God has formed four core convictions in me about the mission of the church (both locally and globally) over the past few years. This list is not exhaustive, but for me they are non-negotiable.
Core Conviction No. 1: We don’t have a mission; God does and invites us to join him.
This is often said, but it is really hard to live this way. It is especially difficult in the Western world because we are used to making things happen. We have the money, education and skillsets, and sometimes think that’s enough.
It is ironic and troubling that I have had conversations with Christians who are doing good work but who don’t know how what they do is different from a nonfaith person who is doing similar work.
If they don’t know what the difference is, then maybe the work they are doing is not distinctively Christ-centered.
We need to keep asking questions, such as, “What does it mean to run a food security project in the name of Jesus?” and “What does it mean to support people with AIDS, in the name of Jesus?”
These aren’t easy questions to answer, but we need to keep letting the questions haunt us.
Similarly, we need to continue asking questions, such as, “What does it mean to be the church in the midst of civil conflict?” and “What does it mean to preach about and share God’s love when our community is filled with refugees?”
God’s mission includes the healing of all of creation: broken spirits, relationships, bodies, societies, families, economies – the whole thing.
Core Conviction No. 2: God’s mission is about the King establishing the kingdom.
Some people are really into the King; they want people to come into relationship with Jesus. So do I.
Other people are really into the kingdom; they seek the transformation that the King brings to economic and social and family relationships. I want that, too.
But you can’t have one without the other. A kingdom doesn’t exist unless there’s a king, and a king is not a king without a kingdom.
For Christians to seek justice and social transformation without locating them in relationship with Jesus is to seek a type of self-centered individualistic justice that is arbitrary and ideological, and too focused on the short lifespan we have on earth.
Conversely, to seek relationship with Jesus without also caring about what he cares about is to use salvation as an exit strategy from the creation that Jesus is redeeming, and is too focused on the lifespan we will have in eternity.
Core Conviction No. 3: Mission needs to flow out of a vision of God, not a vision of the world.
Proverbs 29:18 is often misused. The “without a vision, the people perish” phrasing is from the King James Version and has been used in too many presentations to which I’ve been subjected to that talk about the need for organizations to have vision.
That is not what this verse is saying. Contemporary translations, such as the New International Version, render it more accurately: “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint.”
Revelation is about the revealing of God. So, we could say this: Without a vision of God, people perish. What we do flows out of the kind of God we see.
Isaiah 6:9 is the story of Isaiah seeing God. The prophet sees God’s might and power, recognizes his sin, is forgiven and cleansed, and then deployed into mission. The vision of God we see shapes the kind of work we do.
Similarly, the “Acts of the Apostles” flowed out of their time with Jesus. What they did was an extension of Jesus’ ministry.
Mission does not begin with a problem analysis or needs assessment. Too much Christian mission is problem-centered instead of God-centered. The problem with being problem-centered is we end up being part of the problem. We end up tired or fatalistic or cynical or angry or listless or mediocre.
But when we live in an ongoing encounter with God, the problems aren’t diminished but they are put into perspective.
Surely the end game God is working toward is more than a “lack of problems.” We are not working toward an absence; we are working toward a presence: the presence of God, the kingdom of God, shalom, abundant life.
Core Conviction No. 4: Mission flows out of joy and hope, not out of a desperate attempt to fix a decaying world.
Mission flows out of worship, which reminds us that the world is not a problem to be fixed. It is God’s creation that he is redeeming and making new.
We are invited to join in God’s activity, which includes the confronting of evil, the subverting of injustice and the redemption of all things.
Too much Christian work is compulsive and reactive, rooted in anxiety and anger instead of rooted in the peace and joy that is the fruit of the Spirit.
We need to pay attention to our internal energies – to the things inside us that drive us.
These core convictions are not rocket science, and they are not new. But I do think that if every church and Christian agency could get these key things “right,” we would be on the right path.
Sam Chaise is ending his term as executive director of Canadian Baptist Ministries and is looking to see what God has in store for the next chapter of the journey. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Cut to the Chaise, as a two-part series. It is used with permission. His future writings can be found on his blog, I Am Sam, and you can follow him on Twitter @sam_chaise.