The terms “mission” and “missional” are in vogue. Missional churches are being planted. Networks of missional churches are springing up. Congregations are reevaluating and in some instances completely overhauling the missions programs of their churches. Popular authors are challenging the notion that mission is something that takes place “over there,” in some foreign locale, but is in fact something that Christians should be engaged in as they step outside their front doors.
All of this is well and good, but what we want and need to ask is: What is a biblical theology of mission? In other words, what does the biblical text have to say about the church’s mission, its scope and practice?
This post will suggest that the church’s mission is inextricably linked with the mission of Christ; is both local and global in its scope; and encompasses every person who is part of the body of Christ.
In the prologue to John’s gospel we read about the pre-incarnate Word who “became flesh and lived among us (Jn 1.14).” The pre-incarnate Word “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness (Phil 2.7),” as part of mission planned and instituted by God the Father “before the foundation of the world (Eph 1.4b).”
For centuries God had been hinting at and preparing his people for what he was about to do. The prophets served as God’s messengers in this regard. They chastened and corrected God’s people. Doggedly, they insisted that God was going to do something new.
In Jesus what the prophets had proclaimed and looked forward to with anticipation became a reality. This becomes clear in Luke 4, where we find Jesus (having endured and emerged victoriously over the temptation of the desert), “filled with the power of the Spirit (Lk 4.14a),” returning to Galilee and his hometown of Nazareth. Upon arriving in Nazareth, Jesus “went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Lk 4.14b),” read a passage from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 58.6; 61.1,2), and proclaimed that Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled in the congregation’s hearing (Lk 4.21). In doing so, Jesus made it clear that the missio Dei that had been foreshadowed in the Old Testament and alluded to by the prophets had now come to fruition in the missio Christi.
What was that mission and what did it consist of? The text of Isaiah that was read by Jesus as he stood in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth provides us with the salient features of the missio Christi. They are: Spirit anointing/empowerment (Lk 4.18a); good news to the poor (Lk 4.18a); release to the captives/prisoners (Lk 4.18a); sight to the blind (Lk 4.18a); freedom to the oppressed (Lk 4.18b); and the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk 4.19). (For our purposes it will suffice to say that the mission of Christ consisted of a proclamation of good news and forgiveness of debts, healing, a reordering of the present socio-economic order all of which were accomplished in and through the anointing, empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.)
It is this mission that we find Jesus engaging in repeatedly through the gospels. Throughout his teaching, and in the Sermon on the Mount in particular, we find Jesus preaching/teaching about many of these very things. With respect to the reordering of the socio-economic order, for example, Jesus reframes the practice of almsgivings in such a way that the poor are not indebted to those who have given, stating instead that one should give in such a way that one’s “left hand [not] know what your right hand is doing (Matt 6.3).” What is more, he holds a sinful woman up as an example of true discipleship, thus granting a woman a privileged position that according to societal custom she was not worthy of (Cf. Lk 7.36-50). Moreover, Jesus proclaimed a reordering of things in which the first would be last and the last would be made first.
On multiple occasions Jesus is found bringing wholeness and healing to those who were broken. In the eighth and ninth chapters of Matthew’s gospel, for example, eight sets of healings are recorded. A leper is cleansed and consequently is restored to the community (Matt 8.1-4). The paralyzed servant of the centurion is healed (Matt 8.5-13). Those suffering from various ailments were made whole (Matt 8.18-22). Two, who were possessed by demons, found their demons excised (Matt 8.28-34). A paralytic was made to walk (Matt 9.2-8). A dead girl was brought back to life (Matt 9.18, 23-26). A woman suffering from hemorrhages found her bleeding miraculously stopped (Matt 9.20-22). Two blind men were made to see (Matt 9.27-31). And, a man possessed by a demon and thereby rendered mute was freed from his demon and made to speak (Matt 9.32-34).
