Home > Brian's Blogs, Missional Church > Does the North American Church Believe in Missions?

Does the North American Church Believe in Missions?

Most Christians would answer this question with an obvious “yes!”  However, some missional thinkers are claiming that the North American church has not truly allowed “mission” to penetrate its being.  Consider the words from David Dunbar (Biblical Seminary):

“But in reality the church in the West has not always been concerned for missions, or for The Mission. In fact when we focus on The Mission our perspective on many things changes. Let me give some illustrations:
1. Theology
A theology focused on mission begins with the character of God. As our conviction statement reads, “While the love shared by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from all eternity past precludes any divine need, it is in God’s nature to desire to extend this love and the fellowship it fosters to others.” It is this desire to extend his love that motivates both creation and redemption.

What is crucial here is that mission is not first and foremost a job description for the church, but a reference to what God is up to in the world–God is on a mission! So the Father sends the Son, and subsequently both send the Spirit to empower Jesus’ disciples to join in the world-wide mission. The church is sent into a harvest that God has already initiated.
The critical point here is that mission is not an after-thought in the divine agenda, and so it cannot be an after-thought in the church’s agenda. It is not something we try to get to once we are finished with the real business of “doing church.” As someone cleverly put it, “God’s church does not have a mission in the world; rather, God’s mission has a church in the world!” Think about it–there are far-reaching implications to this. So we say this in our convictions statement, “…the mission of God should constitute the unifying motif of theological education.”
2.  Church
Our statement also says, “The life and witness of the church should be thoroughly shaped by its participation in the mission of God….” It “should be” but it usually is not.  Rather, our churches are largely shaped by the assumptions of Christendom, namely that we live in a “Christian” nation, that the majority of people around us understand the basics of the Christian faith and are favorably disposed toward the message, and that if we provide church programs of sufficient number and quality they will come. The result is that most of our churches spend the majority of their time, energy, and money on activities that take place within the walls of their buildings.

A missional approach to the church reminds us that God is already at work outside the building. It emphasizes that the kingdom is larger than the church and it invites us to look outside the walls and ask: How we can join God in his mission? This question leads to others: How much of the annual budget should we spend on ourselves? How much time should church members invest in-house? How would a change in the posture of our churches affect the kinds of staff we hire or the job descriptions of church leaders?
As you can see, thinking about God as a missionary God and the church as a missionary people is challenging and uncomfortable. Does this mean that everything changes? Well, no, not everything. Scholars often exaggerate to make a point right? But note well–there is a point to be made. The church in North America is in trouble and our current efforts to reach our culture seem less and less effective. There is much that needs to change!”
  1. mikewittmer
    April 20, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    These are good words, though given the positioning of some of his faculty at Biblical (i.e., emergent leanings of some), I wonder what he means by joining what God is already doing outside the church. I entirely agree if he means that we should participate in and with the good that others are doing, so long as we don’t lose the distinctive center of the Christian gospel (forgiveness of personal sin and new life through the work of Christ on the cross and resurrection).

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