For a very long time, Christians said, “The Church has a mission.” They believed it so firmly that they sought to build bigger buildings and better programs to have more effective mission. The local church, or so it was assumed, would be the springboard to reach the world. Build a church, attract people to it, make them converts/members, select a few to be trained for missionary work, and send them out.
More recently, some Christians have said, “The Church doesn’t have a mission, the mission has a church.” This fundamental paradigm shift, ideologically more appealing to me, has made great strides towards a better understanding of the interplay between mission and church. Mission is rooted in God’s identity. He is a missionary God. Jesus is the embodiment of that mission. Jesus identifies Himself as being sent more than forty times in the gospel of John. Near the end of the gospel of John, He says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). We join and already moving God on His mission. The problems with this particular variation are that it’s a bit difficult to explain, even more difficult to put into practice, and may be perceived as disruptive by long standing institutions.
In the video below (Please watch it. It’s only 2 minutes) Stanley Hauerwas says, “The church doesn’t have a mission, the church is mission.”
Hauerwas’ variation only slightly changes the second as to words, but profoundly changes both implications and applications. Hauerwas says that “Mission is constitutive to the Christians’ very being.” In other words, the Christian is constituted from mission, mission is essential to Christian existence, and any Christian growth, personal or corporate (Church), is dependent on mission. To use modern vernacular, the Church ‘self-identifies’ by mission. More simply, ‘being’ on mission is ‘being’ church. No mission, no church.
Which of the 3 do you think is the closest to your view? Why?