When discussing missions and pastoral theology, missio dei (the “mission of God”) is becoming a near-constant theme. Christians are challenged to look at what God is doing in the world and seek to join God in His mission. Missions expands from proclamation ministries of evangelism, church planting, and pastoral training to include activist goals like climate control, social justice, and poverty/disaster relief.
If we must select a Latin phrase as our battle cry for missions, missio dei should not be it. Christians (and especially Christian leaders) have an unfortunate tendency to forget that they are not God. If our mission statement is to find and enact God’s plans for the world, we will inevitably pursue our own designs for the world because we are utterly unqualified, unable, and unwilling to pursue the missio dei in its entirety. We might think ourselves capable “to grant relief to you who are afflicted” (2 Thess 1:7), but the very next verse informs us that the missio dei includes God “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (1:8).
Our inability to join God’s mission in its entirety neither excludes us from participating in the missio dei nor grants us license to engage in whatever divine activities we please. Our part in the missio dei put simply is to do what God has told us to do. If we must select a Latin moniker for our part, it would have to be missio ecclesiae, “mission of the church.”
Our mission is the Great Commission. We make disciples, baptize them into the local church (planting new churches if we must), and teach them to observe all things that Christ has commanded. Individual Christians should be generous to the poor and good stewards of God’s gifts. Churches are free to engage in mercy ministries. However, the church’s center resides not in social activism but in proclamation of the gospel. Before we try to help God with His mission in the world, let’s make sure we’re accomplishing the missio ecclesiae, the mission God gave us.