I have been looking forward to reading What Is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. The first chapter sets the stage for the book by defining what the word mission means, reflecting on the conversation regarding the concept “missional,” and stating what they do and do not desire to be the outcomes of their book.
Defining the word Mission
“Mission is the specific task or purpose which a person or group seeks to accomplish” (Kindle edition, Loc. 204).
“Mission is the specific task or purpose which a person or group seeks to accomplish, involving various modes of movement, be it sending or being sent, coming and going, descending and ascending, gathering by calling others to follow, or following.” (Andreas J. Köstenberger, The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples according to the Fourth Gospel: With Implications for the Fourth Gospel’s Purpose and the Mission of the Contemporary Church [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 199. Quoted by DeYoung and Gilbert, Loc. 333-37)
“We are convinced that if you ask most Christians, ‘What is the mission of the church?’ they will hear you asking, ‘What is the specific task or purpose that the church is sent into the world to accomplish?’ This is our working definition of mission and what we mean to ask with the title of this book” (Loc. 207-9).
I like the clarity of this definition. I think the concept of “mission” is clarified by thinking about “the mission-objective.” There may be many subordinate objectives in accomplishing the mission-objective but the overarching mission-objective is ultimate.
In a discussion in a 9marks interview the authors make a distinction between mission and purpose (see 38:50 in the interview). They make purpose broader and overarching all of the universe and God. So the purpose is to glorify God. The mission of the church is a specific task the group is sent to accomplish within the broader purpose of God and the universe. I don’t think the issue is the distinction between purpose and mission but defining the who of the purpose or the mission. I’d use them almost interchangeably. They do the same in the their using “specific task” and “purpose” interchangeably. Maybe they just forgot about this in the interview with Mark Dever.
Concerns with the discussion on “missional”
The authors rightly argue that “missional” can be used in ways that are helpful and unhelpful, true and untrue. Some mean by the word organizing the church to proclaim the gospel and make disciples while others mean social justice, doing good works, transforming the culture, loving your neighbor, or all of the above. They don’t say you should or shouldn’t use the word, though they do call for caution and care to define what you mean by the word. In the 9marks interview, they say they prefer not to use it to avoid the potential confusion that comes with the term.
I think the usefulness of the word “missional” hinges on the clear and specific definition of the mission. It is an adjective for the noun, so it is useful as a description of someone or something being in line with or acting in accord with the mission. I’ve argued elsewhere that everyone is “missional” in a very real sense, they just have different missions depending on the person/organization and depending on the moment in their life.
One insight that the authors brought up in the discussion on missional shed light on my mentality:
2. We are concerned that in our newfound missional zeal we sometimes put hard “oughts” on Christians where there should be inviting “cans.” You ought to do something about human trafficking. You ought to do something about AIDS. You ought to do something about lack of good public education. When you say “ought,” you imply that if the church does not tackle these problems, we are being disobedient. We think it would be better to invite individual Christians, in keeping with their gifts and calling, to try to solve these problems rather than indicting the church for “not caring” (Loc. 230-35)
I feel this. I feel the ought in such a way that I get legalistic. I feel morally superior when I’m doing these things and utterly discouraged when I’m not. Furthermore, I’m sure in my tone to our church I’ve wrongly pushed an “ought” where it should have perhaps been an inviting “can.” I do think the there must be an “ought.” But the “ought” must be biblically grounded and the way one fulfills the “ought” should be an inviting “can.” So we must push hard that church members ought to be devoted to good works (Titus 3:14). At the same time when I push the church to B. L. E. S. S. people and God they should hear that as an inviting can along with a clarification of the multitude of ways one can be devoted to good works.
The mission of the church
In chapter 1, the authors do not argue for their stated mission of the church, they merely assert it: “We believe the church is sent into the world to witness to Jesus by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations. This is our task. This is our unique and central calling” (Loc. 294-95). Chapter 2 will argue for this definition of the church’s mission which I will reflect on in a later blog post if the Lord wills.