Part One: laborer / child
“It is not so much that God has a mission for His church in the world, but that God has a church for His mission in the world.”Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 62.
Over the long stay-at-home time many of us were in over the last spring, I audited a class on the book of Acts and the establishment and expansion of the first century church with an online cohort of students in the United States. While mentioning the topic of the missio Dei I got some pushback from the facilitator that I was not expecting but I have not been able to stop thinking about since then.
Although I don’t remember his exact words, it was something to the effect of if God is primarily a missionary and the church is just a subset of that missionary enterprise what does that make us?
The implication here is that it makes us a means to an end. It makes us workers, laborers, missionaries. So if missio Dei becomes a way to, by summary of salvation history, reduce both the expression of the Trinity and the Church to mission we loose a lot of important things we need to be careful about. The question my teacher asked me, what does that make us? becomes to me, what does that make me? And so the language of identity comes into play.
As someone who has felt called into missions since I was a child, missionary identity has become a big part of my sense of purpose and identity. But in my teacher’s question the weight of this identifier was challenged. I knew that the implication was that God is not a missionary, primarily, just like God is not a judge, primarily but we know the God revealed through Jesus Christ as loving Father. As such we are His beloved children and to each other a beloved spiritual family of the forgiven.
As much as I may think of the importance of the mission if I, or my team, or my congregation loose this familial imprint rooted in our baptismal identity then it actually disrupts and distorts the mission itself. It does so firstly, because by failing to relate as family in love we fail to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, we become a living contradiction of the Gospel we are supposed to proclaim. And so in this sense it diminishes our Christian witness.
But before I get ahead of myself an start looking at my collective context I want to examine my own heat. Have I made the work of mission more important than loving my team members as sisters and brothers? Have I failed to be family first? Do I see myself primarily as here to work or here to be a son, a brother, who accompanies and gets to work when called?
Its beyond the scope of my writing here to deconstruct the theology of missio Dei or even answer the question as to whether it is problematic or has ways to self-correct these implications. But I know I need to change some of my thinking. Even as I write from quarantine at my hotel North of Tokyo where work is limited but there is still a lot of work to be done perhaps the most important work I have been able to give myself to is the work of repentance.
I mean, I shouldn’t feel burnt out after being home for almost a month and now finishing almost two weeks of quarantine at a hotel? But then why am I so tired? Because there is always work, always work, always more work. And if God is primarily a worker then I am always an unworthy servant.
In Japan, where work and the company has become idol number one there desperately needs to be a people who live the Gospel as Kingdom family first. It is out of abiding in the Vine together that we bear fruit, it is out of our mutual prayer, discernment, conversation, laughter, play, and even co-working the things placed upon us that we can only begin to discern what the Father’s business is. But in such a context as this I wonder if it is not the freedom to rest, the freedom to play, the freedom to let go and just be,,, be with the other that we can offer the ministry of presence, the ministry that is accompaniment.
And so I offer this prayer:
Gracious God, merciful Father, forgive me for the ways I have judged myself inadequate, a failure, unproductive, and lazy. Help me to see how you see me that I may be rooted and established in love, bearing fruit from that eternal stream rather than trying to work it up in my own steam and power. I waste away, meaninglessly when I do so, and I am so much more likely to fall into judging others to defend myself. Forgive me for judging others around me with the constant examination of who is doing more work. Release us all from the endless and meaningless busyness that surrounds us in our world. Help us cary in each hour of the day the one thing that is needful, to be at your feet receiving. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.