What should Mission look like in the 21st Century?

Christians have repeatedly tied themselves in knots about Mission. At various times we’ve boxed it, felt guilty about it, outsourced it and pretended to do it whilst running in the other direction. Mission as we often think of it came of age in 17th Century, but what should it look like in 2012?

To start with let’s look at 3 Mission Misconceptions.

1. Mission is not something you do abroad. There is no difference between ‘foreign’ mission and mission at home. Our notion that we go on mission to other countries stems from the 18th Century when it was assumed that everyone in the UK was a Christian. That’s clearly not an assumption we make today. Mission happens everywhere, including here in Leamington Spa.

2. Mission is not about individuals. Hudson Taylor, Watchman Nee, Jackie Pullinger – we raise these missionary heroes on pedestals, but what did they do when they arrived in Foreign Fields? They set up churches to reach those around them. Jesus had the 12 and the 72 and left disciples to build a church. Here at St. Mark’s you’re one step ahead – you already have a church! Mission is something we do together.

3. Mission is not about programmes although it may include those. Mission flows out of our relationship with God and with people. It’s very easy to copy a ‘successful’ programme – Alpha, social action Projects, youth work – but lose its heart. It’s very easy to hide ourselves behind a programme and think we’re ‘doing our evangelistic bit’ whereas in fact we are keeping ourselves one stepped removed and not being authentic and vulnerable with others about the reality of our walk with God. Mission is about witnessing with our whole lives.

The beginning of Jesus’ Mission.

1) Mission is about knowing that we are Sons and Daughters loved by God. (Luke 3:21-22 – Jesus’ baptism)

‘You are my son, whom I love’. As Jesus heard that phrase from God I imagine the Holy Spirit filling Him with a deep sense of those words in His heart. We need to know in our own Hearts, Minds and Souls that God loves us and made us His own Sons and Daughters through his Life, Death and Resurrection. Otherwise our witness and our evangelism will be hollow, inauthentic and ineffective. We will get burned out.We need to be refreshed and filled with this each day.

In the mid-1730s the great John Wesley set sail for the tiny isolated American colony of Georgia to ‘convert the Indians’. He worked and he preached and helped the poor, but came back to England, exhausted and worn down in 1738 asking ‘who shall convert me?’. He knew something wasn’t right. It wasn’t until His famous experience of May 1738 when he ‘felt his heart strangely warmed’ that he knew, really knew that he was loved by God. He continued to have doubts in His life, but knew where to go to be refreshed.

2. Mission is about our character (Luke 4:5-7 – the temptations of Jesus)

The Devil showed Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world and said that he could have them all – straight away – that authority would be given to Him without any of the pain and the suffering. As we fulfil the mission that God gives us we will be tempted by many shortcuts. Jesus resisted the Devil’s lies ‘saying I shall worship God only’. Winding forward to the end of Matthew, after His death and Resurrection Jesus is able to say ‘All authority on Heaven and Earth is given to me‘. He did it God’s way.

There will be times when we have the opportunity to tread over someone or grab a position of power that seems to take us towards fulfilling the things that God has given us, but how we do God’s mission is important. God often puts a calling in our hearts, but doesn’t give us all the details. We need to intentionally build our characters so that in those moments of choice we act with integrity. There’s frequently times where I realise that I haven’t trusted in God for what He calls me to do and therefore don’t act out of love. It’s at these times that those words from Matt Redman seem particularly apposite: ‘Lord, send revival, start with me‘.

3) Mission is about sharing our dreams and callings. (Luke 4:14-22 – Jesus speaks at the temple)

Jesus didn’t keep his mission to Himself. He went to the most public place in town and declared that he was here ‘to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the Year of Favour of the Lord‘. He did it in the most difficult of places – his home town. Sometimes it can be easier to share our heart with people we don’t know, but to talk about the things closest to us with our friends and family? That is to risk misunderstanding, awkward silence and rejection.

It’s not easy to be this vulnerable, but boy did it get things going in Jesus’ mission. If we risk speak about the deep things of our hearts – our dreams, visions and callings, our communal lives become shaped by them. Smaller disagreements can be allowed to fade into the background.

Look around you. Do you know that the things that make people tick in your congregation? Ask them. Be prepared to share some of the things that God has given you that have maybe been almost lost, buried under a pile of failure, hurt or the busy habits of our everyday lives. Talk about them. God will have given you things to do together. Be gracious to each other, find people that share your heart, but expect Jesus to change the details and the timing!

4. Mission is about using all the gifts God gives us. (Luke 4:33-36 & 38-40 – casting out of a Demon and Healing Simon’s mother-in-law)

Jesus began to live out his mission with authority and power in words and in actions. I don’t know what you think about casting out demons or healings, but I do know that the authority that God gave Jesus was for His mission – for demonstrating God’s kingdom. I want everything that God’s got for me – I don’t want to do my mission with one hand behind my back. It won’t work. Jesus said we would do greater things that Him by the Holy Spirit and although it terrifies me every time I pray it I want to see what that looks like.


Mission is about knowing in our hearts that we are loved and Sons and Daughters of God. It’s about our character and it’s about discussing what God has called us as church to do together. It’s about living out our mission with all the things that God gives to us.

It will be joyful and it will be painful. Mission is about living out who we are in God with our whole lives.

This is an edited version of a sermon I gave in September 2012 at St. Mark’s church, Leamington Spa.

6 thoughts on “What should Mission look like in the 21st Century?”

  1. Brilliant stuff Jon – a positive challenge – the part about asking the congregation what made them tick particularily interesting. So – what answers did they give you when you were sharing your sermon?


  2. Great stuff as far as it goes, but what about the sending emphasis in the concept of ‘mission’ and the evangelistic direction. Whilst mission is not just what is done abroad, not even cross-cultural mission is just that nowadays, but there is still a Christian responsibility to help the development and growth of the worldwide church. Interest in ‘overseas mission’ is being severely undermined in the eyes of many in the Church today.


    1. Hi Ralph,

      I think ‘Mission’ traditionally makes us think of societies (or charities) that became divorced from the church – it effectively became boxed off and professionalised.

      Churches need to find ways of giving (and receiving) support to brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Some of course already do this extremely well and aid and development agencies are more aware of this dynamic than they were a decade ago.


      1. I agree with you that mission agencies have proved themselves to be somewhat isolated from the local churches in the past. However, I fear that, by by-passing the agencies, many churches and individuals involved in mission, fail to understand much of the cross-cultural context and are guilty of increasing the dependency of recipient churches and groups on donors. There are numerous examples of groups who say ‘We have so much, you have so little, so we must give to you, without looking at the context and working out what is the best way to give, so that the recipients are encouraged to help themselves rather than rely on handouts.


      2. Agreed Ralph, if it’s not a genuine two way relationship it will fail. Those with expertise (like development agencies) should almost be like consultants supporting local church wherever it is.


      3. I would be interested in what you feel makes a ‘genuine two-way relationship’ in cross-cultural mission.


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