Last, but not least, we find Jesus repeatedly proclaiming good news, which includes but is not limited to the forgiveness of debts. Jesus’ public ministry begins with his calling of twelve disciples. He summons these individuals in kingly fashion, calling for their undivided allegiance and service (Matt 5.18-22; Mk 2.13-17; 3.13-19). Jesus instructs those that would follow him that it is impossible for them to serve two masters (Matt 6.24); consequently they must serve God and God’s kingdom with undivided loyalties. He calls those who would follow him to sacrifice, even to the point of death, for his kingdom and cause (Matt 10.38; 16.24-28). Jesus describes himself as the King who will serve as judge over all of the nations (Matt 25.31-46). Repeatedly, Jesus (in true King of Kings and Lord of Lords fashion) proclaims peoples’ sins as being forgiven (Matt 9.2; Mk 2.5; Lk 5.20; 7.48). And, finally, we are told that Jesus came into this world to save the world through him (Jn 3.17), and that it is only in and through Jesus the Christ that one might receive salvation (Cf. Jn 10.9; Mk 16.16).
Throughout the gospels we find that missio Christi is inextricably linked to the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s work. Even Jesus’ incarnation is facilitated in and through the work of the Spirit. The gospel writers unanimously agree that at the time of his baptism, before the inauguration of his public ministry, the Holy Spirit descend upon him in the form of a dove (Cf. Jn 1.29-34; Mk 1.9-11; Matt 3,13-17; Lk 3.21-22). The Synoptics agree that after his baptism the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where Satan tempted him (Cf. Lk 4.1-13; Matt 4.1-11; Mk 1.12-13). Matthew likens Jesus to the Spirit anointed one who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah (Matt 12.18). Luke describes Jesus as one who is filled with the Spirit (Lk 4.1), and is in some fashion directed/led by the Holy Spirit (Lk 4.14). What is more, Jesus seems to operate with the understanding that he is able to cast out demons (and perform miracles) by power granted to him by the Spirit of God (Cf. Matt 12.28).
The missio Christi becomes the Church’s mission
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus both prayed for his disciples and provided them with some instructions. The prayer, which Jesus prays for his disciples prior to his crucifixion, is recorded for us in John 17. In this prayer Jesus thanks God the Father and praises him for the work that has been accomplished (Jn 17.1-5), and asks God the Father to protect his disciples as they are sent out into the world to continue his work (Jn 17.6-19). The instructions that Jesus gives to his disciples come after his resurrection from the dead and include two things: a commission and the means by which to fulfill the commission. The commission is found in a more lengthy form Matthew and Mark’s gospels, where the disciples are instructed to make disciples, baptize, teach, and perform miracles (Cf. Matt 28.16-20; Mk 16.14-18), and in shorter form in both Luke and John’s gospels. And, in both John and Luke, we find Jesus explicitly connecting the disciples’ ability to fulfill the commission that he has given them with the work of the Holy Spirit (Cf. Jn 20.22; Lk 24.49), hence the instructions to stay “in the city until [they] have been clothed with power from on high (Lk 24.49).”
According to the book of Acts, at the time of his ascension, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come and empower his disciples to be his witnesses (Acts 1.8a). From the time of Jesus’ ascension and until the day of Pentecost, a group huddled together in an upstairs room and prayerfully waited for the Spirit to come.
On the day of Pentecost the Spirit came, the Church was born, and the missio Christi became the mission of the Church. Immediately, we find the Holy Spirit empowered Peter boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in the streets of Jerusalem (Acts 2.14-35). People responded by repenting, being baptized, and devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship (Acts 2.37-42). Wonders and signs, often in the form of miraculous healings (Cf. Acts 3.1-10; 5.12-16; 8.7), accompanied the works of the apostles, just as Jesus had promised (Acts 2.43). A new social order characterized the new community, as they “had all things in common… [and] would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2.45).”
