Our world wasn’t always this way.
Of course, I can’t remember a world that was any different than what we live in now. In my lifetime, I have always known that thousands of children starve to death each day.1 The tragic statistic that almost one out of two marriages will be torn apart by divorce, leaving a trail of wounds and broken promises behind, is taken for granted.2 One can find urban landscapes, once beacons of opportunity to previous generations, now darkened by poverty, neglect, and crime. And although slavery has long been outlawed in developed nations, there are still over 30 million slaves in the world today, more than at any other time in human history.3
This is not how it’s supposed to be.
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31a, NIV84)
Once a magnificent divine masterpiece, our world has been broken down by the vandalism of sin for millennia. The wounds, injustices, and sorrows we are now haunted by are but shadows of God’s beautiful creation – a beauty that longs to be restored (Rom 8:19-21).
God was not satisfied to watch His creation fall into decay, and He immediately began to seek reconciliation with His fallen image-bearers (Gen 3:9). The Lord, jealous for His glory (Deut 32:16), began to speak of a time when all broken things would be restored (Isa 49). This restoration came to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and his mission continues in the world until he will come again (Acts 1:6-8).
More Than Salvation
For much of modern history, the Church has preached a message of salvation through Jesus Christ, and this proclamation has brought new spiritual life to millions of people. The truth that Jesus “came to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV84) is astounding – God came to earth to reach out to those who had turned away from Him.
But what then? Is the end of God’s plan simply to begin a personal relationship and save individuals from eternal torment, or does the loving Creator of the universe have a greater purpose for His redeemed people?
Let’s take a look at how Jesus described his mission in Luke 4:17-21 (NIV84).
The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
It seems that there is more to this passage than a message of individual salvation. Perhaps God means for His grace to achieve something more through the lives of His people. Perhaps we have limited God by saying that the gospel is only for salvation.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus began to preach a simple message: “’The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:15, NIV84) The proclamation of the kingdom of God is a distinguishing mark of Jesus’ ministry – he believed that it was very important, and we should consider what this means for us.
Several prominent Christian leaders have defined the kingdom of God as follows in the Missional Manifesto:
We affirm that the gospel is the good news of God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom is the active and comprehensive rule of God over His whole creation. The sovereign reign of God brings righteousness (right relationships with God, others, and creation), restores justice, and brings healing to a broken world. The Kingdom of God has been inaugurated but is still “not yet.” It will not be fully revealed until Jesus returns. The church, birthed in the wake of the kingdom, serves as an agent of the King in the “already and not yet” of the Kingdom by proclaiming and spreading the gospel and living out its implications.4
There seems to be more to this than simply inviting people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our Lord has a mission for us that extends to the whole world, with the goal of reconciling God, people, and the entire creation. Now we are beginning to see a more complete biblical picture of Jesus’ ministry.
There is a Hebrew word that describes God’s goal in bringing His kingdom to the world: shalom (םשָׁלוֹ). Frequently translated as “peace”, shalom has a far deeper meaning: completeness, wholeness, safety, prosperity, health, soundness, welfare, friendship, peace.5 Jesus is described by the prophet Isaiah as the bringer of shalom and justice to the world.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. (Isa 9:6-7, NIV84)
In a world suffering from the cumulative effects of sin, doesn’t every family, neighborhood, culture, and nation need some of God’s shalom?
We must once more turn to the Bible to discover more of God’s heart for the world. From beginning to end, scripture presents us with a consistent revelation of God, who reaches out to His broken creation in holiness and love. Because of the fallen state of the world, people have become “slaves to sin” (Rom 6), and we are in need of God’s intervention to set us free. There are several consistent meta-themes that can be discovered in the Bible’s pages, which will be outlined here in the acronym CUFFS.
- Cities: God often deals with people not only individually, but also corporately, and the Bible shows us many occasions when cities were the recipients of both God’s love and judgment. Cities were prophesied to (Isa 23), wept over (Luke 19:41), destroyed (Gen 19), and evangelized (Jon 3, Acts 17). We look forward to a redeemed city, the New Jerusalem, where the kingdom of God will be completely realized (Heb 11:10, Rev 21:2). Howard Snyder explains in his book Kingdom, Church, and World, that cities are places of power, places of the poor, and places of mission.6 There is enormous potential in cities to demonstrate the redemptive power of God.
- Underprivileged: The Bible speaks consistently with concern for the underprivileged in this world (Luke 6:20, Zech 7:9-10, James 2:14-17, Lev 19:9-10). The God who “was rich, yet for your sake he became poor” (2 Cor 8:9, NIV84), wants His people to care for those who are in need, whether they lack access to food, shelter, education, health care, or other needs.
