Dr. Daniel Vestal: Missio Dei

In all our conversation about missional church, missionaries, mission trips, mission programs and the human activities that we describe as missions, I would like to reflect theologically on discerning God’s mission in the world and discovering our participation in it.


THE MOTIVE FOR GOD’S MISSION IS LOVE AND THE DIVINE DESIRE TO BE KNOWN. God is love and within the triune God there is an eternal giving and receiving of love. There is community and fellowship within the Divine Being. And out of that love, God creates the universe and human beings in God’s image so that God may be known.

After sin God still desires to be known, so God chooses Abraham and creates Israel to be the vehicle and instrument for making God known to all the world. Then in the fullness of time God sends Israel’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, so that the world may know the character and identity of the one true God. God’s mission is motivated by love – unbounding, unconditional, unlimited love.

THE GOAL OF GOD’S MISSION IS THE RECONCILIATION AND REDEMPTION OF THE WORLD. Nobody needs to tell us that our world is broken or that humanity is fallen. We know it. We also know that we’re a part of that brokenness. We know we are sinners, guilty before God and one another. And we ask the question, “Is there any hope? Is there hope for the redemption of my personal character? Is there hope for the redemption of culture? Is there hope for the redemption of the cosmos?

And the answer God gives is, “I make all things new. I forgive and redeem. I not only create, but I recreate what is broken. I heal the bruised and battered. I restore the fallen and deliver the captive.” And beyond that God says, “I create community and restore relationships. I bring peace within persons and peace between people.” And beyond that God says,

“See, the home of God is among mortals,

He will dwell with them as their God;

They will be his peoples,

And God himself will be with them;

He will wipe every tear from their eyes,

Death will be no more;

Mourning and crying and pain will be no more

For the first things are passed away.

THE FULFILLMENT OF GOD’S MISSION IS THROUGH CHRIST. By death on the cross Christ reconciled the world to God, became the sacrifice for sin and defeated the power of Satan. By Christ’s resurrection from the dead, God vindicated the life and ministry, the words and works of Christ, completed the inauguration of the present/coming Kingdom, and declared once and for all that “Jesus is Lord.”

After the ascension Christ continues to live among and within those who believe in Him by the gift and power of the Holy Spirit. The Church is Christ’s mystical Body and a continuing presence of Christ in the world. And at His return Christ will culminate and climax the redemptive mission of God with the renewal of all creation.

The mission of God is in Christ and through Christ. Just as ”there is one God, there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.” There have been many prophets and teachers who point to the truth. But there is only one who is Truth. There have been mystics and martyrs, poets and philosophers in the world. But there is only one Savior for the world: Christ: the image of the invisible God, the Word made flesh, the only begotten Son of the Father.


PARTICIPATION IN GOD’S MISSION IS A GIFT AND PRIVILEGE. One of my favorite Fred Craddock stories is the one he tells about an early pastorate when he called the leadership together as he saw profound changes ahead. He told them, “This community is changing. We need to do something.” But they were unwilling to change or be changed. Twenty years later he and his wife went back to that community to find the church filled with people, because they had sold it to a barbeque restaurant. His wife remarked, “I’m glad this church was sold to a restaurant, because now all kind of people can come.”

The problem with that church, and many others, is that they thought the church and its mission belonged to them rather than to God. They thought that somehow they owned it and could do with it as they pleased. But the church and its mission is simply an extension of God’s mission. It belongs to God. It is given to us as a gift, a stewardship, a sacred trust. What an awesome privilege.

PARTICIPATION IN GOD’S MISSION WILL BE DETERMINED BY THE TRANSFORMATION OF OUR OWN CHARACTER INTO CHRISTLIKENESS. The greatest way we serve Christ’s Kingdom is by learning to live in it ourselves. We can’t make disciples of others unless we become disciples. We can’t teach the way of Christ unless we learn to walk in it. We can’t witness to the power of Christ unless we experience that power transforming us.

This is why prayer and worship are important. This is why the practice of spiritual disciplines is crucial. This is why Christian community and spiritual formation are necessary. More important in mission than what we do is what we are becoming. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

PARTICIPATION IN GOD’S MISSION REQUIRES THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Mission is more than activity and activism, although it takes our energy and time. Mission is more than doing good things, although it requires our engagement. Mission is more than teaching and preaching, although it includes words. Mission happens only when the ministry of God’s Spirit is taking place in and through us.

Mission is greater than the sum of all our practices, because the Breath of God must quicken and awaken, empower and enlighten, renew and remake. Mission is greater than human effort, although human effort is important, because the Wind of God’s Spirit must blow in mysterious and powerful ways to accomplish what only God can accomplish. And we are totally dependent on that Spirit if we are to participate in God’s mission.

In his remarkable book “The Mission of God” Christopher J. H. Wright offers the following statement: “Fundamentally, our mission (if it is biblically informed and validated) means our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation.”

I agree.

--Daniel Vestal

Used by permission from "Words from the Executive Coordinator," June 3, 2009. www.thefellowship.info. Copyright 2009 The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship