I am participating in a conversation about missions based around a new book called MissionSHIFT: Global Missions Issues in The Third Millenium. This book is a collection of essays on the church’s role in mission and is put together by David J. Hesselgrave and Ed Stetzer. Ed Stetzer spoke at CIL in August, and just started a new church in Hendersonville called Grace Church.
MissionSHIFT was written from an academic standpoint, and I am enjoying it very much. Today, I’m responding to only Part 1, as the authors have requested. In part one, we are discussing an essay that was written by Charles Van Engen, and responded to by Keith Eitel, Enoch Wan, Darrell Guder, Andreas Rosenberger, Ed Stetzer and David Hesselgrave.
I loved Van Engen’s historical journey through the definition of missions. I especially appreciated his connection of Constantine and the state-initiated missions that happened through colonialism. Still, I don’t understand why the term “missions” has become so complex. I agree with Van Engen, that the term “missional church” in his words, “has now been used in so many ways as to become almost meaningless.” I honestly thought Ed Stetzer had coined the word “missional” (ha!), so the history lesson on that phrase (p. 9) was good for me to read. I disagree that there is an incredible vacuum in a workable definition of the word missions. In my estimation, missiologist may be over thinking this definition.
There is a fear in Van Engen’s writings of the social gospel. He doesn’t want to see the church follow the direction of the World Council of Churches since the 1960’s. I understand that history repeats itself, but it’s hard for me to believe that a commitment to “humanitarian and compassion ministries through agriculture, education, medicine, AIDS-related ministries, children-at-risk movements (p. 20),” as a bad re-definition of missions. The work of Jesus is involvement in issues such as these. I don’t think a church who is uninvolved in these issues has the moral authority to share the plan of salvation through proclamation alone. The evangelical church’s past disinterest with these social issues is hard for the world to understand.
I read all the responses from the other authors, and benefited from them all. Yet, as much as I enjoyed this conversation, both Stetzer and Hesselgrave’s responses resonated with me. Both of these authors brought us back to the practical application of these definitions and analysis.
The purpose of missions is so simplistic and practical, we need to apply missions before we define it. A church that is outwardly focused will find a variety of missions expressions based off the context they live in, the personality of the leadership, theology and the gifts of the people. The conversation of MissionSHIFT is most helpful in that it creates the desire for more missions laboratories to apply theories. These laboratories may be an evangelical crusade or a social initiative. The important part is activity and action that points people towards Jesus Christ.