It is very fashionable in mission circles to say that our role is to discern where God is working and to join him there. I’d like to suggest that we need to do exactly the opposite!
OK, I will admit that things are not quite as black and white as that and I will nuance them below, but there is a serious point to be made here. This is the second in a short series that looks at problems associated with the way in which some people apply the idea of “the Mission of God”. You can find the first post in the series here.
Firstly, I do believe that all mission is God’s and that our role and privilege is to take part in his cosmic initiative to reconcile all things through Christ. If we are involved in mission, we are joining in with what God is doing.
It is vitally important that those who are involved in leading and planning mission initiatives spend serious amounts of time in prayer and discernment. We have to spend time thinking through the specifics of what God would have us do.
My problems arise with the notion of knowing where God is at work.
Firstly, as I’ve argued elsewhere, we don’t really have the capacity to know or understand what God is seeking to achieve in any situation. To pretend that we know where God is at work and to fully grasp what he is doing is beyond us. We get glimpses from time to time, but even then, we are looking through a mucky window into the light of divine reality.
Secondly, how does God go about his work on this planet of ours. Strangely (and I wouldn’t do it this way), he accomplishes most of his work through his church, empowered by the Spirit. Yes, God intervenes through miraculous visions and dreams at times, but most of the time, he works through the witness and life of his people. Going where God is at work, means going to where there are growing churches and dynamic church life! Whereas, it is those places where God is apparently not at work, where there is no church and where the name of Christ is not known, that have the most need for Christian witness. In a world where the vast majority of missionaries work to support already existing churches, we need to step out of our comfortable boundaries and go where we don’t (yet) see God working.
The third problem is related to the previous one; in a success hungry world, it is all to easy to divert resources, people and recognition to those places where things seem to be happening and to ignore the faithful, sacrificial witness of people in hard places. I heard a horrific story where funders for a major mission agency decided to withdraw from one European country and move into another because souls could be saved for less in the second country. Thankfully, Christ did not think in those terms on the cross.
I realise that these problems do not inevitably flow out of the notion of the “Mission of God” and of joining him where he is at work. However, I have seen examples where people following this principle have fallen into one or more of these traps. They may not be inevitable, but they are real dangers.
The thing is, our participation in what God is already doing is generally much clearer in hindsight than it is before the fact. Sometimes we are called to step out into the apparent darkness and to witness to him when success (in our terms) is very slow in coming.