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The Missionary Imperative of the Missional Church – Missio Dei

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series

"Missional Worship"

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The first principle that drives the missional church is what it considers the biblically-mandated missionary imperative. But while the evangelical church has traditionally considered evangelism and missions a critical reason for its existence, the missional church understands such an emphasis as not just one ministry among many but as the overarching idea of what it means to be a church.

Missional authors are critical of what they call an “ecclesiocentric understanding of mission” that has so characterized the church in the West. Rather, they have sought to reclaim a theocentric vision for mission by defining mission, not as part of the church’s work, but as the very purpose of God himself throughout history into which the church’s work fits. Newbigin was instrumental in this shift in thinking. Without using the term missio Dei, he expressed its essence when he wrote,

The missionary movement of which we are part has its source in the triune God himself. Out of the depths of his love for us, the Father as sent forth His own beloved Son to reconcile all things to Himself, that we and all men might, through the Spirit, be made one in Him with the Father in that perfect love which is the very nature of God.1

Guder and others in the GOCN continued to develop this theme, re-centering mission in its God-centered purpose:

The subtle assumption of much Western mission was that the church’s missionary mandate lay not only in forming the church of Jesus Christ, but in shaping the Christian communities that it birthed in the image of the church of western European culture. This ecclesiocentric understanding of mission has been replaced in this century by a profoundly theocentric reconceptualization of Christian mission. We have come to see that mission is not merely an activity of the church. Rather, mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purpose to restore and heal creation. “Mision” means “sending,” and it is the central biblical theme describing the purpose of God’s action in human history. God’s mission began with the call of Israel to receive God’s blessings in order to be a blessing to the nations. God’s mission unfolded in the mission of God’s people across the centuries recorded in Scripture, and it reached its revelatory climax in the incarnation of God’s work of salvation in Jesus ministering, crucified, and resurrected. God’s mission continued then in the sending of the Spirit to call forth and empower the church as the witness of churches in every culture to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it moves toward the promised consummation of God’s salvation in the eschaton (“last” or “final day”).2

This refocus is important for missional thinking because it is inherently God-centered rather than church-centered or individual-centered. Missional advocates argue that God has been at work accomplishing his mission for mankind since the beginning of human history, and the purposes of his people fit within that mission. As Calhoun explains,

Being the people of God has always been shaped by a willingness to embrace the mission of God. Since the Fall in the garden, God’s plan to redeem fallen creation has involved forming a community of faith representative of his kingdom for the purpose of carrying the message of redemption to the world. The missio Dei was and continues to be the heartbeat of the people of God.3

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Norman Goodall, ed., Missions Under the Cross: Addresses Delivered at the Enlarged Meeting of the Committee of the International Missionary Council at Willingen, in Germany, 1952; with Statements Issued by the Meeting.(London: Edinburgh House Press, 1953), 189. []
  2. Guder, Missional Church, 4. []
  3. Calhoun, “Recovering Recovery,” 7. []