1. The Missio Dei
The Bible teaches that mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but rather lies at the very heart of God the Holy Trinity. The whole language of ‘sending’ and ‘being sent’ is fundamental to our understanding of the New Testament, especially John’s Gospel: God sends his Son; the Father and Son send the Spirit; and Father, Son and Spirit send the church to fulfil God’s plan of salvation for the world he loves (see e.g. John 3:17, 14:26, 15:26, 20:21).
The ‘Five Marks of Mission’ remind us of the breadth of that salvation: our calling is to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, to teach, baptise and nurture new believers, to respond to human need by loving service, to seek to transform unjust structures of society and to strive to sustain and renew the life of the earth. Transforming Church asks questions in all these areas, encouraging each church community to see where our missionary God is already at work, then inviting us to join in.
2. Kingdom and Church
Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of God – his rule – on earth, and encouraged us to pray ‘Your kingdom come’. Signs of God’s kingdom include the preaching of the Good News, repentance, healings and release from demonic oppression (Matthew 4:23, Luke 4:18).
From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus called together disciples to form a messianic community, living by the values of the kingdom of God, as spelt out in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). In Acts 2:43-47 we see that community in action, characterised by spiritual power, lavish generosity, overflowing joy and vibrant worship. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks in powerful terms of the importance of the Church in God’s kingdom purposes (see 1:20-23). The rest of the New Testament introduces us to a variety of local churches, each with their own particular character, strengths and struggles.
Transforming Church unashamedly begins with the local church, but it does not end there. Our calling is to pray ‘Your kingdom come’ in our communities, then to give ourselves, creatively and sacrificially, towards the fulfilment of that prayer.
The New Testament has two related words for transformation: morphoo (from which we derive our English word morph), and metamorphoo (from which we derive our word metamorphosis). Morphoo is used in Galatians 4:19, where Paul speaks of Christ being ‘formed’ in us; metamorphoo in Romans 12:2, where he speaks of us being ‘transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect’.
God’s transforming work begins in Christian individuals, as Christ is formed in his people (Galatians 4:19; 2 Corinthians 3:18); but transformed lives also have a transforming effect in the church and in the world around them. Having instructed his readers to be ‘transformed by the renewing of your minds’, Paul goes on to picture what that transformation looks like the church, speaking of love, generosity, perseverance, and a Christ-like attitude to both stranger and persecutor (Romans 12:3-21).
God’s call to Adam and Eve to ‘go forth and multiply’ is picked up in a missional context in the many agricultural images scattered through the New Testament. Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God as like a mustard seed – the smallest of seeds which becomes the largest of plants (Mark 4:30-32); he speaks of the sower, who perseveres through disappointment and failure, and sees the good ground yield startling results (Mark 4:1-20). He speaks of God as the ‘Lord of the Harvest’, and encourages his disciples to pray that workers might be sent into the harvest field (Matthew 9:38); and he speaks of the need for pruning (John 15:2), and of the principle of death and resurrection – the seed ‘dying’ to ‘produce many seeds’ (John 12:24).
The numerical growth of the early church is well charted by Luke, who rapidly moves from 12 to 70 to 120 to 3000 to 5000 before losing count! Numbers are important, because they represent individuals who have responded to the call of the Kingdom (the ‘fortyfold, sixtyfold, hundredfold’ increase in the parable of the sower); but the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation also remind us that size isn’t everything: as the Risen Christ says to the church in Smyrna, ‘I know your afflictions and poverty – yet you are rich!’ (Revelation 2:9).
We should not underestimate the challenge of growing churches in today’s climate (especially in some of our tougher communities), but nor should we give way to a self-fulfilling fatalism. Provided we plant and water carefully and prayerfully, there can be an expectation that God will bring the growth, however fragile that growth can sometimes appear (1 Corinthians 3:6).
5. The Laos
The whole Bible (Old Testament and New) holds out a vision of a people who are filled with God’s Spirit and called into His service: what the reformers called ‘the priesthood of all believers’ (see Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9). The idea that some Christians ‘do’ ministry and others Christians have ministry ‘done’ to them is quite contrary to this biblical understanding. Rather, those who are called to lead the church are called to equip all God’s people to be ministers and missionaries in their homes, workplaces and communities (see Ephesians 4:11-13).
Those churches of all traditions that have begun to rediscover this principle – to release the laos in the vision and passion that God has stirred within them – are exciting and sometimes risky places, where people grow in confidence and church becomes more of an organism than an organisation. Transforming Church encourages such a development, and an approach to leadership that is both strategic and releasing.
6. Biblical Responses to Fresh Vision
Just for fun, really: some Biblical responses to fresh vision:
The Moses response: ‘O Lord, please send someone else to do it!’ (Ex.4:13), or ‘It’s really meant for other people’.
The Nehemiah response: ‘I am carrying on a great project and I cannot come down’ (Nehemiah 6:3), or ‘Can’t you see we’re busy enough already?’
The Eliab response: ‘I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle’ (1 Sam 17:28), or ‘I don’t trust the motives behind all this (it’s only another attempt to cut clergy…’).
The Peter response: ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night, and haven’t caught anything’ (Luke 5:5), or ‘we tried that before, and it didn’t work’.
The Paul response: ‘I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow’ –(1 Corinthians 3:6), or, ‘Who are we to tell God that he must grow his church?’
The ‘Solomon’ response: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house its builders labour in vain’ (Psalm 127:1).
The Isaiah Response ‘Here am I. Send me’ (Isaiah 6:8).
The Early Church response: ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’ (Acts 15:28).
Early Adopters and Late Adopters: Matthew 21:28-31.