10 January 2009

Mission as organizing principle: forward and outward

There is a wee on-going debate between missiologists, What shapes and drives what.

In a linear sort of way, Ed Stetzer puts it this way (you can hear Ed talk about this with David Fitch here):


Alan Hirsch puts it this way:


What I think Alan is saying (and hey! they're both way smarter than me, and get paid way more for saying it!) is this: how we see Jesus - who He is, His mission, His work, His life, death, burial, resurrection - shapes and drives how we see and do missions, and how we see and do missions shapes and drives how we see and do church.

And we have to be very accurate when we even use the word "missions," because for most of us, "missions" is about a Sunday we take a special offering or about a special part of our church budget (usually very small in proportion to other expenses) or about some strange people who come every few years to preach and show slides and trinkets.

But Missions is the sending of God. The Father sent the Son, the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit sends the Church into the world for the sake of the world! Missions drives the church! Or at least should!

Ministry is something other than missions. Mission drives the church to do ministry. The mission is to take the Gospel to all the world. Ministry is what we do in the mission.

Recently Alan posted the following on his blog and says it so good:

In a remark ascribed to Gordon Cosby, the pioneering leader of that remarkable community, Church of the Savior in Washington. DC, he noted that in over 60 years of significant ministry, he had observed that no groups that came together around a non-missional purpose (i.e. prayer, worship, study, etc.) ever ended up becoming missional. That it was only those groups that set out to be missional in the first place (while embracing prayer, worship, study, etc. in the process) that actually got to doing it. This observation fits with all the research done by Carl George and others that indicate that the vast majority of church activities and groups, even in a healthy church, are aimed at the insiders and fail to address the missional issues facing the church in any situation.

If evangelizing and discipling the nations lie at the heart of the church’s purpose in the world, then it is mission, and not ministry, that is the true organizing principle of the church. Mission here, is being used in a narrow sense here to suggest the church’s orientation to the ‘outsiders’ and ministry as the orientation to the ‘insiders.’ Experience as tells us that a church that aims at ministry seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the church that aims at mission will have to do ministry, because ministry is the means to do mission. Our services, our ministry, need a greater cause to keep it alive and give it is broader meaning. By planting the flag outside the walls and boundaries of the church so to speak, the church discovers itself by rallying to it—this is mission. And in pursuing it we discover ourselves, and God, in a new way, and the nations both ‘see’ and hear the gospel and are saved.

An organizing principle is that which an organization structures its life and activities around. It’s hard to imagine a sports team surviving long if it forgets its primary mission to compete and win each game and eventually to win the grand final context in its league. Winning the prized cup, medal, or award, keeps the team focused and integrated. It’s mission is its organizing principle, comradeship takes place along the way. The team experiences communitas as it engages in its core task—when it faces physical challenge and risks failure in order to succeed.

Another example of organizing principles: A country’s constitution is basically the organizing principle of the state and its associated public and political life. For instance, the constitution of the USA preserves the basic freedoms and democracy that have marked this nation as unique. Similarly, mission is our constitution, or at least a central part of it. To preserve the movement ethos of God’s people it is fundamental that the Church keeps mission at the centre of its self-understanding. Without mission there is no movement and the community dies a death of the spirit long before it dies a physical death of the body. To forget mission is to forget ourselves, to forget mission is to lose our raison d’ etre, and leads to our eventual demise. Our sense of mission not only flows from an understanding of the Mission of God and missional church, but it forms the orienting inspiration of the church of Jesus Christ and keeps it constantly moving forward and outward


  1. Hey, Glen, I've read your blogs for some time now , and always enjoy, and always challenged by them. Since I am on something of a Sabbatical from Pastoral ministry, I have much to contemplate. Being in the marketplace, Chase Bank, I find extraordinary opps to minister to non-church folks, some Christians, some not. Yesterday, I prayed with a lady considering a run for Commissioner in her Village. Very fulfilling there. I miss some things about Church Ministry, but when I think about being in Pastoral Leadership again, it almost turns me off because I would miss the ministry I'm doing right now. So, I find myself at a point in life trying to redefine myself (feeling some sense of guilt that I'm not doing the kind of ministry I've done for 33 years), and trying to understand my own missional/ministerial calling in a new context. Quite a journey to say the least.

  2. Thanks Phil! I'm honored that you'd even read this blog! And yep, I can imagine you could be a little conflicted with where you are in your life journey, BUT you probably are able to touch more lives more consistently where you are at Chase Bank than anywhere else. You're actually being missional! You're following Jesus into the world, where it seems He's most comfortable! Blessings!


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