God’s mission, the church’s ministry
God has a mission. A church exists to encourage and equip people to participate in that mission. The work of participating in that mission is called ministry (or “service”). Ministry is conferred in baptism.
There was a time when the church had “missions” in distant places – Africa, the Arctic. The purpose of such missions was, more or less, to bring people up to the cultural and religious mark – to make them civilized (western) and Christian. The relationship between the local church and these missions was clear – local churches raised the resources to support distant missions.
As a child, I remember Jehovah’s Witnesses (often) and Mormons (once) coming to the door. I shared the general impression that they were outlandish and intrusive. Along with the Salvation Army, these were the only instances of local mission that I met in my early formation.
In 1991, South African missiologist David Bosch published Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. He argued that God initiates mission, and introduced the Latin tag “missio Dei” or “mission of God”. The missio Dei he defined as “God’s turning to the world in love” – God acting in the world for the sake of the world – and he invited the churches to think of ourselves as instruments in the hand of God for the mission God undertakes in the world.
The church exists to serve the missio Dei. It is called into being not as a new religion, but as a new humanity, oriented towards the purposes of God, and participating in God’s costly and courageous work of redemption. The object of that redemption (what Jack Biersdorf calls “healing of purpose”) is not simply individual souls, but the whole household of earth. Jesus’ work is the redemption of the world, and we who by baptism are grafted into his Body are called to participate in that work. We are partners with Jesus our brother in serving the world.
Between 1984 and 1990, the Anglican Consultative Council (the international Anglican body consisting of bishops, priests, and lay people) commissioned work on what became, in 1990, the “Five Marks of Mission”, the five key activities by which the church serves the missio Dei:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
One way of thinking of these marks of mission is in terms of kerygma (proclamation that illuminates the missio Dei) and diakonia (service that enacts the missio Dei). Our vocation as church is to discern what God is up to in the world, to talk about it, and to join in it. Mission does not begin with us, with our preferences and habits, but with God, at work in the world for its transformation and healing, who by our baptism has called us into that work. And while our part of it is local, and will bear the marks of our unique heritage and gifts, it is also catholic, that is, connected with others around the world who share with us the ministry conferred in baptism.