A relatively new understanding of mission and ministry has emerged in recent years, an understanding or paradigm called “missional.” In a nutshell, proponents of missional ministry believe the primary thing Jesus and the Bible call us to do is proclaim and demonstrate the reign of God through Christ, that is, the coming of His kingdom, and the unprecedented events that marked His time on earth: His birth, death, burial, and resurrection. David Bosch, a South African missiologist, summarizes the missional paradigm like this: “Mission is more and different from recruitment to our brand of religion; it is the alerting of people to the reign of God through Christ.”
In the words of New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright: “The New Testament picks up from the Old the theme that God intends in the end, to put the whole of creation to rights: ‘The earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.’ That is the promise which resonates throughout the Bible story, from Isaiah all the way through to Paul’s greatest visionary moments and the final chapters of the book of Revelation. The great drama will end not with ‘saved souls’ being snatched up into heaven, away from the wicked earth and the mortal bodies which have dragged them down into sin, but with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, so that ‘the dwelling of God is with humans,” (Rev.21:3).
What proponents of missional ministry are essentially saying is that mission is larger and more expansive than simply evangelizing with words. Evangelism, in their view, is a part of God’s larger purpose, not the sum total. It is one of the ways we alert people to the universal reign of God in Christ, and the coming of God’s kingdom to the earth.
Now, while I admit to feeling uneasy with an understanding of mission and ministry that could end up devaluing verbal evangelism, I appreciate the point proponents of missional ministry are making…that fulfilling the Great Commission involves more than just communicating Christian doctrine. Words and information need to be backed up by a radical transformation in the life of the person speaking, and by a demonstration of God’s love that touches every aspect of life.
In the words of missional proponent Michael Frost: “Healing the sick, challenging unjust political and social structures, feeding the poor, embodying the values of the reign of God are all facets of God’s mission in this world, the mission of putting all things right. Our involvement with [making things right] will include both our lips and our hands. It will involve evangelism, advocacy, peacemaking, worship and proclamation, as well as service, justice-seeking, healing, building, and feeding.”
I like and agree with this understanding of mission. But does this understanding mean that social action and evangelism are of equal importance? The following three points reflect my personal response to that question.