BY DIRECTOR OF CONTENT, BRADLEY BELL
God, out of the overflow of his character, is a Sender. We then, by nature, are sent. The imago Dei makes it pulse in our veins. The missio Dei moves us to get on our feet and go. So that’s why we go. We’re sent.
But does that mean all Christians are missionaries? What an important question! Some say yes, we should apply this term to all Christians to encourage missionary identity and practice, not just among “professional missionaries”. Others argue that applying the term to all Christians confuses the unique role of the missionary task and vocation, and potentially belittles their strategic value. This perspective can be summed up by the phrase, “If everyone is a missionary, then no one is a missionary.”
Which perspective is correct? Resolving this debate isn’t the purpose of this book. However, it is important to define the terms that will be used throughout this book. And it’s critical to do that based on the theological foundation we have laid above.
Theology matters. Yet when it comes to a Western perspective toward God’s mission, theology is often secondary to strategy. In fact, we can become so pragmatic that we must work backwards to even know what theological perspective is informing our activity. For example, why would we fight to protect the professionalization of the missionary? Why is this a sacred and exclusive calling, to the extent it is implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) held as more valuable to God and the church than the everyday Christian? What theological perspective might be behind it?
I’m not certain. But I do see that the common extra-biblical description of God as a “missionary God” is a sacred and exclusive term. Although it’s a valuable and beautiful term, it excludes attention the full breadth of God’s character. Is God’s character defined to us in the sacrificial missionary journey of Jesus Christ to save people from their sins? Absolutely. Nothing is more definitive. But understanding God fully involves a view toward the full scope of his attributes. Thus, if our theological perspective of God is exclusive, then our application of that perspective will be exclusive. It might look something like this:
God is, in part, a missionary God
Therefore some Christians are missionaries
It might even go so far as to infer that the most significant part of God is “missionary,” therefore the most significant part of his people are “missionaries”. That is certainly a sacred and exclusive perspective. But is it a sacred cow that needs to die as the sole terminology we use? Are we comfortable with this kind of hierarchical application?
A better way forward, based on the theological framework of this chapter, is to say that God is a “sending” God, a God who is sufficient within the triune Godhead, yet extends willingly, lovingly, and intentionally outside himself to create and recreate in Christ. For one, it is a term more easily recognizable throughout the Bible. But more importantly, consider the application.
If God is a “sending” God by nature, then all who enter into Christ are immediately “sent ones” by nature. Before they ever share their testimony or go on a mission trip, they have a birthright in the mission of God. This allows our identity (what God has done for us) to fashion our activity, rather than our activity (what we have done for God) to fashion our identity. What I’m describing might be summed up like this:
God is a sending God
Therefore all of us are sent ones
This perspective and application doesn’t require saying that all Christians are “missionaries”. It acknowledges that some are vocational missionaries and some are not. What it does require, however, is recognizing that all Christians are sent by nature and need discipleship to live into their sent identity—whether as a pioneer missionary or a stay at home mom.
And that’s where the local church was made to shine.