Words have meaning. Well, unless you are into the verbal gymnastics of the postmodern extreme. Dirt does not mean water, chalk does not mean cheese, and alkaline battery does not mean maple tree. It is because words have meaning that we should take care in how we use them when speaking on the mission of God, and it is because words have meaning that we should use intentional language to involve all of God's people in all of God's mission.
Words build and words destroy. Words cast vision and words halt progress. And words have the ability to lead toward a preferred future.
In church life, some words have become so codified that they may as well form a second Decalogue. Come forward, Bow your heads and close your eyes and the like are pregnant with both intended and unintended meaning. If we are to involve all of God's people in all of God's mission, we need to ensure that our articulations match our intentions.
Two decades ago, Lesslie Newbigin wisely reminded us of the need to consider context in language: "In some cultures a dog is seen as a member of the household and an object of affection; in others it is primarily a scavenger and an object of contempt. The word 'dog' has distinctly different meanings in the two cultures, and the full meaning of the word can never be exhaustively specified" (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society). In the same way that the context of dog has to be explored, the context of words like mission, missional, and global engagement must be explored and explained.
The second thing, therefore, that we need to involve all of God's people in all of God's mission is better language.
The government makes a distinction between military and civilian so that we will all recognize who is tasked with defending the country and fighting wars - the military. Leaders in the church have made an unhelpful distinction by the use of the words clergy and laity. The unintended consequence is that we are left with the impression that one group is tasked with engaging in ministry - the clergy. We know that is not so, so why not stop speaking as if it is?
It will help all of God's people to be involved in all of God's mission if we will do the work of both defining the mission and choosing an appropriate cultural articulation of the mission. As Stephen Neil has said, "When everything is mission, nothing is mission." The mission of God cannot be the catch-all that includes everything from folding bulletins, to picking up trash on the highway, to coaching a ball team, to the gospel infiltrating a previously unreached people.
Admittedly, this is made no easier by the fact that some terms cannot be agreed upon across Christendom. Try coming to unity on the meaning of kingdom or a solid definition for missional. You'll find a difficult task awaits. What can take place, however, is a local church can choose words that convey meaning in the context of that body. In turn, those words can define the mission of God, the work of the church and the role of the members. When that happens, all the members of your church can be involved in all of God's mission.
As we do this, I believe a church seeking to involve each member in God's mission - a component of any missional church - will intentionally include the motive of God's glory to be expressed among the nations. It is impossible to separate the mission of God from the glory of God since His glory is the goal of His mission. God's glory among every tongue tribe and nation can and should be a theme for every church. Habakkuk reminds us, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD's glory, as the waters cover the sea" (2:14, HCSB).
So emphatic is God about His glory being displayed throughout the earth, that I don't think a church should call itself missional unless it is seeking to serve locally, plant nationally, and engage an unreached people group globally. Without a global vision, there will always be a missing focus resulting in a church out of balance. Rather than saying "all Christians are missionaries," I prefer to say, "All Christians ought to be on God's global mission."
I talked to two friends in Paris about being involved globally - from the beginning of their church plant and expressed in its DNA. Johnny Grimes is the church planter and lead pastor of Branch Life Church in Birmingham. Joseph Turner is the planter and pastor at Sojourn Community Church in Houston. Both of these guys are committed to incorporating mission both local and international into the DNA of their church from the beginning.
Remember, words have meaning. As we are careful to take context into account in our local churches, using words that clearly communicate what the mission is and what it requires, we can see a move toward all of God's people being involved in all of God's mission.
This is Part Two of a four-part series. Click here to read Part One.
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Ed blogs daily at EdStetzer.com.