Blog - Grasping Vocation
Meshing Mission and MondaySaturday, December 11, 2010
Workplace ministry. I use the term, yet it can be misleading. Too often it seems to imply bringing church-like activities—Bible studies, prayer meetings, and so on—into the office or job site. So I welcomed the following words by David J. Bosch in his book, Transforming Mission: ". . . a theology of the laity does not mean that the laity should be trained to become ‘mini-pastors.'” Then, quoting from William R. Burrows, Bosch goes on to say that the ministry (or service) of the laity occurs "in shops, villages, farms, cities, classrooms, homes, law offices, in counseling, politics, statecraft, and recreation.”
What are these places, mostly workplaces, doing in a book on Christian mission? Bosch was a theology professor from South Africa until his death in 1992. His book, Transforming Mission, has been called "the most widely used mission textbook in the world.” To explain why Bosch included the workplace in such a book, I'll summarize how his understanding of mission differs from the way many of us have seen it.
For decades I've heard the term "sending church.” In a commissioning service for missionaries, one pastor told the congregation: "Today, you, the Church, are commissioning your missionaries and sending them out.” The typical church considers "missions” as one of its programs, alongside "Christian education,” "youth,” and others. Over time, this has created an impression of the church as the originator of mission. The table to the right summarizes the traditional idea of the church as the sender.
By contrast, Bosch points out that the picture of the "sending church” restricts our vision of mission. The larger vision, he says, sees God as the Sender. God loved the world so much that he "sent” his Son. God, then, is a Missionary God, a sending God. God the Son "sends” the church. After Jesus was glorified, God the Father and the Son "sent” the Holy Spirit to provide the church power to witness. This changes the entire picture, as seen in the lower row in the table.
In the biblical picture, the "mission force” in the world is far larger than it appeared to be in the traditional picture. Instead of the "sent (or called) ones” including just a small percentage of specialist Christians, God sends all Christians out as his missionaries—including those who represent him in the work world. What is the significance of seeing mission this way? Darrell Cosden, in his book, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, sums it up like this: "…what this means is that most, if not all, of the world is already filled with God's missionaries.”
To condense Bosch's book, one of his students, Stan Nussbaum, wrote A Reader's Guide to Transforming Mission. In that book, he asks: "How did we ever come to imagine that the job of carrying the missionary torch was the job of a few specialist professionals and organizations within the church rather than the church as a whole?”
Since God, the Sender, sends the whole church on his mission, how can we best equip for their ministry (service) that part of the mission force whose territory includes the work world?