March 28, 2018

Mission as Puzzle and Surprise

“To encounter crisis is to encounter the possibility of truly being the church.” So says missiologist and theologian David Bosch in his great book, Transforming Mission. Bosch notes that the Japanese character for ‘crisis’ is a combination of the characters for ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. So, in his estimation, crisis is not the end of opportunity but the beginning.

So what is the Church’s opportunity?

The opportunity is that we might recognize our role as a sending Church in the service of a sending God. God the Father sent God the Son across the boundary between heaven and earth. God the Father (and perhaps God the Son...we can debate the filioque later) sent God the Holy Spirit to breathe life into the places where earth and heaven meet.

And God sends God’s people to do God’s work.

We, the Church, are a visible representation of this holy mystery.

This is the Missio-Dei. Bosch puts a fine point on this when he says that “it is not the Church of God who has a mission in the world. It is the mission of God who has a Church in the world.”

In my conversations with folks around the Church, I’m often asked what sorts of programming local churches could institute to become more missional. And my answer often catches people by surprise. Being missional is not a program. It’s not even about programming.

It is participation in what God is already doing in the community around us. We look at what is happening around us, and then discern how the Church can play a role. We don’t just look for ways to foist upon our communities what we as the Church want to do.

Theologian Ivan Illich, in his book Mission and Midwifery, talks about “the Church as a surprise and puzzle…Missiology studies the growth of the Church into new peoples; the birth of the Church beyond its social boundaries; beyond the linguistic barriers within which she feels at home; beyond the poetical images she taught her children…Missiology therefore is the study of the church as surprise…"

When we over-program, we lose our ability to be surprised. We lose our ability to react to where God is already at work around us.

And I’d even say we lose our ability to be the Church