In the days following Pentecost, the Spirit’s work (which at first was localized in Jerusalem) spread outward. Initially, the pax Romana made it possible for people to travel freely throughout the empire. As people would travel about to trade, or for other purposes, the mission of Christ would be realized through the Church beginning in Jerusalem (Cf. Acts 2.14-36; 7.1-53) and flowing outward into Judea, Samaria (Acts 7.4-25), and to the very ends of the earth (Acts 8.26-40; 10.1ff; 13.1ff). Time and space will not permit us to delve into this at any further, but what becomes clear is that the mission of Christ becomes the mission of the Church, and that the mission begins locally and spreads globally (often in and through the raising up and training of indigenous leadership).
As the body of Christ grew from a handful of followers to thousands of people, a new problem emerged. The Twelve could not be everywhere. They could not attend to everything. Thus, in Acts 6, we find a few slipping through the cracks. The problem was not that this group was not hearing the gospel, nor was that they were in need of a prayer for healing from an apostle. Instead, a group of widows was hungry because they were being neglected in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6.1). The church body was called together and a decision was made to appoint seven able-bodied individuals, who were “full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6.5),” to oversee this ministry. It is at this juncture that we learn something very important about mission and missional effectiveness – every person, who is a part of the body of Christ, has a part to play. The Apostle Paul deals with this explicitly using the metaphor of a body. He describes the church as being made up of many members (Cf. 1 Cor 12; Eph 4.11-16), each of which is unique. These many members employ their unique and varied gifts for the care of one another (1 Cor 12.25) and to promote “the body’s growth in building itself up in love (Eph 4.16).”
What might this mean for us?
At the end of the day, that is what most people are concerned with. They want to know what the biblical text and theology have to say about how they go about living their lives. For most people, it is the practical that matters. And, for that reason, it is to the practical that we now turn our attention.
By now, I hope that it has become clear that there is a consistency of mission throughout the biblical text and the early church. In Christ the mission that had previously been hinted at (in the Old Testament) became rather clear, and in the early church the mission that had become clear in Christ began to move outward and towards the ends of the earth.
This mission (which includes the proclamation of good news and the forgiveness of debts/sins, healing, and redefined socio-economic order) is underwritten by the Holy Spirit in and through the Spirit’s empowering and equipping of God’s people, the Church. We are a part of that Church and consequently the mission of God has been entrusted to us in and through the Holy Spirit who empowers and enables us to continue this work.
But what is the work? What might the mission of God, if lived out, look like for us as a local church congregation? Here are a few, humble suggestions. First, we should actively proclaim the good news of Christ and his kingdom. As evangelicals, this has been a part of our legacy, and it needs to remain a vital and key component of who we are and what we are about. Preaching, teaching, conferences, and the like remain important.
Second, as a church we need to be involved in redefining the socio-economic order. We need to find ways to bridge the gaps. Having multiple generations as a part of a worship gathering is not enough. Diverse races and economic groups need to be brought together. This also means that we can no longer perceive ministry as taking place from the top down (the have’s ministering to the have-not’s). Ministry, if it is going to be vital, needs to be done with the recognition that we can all learn from one another; that all have something to contribute to the shared ministry.
Third, our missions philosophy should balance the local and the global, without emphasizing or neglecting either one. This might mean intentionally planning local ministries and outreaches to coincide and/or balance out with overseas mission giving, short term mission trips, etc.
Fourth, the ministry of healing should be a part of all that we do. Not just miraculous healings, but the form of healing that comes from ministering to the whole person. To that end, it might be wise to consider healing ministries geared towards: recovering addicts; those who are recovering from divorces; those who are dealing with grief and loss; and those who have lost their jobs and/or are unemployed. It might also be wise to budget money, on a yearly basis, to help defray the cost of physician and psychiatric bills for those who need such help but do not have the money to obtain such help.
