in an effort to feel like our personal vocation or lifestyle has validity, we call it “missions.,” whether it strategically attempts to bring God glory or not. The other extreme is when the definition becomes so narrow that we cast it solely upon those who live in a hut somewhere in “Ooga-Booga Land.” Even in the English language, the definitions for the word “mission” are diverse and can imply many things that could pertain to the church or even businesses. Since this word is used outside of theological contexts, its Biblical implications are often muddled. The result then is that when we use the word within the church, it often lacks true Biblical meaning. “Mission” is viewed purely in a cultural sense, rather than in relation to the timeless truths of scripture. Charles Van Engen defines mission in this way:
“God’s mission works primarily through the People of God intentionally crossing barriers from Church to non-church, faith to non-faith, to proclaim by word and deed the coming of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ through the Church’s participation in God’s mission of reconciling people to God, to themselves, to each other, and to the world and gathering them into the Church through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit with a view to the transformation of the world as a sign of the coming of the Kingdom in Jesus Christ.”
Although I am in agreement with the concepts of this definition, its complexity makes it difficult to grasp. The phrase I find most helpful in this definition however is “intentionally crossing barriers.” At first I struggled with Van Engen’s thoughts here because I was initially unable to draw a concrete correlation between this definition and scripture’s definition of mission. I don’t just want to accept some definition of mission as having authority if I don’t see it supported by God’s word. I believe our definition needs to match our Father’s. However, as I have demonstrated previously, the commonality of all passages relating to God’s mission is the idea of His supreme aim to glorify His name in all nations. The notion of God’s intentional desire for “all nations” requires “intentionally crossing barriers,” as Van Engen states. Additionally, the English word for missions comes from the word “miseo” (to send away). “Miseo” is the Latin form of the Greek word “apostolos” (from which we derive the word apostle) which also means “to send away.” The New Testament has taken a common Greek word from naval and commercial language and made it a technical term for a “messenger Jesus sent on a mission.” (Zodhiates: 238) There is an innate sense of “going to something outside our own culture” that must accompany the idea of missions from within the church.
What are we “crossing barriers” to do? We are called to the same mission that God clearly sets out to do within scripture: We are called to glorify his name and lead others into that lifestyle. Putting these two concepts together would result in the notion that Christian missions can be described as intentionally crossing barriers so that all nations will glorify His name. This then includes the traditional notions of preaching the gospel, extending mercy, and discipling believers. “Missions” then, is a call to all believers. It is the responsibility of every believer to make an effort to see the world as God does, and share the concerns that He has for all nations. This does not require that all believers “go,” although being a part of a missions organization makes me partial to the idea stated by Ion Keith-Faloner as quoted by Jeff Lewis: “While vast continents are shrouded in darkness…the burden of proof lies upon you to show that the circumstances in which God has place you were meant by God to keep you out of the foreign mission field.” (Lewis: 14)
So, even though I’m very favorable toward those called to “go,” there are other active roles that can be assumed by believers as senders, receivers, intercessors and networkers. We cannot be egocentric any longer and assume that the nations are the responsibility of the select few who say “yes” to going. We are all called to have an awareness and heart for the nations simply because God does. All believers must find their niche in world missions.