In a broad sense there are two types of Christian leaders: Those who listen primarily to human voices and those who focus their hearts on listening to God. The first try to navigate competing human preferences, expectations, and desires with the goal of satisfying everyone. The second acknowledge that only God in his Holy Spirit can form us into his kingdom people. The first seek answers below—in the world; the second above—in God. That is the purpose of Mission Alive’s Theology Lab: to teach Christian leaders to move from theology to practice by hearing the voice of God.
For us, a theology of mission, like the rudder of a boat, guides the mission of God and provides direction. My wife is fond of remembering how our children frequently wanted to “drive” when we took them on pedal-boats. At times they were so intent on pedaling, making the boat move, that the rudder was held in an extreme position, and we went in circles. Realizing their mistake, but still intent on pedaling, they would move the rudder from one extreme to the other so that we zig-zagged across the lake. When Christians operate without the foundation of a missional theology, their lives and ministries tend to zig-zag from fad to fad, from one theological perspective and related philosophies of ministry to another. A theology of mission, like the rudder of a boat, provides practical direction for Christian ministry.
A theology of mission is also like a boat’s engine that propels forward the mission of God. One spring my wife and I taught at Abilene Christian University’s campus abroad program in Montevideo, Uruguay. During the semester, we traveled with our students to Iguazu Falls, a spectacular waterfall between Brazil and Argentina. One highlight of our visit was a motor-boat excursion against the mighty currents of the river almost to the foot of the falls. I was impressed not only by the immensity of the flow of the water but also the power of the engine to pull the boat against the tide up the river. A theology of mission, like the engine of a boat, provides the power that enables finite humans to carry God’s infinite mission against currents of popular cultures.
A theology of mission, for example, helps us frame our reality around the kingdom of God. This theology is like a scarlet thread interwoven through the fabric of the biblical text. It helps us realize that this is God’s world, and we must live as God’s people reflecting his love, holiness, and faithfulness.
Theology is meant to be practical: A theology of the kingdom of God leads us to ask the practical questions about:
- Spiritual formation: How do we live lives obedient to God?
- Regeneration: How do broken people become disciples of Christ, servants within the kingdom of God?
- Expectation: The kingdom of God is already here but has not yet been consummated: How do live in expectation for the consummation of the kingdom of God?
Frequently ministry is done naively out of human planning rather than beginning with understandings of the nature and purposes of God and then moving from these theological frameworks to practice. Stuart Murray writes, “All church planters [and church leaders] operate within theological frameworks, but often these are assumed rather than articulated and adopted uncritically rather than as the result of reflection. Theological principles may influence strategy and practice less than unexamined tradition or innovative methodology” (Church Planting: Laying Foundations 2001, 39).
Finally, hard questions for reflection and dialogue: To what degree are we shaped by God and his guiding Holy Spirit and revelation? To what degree by human fads—even church planting and renewal fads? What does this say to you?
Facilitator of Church Planting