Thursday, September 4, 2014

Crafting a Missional Ethos through the Study of Scripture

The Scriptures reveal the true God and God’s mission to redeem a lost humanity and heal a fractured creation. God’s mission assumes the active involvement of God’s people in the advancement of God’s kingdom. It is crucial for local communities of faith to reposition and realign their goals and resources to engage the world with the Gospel. Scripture is our road map toward this end. Mission begins in the book of Genesis and is central to the overarching narrative of the Bible (Creation—Fall—Israel—Jesus—Church—New Creation).

Mission as Center
Followers of Jesus Christ need to rediscover God’s mission as central to the story that God desires to write through our lives. From the story of Israel through the spread of the Gospel in the New Testament and up till today, God has been working to establish a missional community in the world that would serve the Creation by embodying and reflecting God’s character to, in, and for the Creation. This community exists to testify to the world the reality of God. Too often today, however, mission exists on the periphery of communities of faith. The work of mission and evangelism can easily be handed over to a few with the “gifts” for this work or to a “missions” committee. Studying the Bible carefully will demonstrate that mission is a value for all rather than a gift for a few.

Mission and Reading Scripture
The biblical narrative envisions all of God’s people as active participants with God in God’s work in the world. When we engage the world, we will return to the Bible with a different set of questions than we would ask if we only read the Bible within the four walls of our churches. When we only read the Bible in or for the Church, we unwittingly mute the voice of Scripture because we will find ourselves only “preaching to the choir.” The Bible was inspired by a missional God who worked through human authors who were engaged in God’s work in the world. As followers of Christ, we exist in two realities—we are the Church and we live in the World. It is only when we take this dual existence seriously that we can hear God’s Word in all its fullness. The sweet spots for reading the Bible are those places where God’s work, the world, and God’s people intersect.

The Missionally Devout Life
When we read Scripture as the roadmap to mission, spiritual formation is not separated from missional engagement. A devotional life becomes more than personal spiritual growth. Instead, our devotional life empowers us to live as God’s ambassadors in the world. Reflection upon Scripture is a necessity for life. Study is a gift that we are giving to those with whom we will interact in our lives. Scripture serves as a fuel for mission rather than merely food for devotional thought. Our engagement with the world will drive us back to the Scriptures with new questions and fresh perspectives. Active participation in mission takes us out of the safety of our own communities of faith and sends us out into the uncharted seas of the world. These are places where our stock Christian answers and insider talk may be incomprehensible to those with whom we speak. It is encounters in the world that necessitate a missional reading of the text. The way forward is a passionate and rigorous return to the principal source of our knowledge of Jesus and the mission of God - the Bible. Being on mission demands that we are intimately acquainted with the Scriptures in their totality. In the Bible, we encounter the mission of God to bring salvation and wholeness to the world, and we meet humanity in all of its potential, fallenness, and ambiguity. If we learn to read the Bible in light of our missional practice, we will be more discerning in our conversations with others and learn to speak in the language of persons created in God’s image.

Transformation not Information
Last our goal in reading is transformation rather than information. We come to the Scriptures to learn how to function as God’s people in the world rather than to fill our minds with facts and propositions. Scripture shapes an ethos of expectation for God’s people in terms of their actions, holiness, and community. A missional reading engages the Scriptures with all available tools, but recognizes that interpretation is incomplete without obedience and change on the part of its hearers. The transformation demanded by Scripture is heard as a call to conversion. Followers of Jesus are called to (re)align to God’s intentions for God’s people and those outside of the faith are invited to convert to God’s intentions for humanity by becoming part of God’s people.

What do you think?

© 2014 Brian D. Russell

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