What is Mission?

By Rev Dr Tim Hein

Posted in News

Despite ubiquitous usage, particularly in the titles of books and conferences over the past twenty years, we need constant reminding about mission. We all can be swamped by the clutter of activity from weekly demands, ingrained habits, and the overwhelming information flood in the noise of life. We risk losing the clarity required to ensure all that we do is shaped by the mission of God. Stephen Neil famously warned, ‘If everything is mission then nothing is mission.’ We can be very busy doing things that actually diminish the spread of the gospel.

Talk of mission can also be co-opted for cultural or political ends, even by mistake. We need some critical clarity on this central concept, especially when it also has such glorious implications.

So what is Mission?

Missiologist David Bosch puts it like this: ‘Mission is alerting people to the universal reign of God through Christ.’ God has chosen to redeem all things through Jesus, and this has implications for every person.

Let’s start with a key text, John 20:21: Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’

The word ‘sending’ in Latin is missio, from which we derive the word ‘mission.’ Notice that Jesus is both the ‘sent’ and ‘sending’ one. The Holy Spirit is also sent to evoke faith and unite us with Christ. First and foremost, then, mission describes the very being of God. Mission flows from the life of the Trinity.

God is missionary in nature, and always has been. As missiologist John Flett explains, ‘It belongs to God from and to all eternity to come to us in creation, reconciliation and redemption.’

The wonderful truth is that God has chosen not to be God without us. And this divine intervention is not something new or extra that God suddenly decided to embark on, but rather is a ‘mediation which is most proper to him, which takes place first in Himself, in His divine life from eternity to eternity,’ as Karl Barth put it.

This is important, because it means that to engage in mission is to participate in the very life of God. Forgetting this risks falling into assumptions that mission is secondary, optional or less important than, for example, worship. There is no participation in Christ without participation in his mission to the world.

So how do we do that?

The Basis of Union says that because Jesus is Lord, reconciliation and renewal is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church's call, its mission, is to serve that end. To be ‘… an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself.’

The mission of the church is to be used by God as an instrument pointing to what Jesus has done. To alert people to this reality. This ‘alerting’ involves both proclamation and demonstration – speaking and serving.

The proclamation, or speaking, is expressed through the activity of evangelism, announcing this good news (gospel) that because God is redeeming the whole world through Jesus, we are saved by his work and not ours. It is a message of sovereign grace, to which people are called to respond in faith by the Holy Spirit.

The demonstration, or serving, is modelled through the activity of service, especially to the poor, the hurting, and the excluded – the ‘least.’ God is putting the world to rights, and we are privileged to participate in seeking the gracious, generous justice that is the mark of a reconciled and renewed world where God reigns.

This ‘alerting’ work, of proclamation and demonstration – speaking and serving – should occur in hundreds of different ways, from the tiniest daily actions of ordinary Christians to the major programs of churches and organisations. It should shape the life of every Christian, and every congregation. We exist for no other reason.

Mission is a participation in the life of God, and therefore in his glory. It is the privilege of alerting people to the universal reign of God through Jesus.


Neil, Stephen, If Everything Is Missions - Global Infusion

Bosch, David, Believing in the Future: Toward a Missiology of Western Culture (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press, 1995), 33.

Flett, J. G. (2014). A theology of missio Dei. Theology in Scotland, 21(1), pp. 69-78.

Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics G.W. Bromily Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, (1956–75), IV/2, 342f
The Basis of Union 1992 Edition. Melbourne: Uniting Church Press, 1992.

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