This generation is particularly cause-oriented. General observation and sociological study confirms this. This is good. We should long to see social ills and issues addressed. We should fight against the horrors of sex trafficking, and work to move those trapped in a cycle of poverty from relief to empowerment.
We should tutor students, cut grass for the elderly, paint fences, be good neighbors, befriend the homeless and homosexual. We shouldpromote fostering and adoption. We should push people toward intentional living in abandoned places.
We should do all of these things because they are good and right and hint toward the City to come, the Kingdom of God, the city of Revelation 21:4. This is where “…death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…” We should do these things because it is a means of letting “your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
But, none of those good works, in themselves, is mission. Christopher Wright defines mission as “Our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation (p. 23).”
The mission of God is forming a family for Himself, from all people. This is made plain throughout the scriptures, and is fulfilled in Revelation 21:3. God is at the center of the passage, and His being physically present with His people is the product of his redemptive work in the world. God’s proclamation from his throne, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.
He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God,” precedes all the physical promises of the coming Kingdom. Therefore, mission, as it relates to us, is our participation in His forming of His family for His glory.
Our participation in His forming His family for His glory is to invite people to know God through Jesus. Jesus is God, and it is through Jesus that God will be known, that His family will be formed, and His mission of redemption will be accomplished. Jesus is the agent by which the knowledge of God is communicated; and he is the very content of that communication.
Jesus is central to the mission of God, therefore people meeting Jesus is the mission. It is only by knowing Jesus as Creator, Ruler, Lord, and Savior that the nations will come to know the Father, and be adopted into His family. Solving the world’s problems will not.
This is an important distinction. Especially important when Evangelical Christians assure me that serving people is the gospel or doing good is the gospel. “Cleaning up my neighborhood is being missional,” they say. It is an especially important distinction when Christians believe that meeting any material need is equivalent to the mission of God.
Does this mean that the social implications of gospel transformation are untrue or unimportant? Certainly not. It does mean that they are not the mission itself. If I fail to show them Jesus and declare the wonder of the gospel, I could feed all the homeless in Atlanta, but they would have a full belly and an empty soul. I could adopt every child from every orphanage in America, and they would have physical relief but spiritual poverty.
I could fight sex trafficking until it ceased to be an issue in the entire southeast region. I could tutor every child within a 5-mile radius toward greater academic achievement, giving them a few more years on this planet in a more pleasing state of being. But, if they don’t meet Jesus, they still spend eternity separated from the perfect presence of God.
Mission = people meeting Jesus. Everything else is secondary.