- Freedom: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1, NIV84). God desires to bring freedom to those who are enslaved or unjustly imprisoned. Paul advocated for Christians to free slaves (Philem 1:16), and God went to great lengths to free His people from slavery in Egypt (Ex 8:1). There are still millions of people held in slavery today, and God wants to set them free.
- Family: God is the “Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Eph 3:15, NIV84). He created the first family (Gen 2-4), commanded children to honor their parents (Ex 20:12), taught families to be centers of spiritual life (Deut 11:19), and expects faithfulness to marital vows (Matt 19:6). The Church is meant to be a new spiritual family (1 Tim 5:1-2). Families in our world are broken and hurting, and in need of God’s saving and healing touch.
- Splendor: The whole universe was created as a display of God’s glory (Ps 19:1), and He made it “very good” (Gen 1:31, NIV84). All nations of the world are meant to glorify the Lord (Ps 86:9, Ps 108:3, Rev 7:9). And yet, when we look at the world, we see things broken rather than whole, tarnished rather than beautiful. Our God, the great artist, created us in His image so that we could use our gifts and creative ability to both restore God’s original splendor to the world, and also to create new beauty for His glory.
As discussed at the beginning of this article, God’s mission to restore His lost and broken creation involves more than just individual salvation. In this context, we must reexamine the Great Commission for a deeper understanding of our mission as God’s people.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)
For many Christians, we have limited our understanding of the command to “make disciples” to an affirmation of faith, a prayer, and church attendance. These basic expectations are fine, but why have we neglected “teaching them to obey”? The Bible plainly attests that we are meant to have an impact on the world far beyond individual salvation. We are called to be the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Matt 5:13-14, NIV84), and to “spread everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him” (2 Cor 2:14, NIV84). The bright, fragrant, preserving influence of Jesus Christ must extend through us into areas of need in this world (CUFFS).
In obedience to the Great Commission, we must consider how the Church can partner together to meet these needs. This active partnership in addressing global issues can be described as a missional initiative.
A missional initiative is a visible display and a viable demonstration of the gospel to the world around us. It targets a specific global issue (CUFFS), and brings believers together in a partnership of gifts and abilities to meet this need. The love of God and His passion for redemption are put on display through the body of Christ.
It is important to note that missional initiatives are not the work of a few dedicated men and women. The Bible is clear that we all make up a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV84) using our spiritual gifts to serve others (1 Peter 4:10, NIV84), functioning as a healthy spiritual body (1 Cor 12). Everyone can contribute to missional initiatives that will make a real difference in the world.
In addition to our spiritual gifts, God has resourced His people with talents and abilities in various spheres of society, enumerated in the acronym CHARGED: Commerce, Healthcare, Arts & media, Religious institutions, Government & politics, Education, and Domestic issues. Our involvement in these spheres provides both avenues for engagement with the world around us, and a toolbox of skills and abilities that can be used to address various needs.
Missional initiatives are not a new idea. In fact, the Church today is only recovering how early Christians began to obey Jesus’ teachings. Rodney Stark writes about the early church’s affect on the Greco-Roman world in his book, The Rise of Christianity:
Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world… Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services... For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture.7
If churches today embrace our missionary calling, God will use us to reach into every sphere of life with the active truth of the gospel, and the world will never be the same.
The Big Picture
Missional initiatives bring God’s love to bear upon the greatest needs of our world, uniting the gifts and talents of the body of Christ with a God-given passion to serve others and restore the beauty of creation. Christians cannot sit idly by while this world suffers both the immediate and eternal affects of sin, because God has equipped us and sent us to the lost and the broken.
When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, he told them to “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt 9:38, NIV84), and he asked the Father, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10, NIV84). Together, we can be part of God’s answer to these prayers.
How can we begin to live out our missionary calling through missional initiatives? Ask God to guide you through the following steps, and begin to put your faith into action:
- Invest in Relationships: We cannot serve people well from a distance, and if we want to make a difference in the world, we must invest in people, getting involved in their lives in the same way that Jesus did.
- Identify Needs: As we build relationships with people, needs will begin to reveal themselves. As you identify these needs, ask God to speak to you about how to best serve and care for people.
- Initiate Collaboration: God’s mission is not meant to be lived out alone. Begin conversations with other believers about the issues and needs you are observing, and invite them to join you in prayer.
- Inventory Resources: As you pray and discuss with others, see what unique gifts, abilities, and passions the Lord has provided for you. How can these resources be used to meet the needs you have observed?
- Intercede with Faith: There are many service organizations and generous people in the world, and their service can make a big impact. Ultimately, however, the only One who can transform a person, family, city, or nation is Jesus Christ. Intercede with faith that Jesus wants to use you uniquely to display his love and power to the world.
- Implement Plans: Simply talking about missional initiatives will not help anyone. We must formulate specific plans and put them into action, or all of our discussions and good intentions will amount to nothing.
For examples of missional initiatives, visit HMCC 2020 Vision Blog