Mission is our prayer
The MB family around the globe in 2017
As I looked upon the 230 people from at least 35 countries (and more cultures) who attended the ICOMB consultation on mission and prayer, I was excited and hopeful about what God wanted to say to us. But I also had a burden about a few things. Both elements were active in my presentation.
Mission is rooted in the triune God.
Our missionary identity is primarily found in the triune God (Ephesians 1:11–14, 17). God in three persons exists in eternal communion. Our missionary task is grounded in the Father who sent Jesus to Earth, and the Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus, and ultimately the church. Trinitarian theology points to the radical communal nature of God which overflows into the foundations of mission.
But God is not easily known and understood. The Trinity as a doctrine has been misunderstood and even denigrated in the past. It reminds us that it’s impossible to know God…but you have to know him in order to know that! God is not just a “greater god” – he is “another other” kind of divine being (Isaiah 46:9).
All people of God have encountered this difficulty. It should make us humble. We must not assume that God is especially affirming of our cultural ways; our preferred idea of the gospel.
Mission is carried out by the church.
The church is the divine community – the body of Christ – on earth (Ephesians 1:22–23). The church is what salvation looks like! Salvation is not an individual proposition at all. We have a confessional identity which provides guiding principles for our mission. No group is “non-confessional” though sometimes we downplay our theological framework. We will either be Mennonite Brethren or something else.
Mission is the function of a communion called the church – not a mission agency. We need the specialization of mission agencies; however, we must not lose track of the local church’s centrality to mission.
At Thailand 2017, we reflected on the fact that there is a 150-year-old church in the world called “Mennonite Brethren.” The Canadian and India conferences are more than 125 years old. Though MB Mission is the oldest and most established agency, MB mission agencies are developing in India, Brazil, Colombia, Europe and DR Congo.
Today, we envision mission “from everywhere to everywhere” within our own family. We don’t cut off connection with other agencies and denominations, but we do need to (re)capture our vision as a specific church family on mission. And we need to support that – with prioritized prayer and giving.
Our mission today needs a global shape.
The communal nature of the triune God tells us that mission is communal. If we take this seriously, we will recognize receiving cultures’ capacity to theologize and work in mission as partners in the gospel.
We need an everywhere-to-everywhere gospel. With 35 nations represented at Thailand 2017, we have such potential! But there’s an elephant in the room: white power. Cultures once marginalized have mature theological voices. But white patterns respond first, “Don’t assert yourself; know your place.” When these “new” voices insist, the white pattern is to withdraw: “Keep the peace; this confrontation is unseemly.”
The new global gospel must be characterized much more in weakness (Philippians 2:5–11) – if only to counter the previous centuries where the gospel spread on colonialist power. The Anabaptists began on the margins. Why can’t we (re)orient to that as a global family of faith?
Finally, our consultation focused on mission and prayer. We seek to build prayer movements throughout our global family. But at its core, we don’t “have a prayer life”…our life is our prayer. As such, then mission is our prayer. Christ in us longs to pray. Christ in us longs to seek and save the lost.
This is the church on mission.
This is a condensed message from David Wiebe’s plenary presentation at the opening of The Church on Mission, an ICOMB consultation on mission and prayer.
[David Wiebe is director of ICOMB, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren. He loves to assemble people of God, opening space for all to listen to God as a community for inspiration and direction.