Fifth, and finally, as a church we should strive to recognize and honor the many and diverse gifts that God has given to his people. To that end, we should do all that we can to recognize the gifts of each person and employ those gifts to the fullest extent possible. More importantly, it would behoove us to convey that the gifts of teaching, preaching, and administration (which are commonly lauded in the church) are not in any way superior to the multitude of other gifts. In order for the church to minister and thereby fulfill the mission that she has been given, the gifts of each person need to be employed to the service of Christ and the up-building of his kingdom. What is more, I would suggest that we identify and endeavor to cultivate indigenous leaders who may be able to employ their gifts in service to the church and her mission in ways that are contextualized for the various sub-groups that exist within our diverse city and community.
 For example, a quick Google search reveals that the term “missional” occurs in about 481,000 instances across the World Wide Web. Almost half of these occurrences (209,000) were generated in the last year, with close to seventy percent of the content being created in the last two years.
 Missiologist Ed Stetzer has written what many consider to be the primer on the subject, Planting Missional Churches. David Fitch, a theology professor and bi-vocational church planter, has authored The Great Giveaway, which urges the church to reclaim her mission in the world.
 MAPchurch (http://www.mapchurch.com) and the Missional Readiness Assessment (http://apollosleadership.org/strategies/missional-readiness-assessment/wp-admin/install.php) are two of the most widely used.
 In Joshua 6, for example, we find God sparing (and granting salvation to) the prostitute Rahab, who was not of the house of Israel. Ruth, the Moabite, also becomes engrafted into the history and lineage of God’s people (see the book of Ruth).
 Isaiah serves as a herald to God’s people, reminding them that they are a light to the Gentiles and that it is through them that God will bring about his salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa 49.6). Similarly, the prophet Jonah is sent to Nineveh in hopes that the people of this city (which was part of the Assyrian empire) would repent and thus be spared.
 I. Howard Marshall, “Luke” in New Bible Commentary, ed. D.A. Carson, R.T. France, J.A. Motyer, and G.J. Wenham (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 988.
 This startling teaching of Jesus is recorded in three of the four gospels. See: Matt 20.15; Mk 10.31; and Luke 13.30.
 Interestingly, Jesus not only heals the servant but also proclaims that the centurion’s faith is unparalleled even amongst God’s chosen. As such, this narrative also serves as an example of both a redefining of societal boundaries/norms and an expanding of the good news to those who are outside of the Jewish people.
 A great deal of ink has been spent debating what the good news consists of. Some, especially evangelicals, have narrowly defined the “good news” in terms of salvation from sin and eternal damnation. Feminist, Black, and Liberation theologians have defined the good news as being much more this worldly. God, they suggest, sides with the poor and the oppressed, bringing about liberation from the oppressor, and thereby constituting a new (upside down) kingdom. Scholars such as N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight have recently popularized the notion that the good news has to do with the kingship and lordship of Christ. For the purpose of this paper, it is assumed that, “The messianic, lordly, and kingly confession of Jesus is not incidental to the Bible. It is the point of the Bible, and the gospel is the good news that Jesus is that Messiah, that Lord, and that King. We are his subjects.” Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel, Kindle Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), location 2435.
 According to Matthew 1.18, Mary becomes pregnant through the Spirit. Luke recounts the angelic visitation and the angel’s proclamation to Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of God would overshadow her (Lk 1.35).
 Mark’s account includes miraculous charismata that accompany the work of the disciples, whereas Matthew elects not to include these things.
 In Luke’s gospel the disciples are said to be “witnesses” to all the Jesus said and did while on earth (Lk 24.44-48). John notes that Jesus sends out his followers, just as the Father has sent him (Jn 20.21).
 John’s gospel, by contrast, depicts Jesus as breathing on his disciples and thereby imparting the Holy Spirit (Jn 20.22).
 Peter is representative of many others who give Spirit-inspired, Spirit-empowered speeches. See, for example: Acts 3.11-26; 4.1-22, 23-31; 7.1-53.
 In Acts 4.32-37, Luke includes this additional information, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold (Acts 4.34).”
 This, indeed, is what Jesus promised in Acts 1.8b.