This began life as an essay I wrote for post-ordination training.
Typically 'mission' is understood as an activity that the church undertakes. On this understanding, the church, alongside its other duties, is also a sender and supporter of gospel workers.
In this paradigm a church may seek to enlarge their "sending arrow" greatly. They may tirelessly champion missionary work, hold constant prayer meetings for overseas workers, schedule regular missions' Sundays with special fundraising efforts. They could receive constant visits and prayer-letters from missionaries. They may even have a missions or outreach committee with a significant budget to support the work. Such churches may be used wonderfully by the Lord. And they would undoubtedly gain a reputation for being a 'sending church'.
But what should we make of this?
Certainly such an ethos is far superior to the sleepy church that thinks of nothing but maintaining its own buildings and ageing congregation. We might think - better to have one arrow among many than none at all! And that would be true.
Yet even such an activist church has missed something foundational to a theology of mission. Namely this: Mission is not something the local church does. Church is not the sender of gospel witnesses. The church is the body that is sent.
We are the missionaries - the church as a whole. Our very existence is an existence on mission. We have our being as church in the commission which is laid upon the whole body to be Christ's witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Mission is not what we do, it is who we are.
As a friend from Crosslinks recently remarked, the ultimate missionary movement is not "West to the rest" nor is it "The rest to the west." The ultimate missionary movement is always Heaven to Earth. We are not senders so much as sent. As members of Christ's missionary body we find ourselves, wherever we are, as His ambassadors, God making His appeal through us. This is not a function that we resolve to undertake (whether poorly or eagerly), it is the very nature of our life together.
Such thinking is radical, yet it is the necessary outcome of a theology of mission grounded in the Missio Dei.
More on this in the next post...