Mission and Missions

By Pr Ho Wei Liang

“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’” (John 20:21)

John Piper says that “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Adapting his motto just a little, my lecturer in mission at Trinity Theological College would say, “Mission exists because worship doesn’t.” What’s so different between the two? As our church embark on our Mission Emphasis Month, it will be good for us to learn the difference between the two, and so understand how we may, together with our church missionaries and missionaries worldwide, join in bringing God’s saving message to a world which does not yet know and worship Him.

Our God is a missionary God; the activity of the triune God is seen in the Father sending the Son and the Son sending the Spirit. Through Bible passages like John 20:21 (see above), we come to understand that the Church does not have a mission of its own; mission is first and foremost God’s mission. God is the primary actor in redeeming the world, and we are called to join Him in His mission to redeem the world and invite people into the divine family. Placing God at the centre of mission also necessarily reorientates our thinking—shifting from a “church-centred mission to a mission-centred church” (Wicker, Mission from the Margins: The Missio Dei in the Crisis of World Christianity, p.187). This has great implications for the life and practice of the Church.

“Missions,” on the other hand, usually refers to ministry that crosses cultures. Those who cross cultures in obedience to the call of God to join Him in His mission are thus described as missionaries. With this understanding, we know that “missions” is a subset of the total mission of the Church. So while church missionaries are engaged in cross-cultural missions, we must know that the Church’s mission is not primarily done by them or other specialists like pastors. 

Participating in the mission of God is the joyful privilege and responsibility of all Christians. As ambassadors of Christ our Lord, each and every Christian is called to represent Christ and carry out His mission (2 Cor. 5:18-20). Vocation is one of the key areas in which we can do that. As the Old Testament shows us, even in pagan environments, God’s people—like Daniel and his three friends, and Queen Esther—can fulfil God’s purpose, bringing glory to God and blessing to people through their vocations. This remains true today.