Ahead of our European launch on 2nd June, we wanted to share an extract of our latest book – “Family on Mission” by Mike and Sally Breen. One of the conversations in this book is about how we were ALL created for Family on Mission, as Mike writes below:
Here’s the thing—as the missional conversation has progressed, all of us have learned quite a bit about mission. We emphasize and define mission, we equip people to live on mission, we attempt to help people understand and live out mission practically. If it’s about family on mission, we have had a lot of teaching about the mission part, but very little about the family part. Because of this we end up emphasizing the activity of mission and not the identity we carry that empowers mission. Essential to our identity in God is that we don’t exist as individuals only. Our identity is that we are a family on mission.
This is rooted in the two key themes of the Scriptures: covenant and kingdom. Covenant means that God has called us into a relationship with himself that leads us to become one with him. Covenant is two becoming one. That’s the family part. Kingdom means that our Father who has called us into relationship with himself also happens to have the most important job you can think of: he’s the king of the universe. And as the king, he’s not looking only for relationship—he’s looking for representatives. That’s the mission part— the same people who are in covenantal relationship with him also adopt his mission and learn to represent his kingship in the world.
Covenant is always about relationship and family. Kingdom is always about representation and mission.
One of our problems, though, is that we oftentimes think of these things as distinct categories. In other words, sometimes you are doing the covenant/family thing and other times you are doing the kingdom/mission thing. But that’s not how it works. You can’t separate them or compartmentalize them, because they are about your identity. They are like the double helix in DNA— it doesn’t work unless the two strands are connected to one another.
We can’t do family sometimes and mission other times. That’s the exhausting family AND mission dynamic we talked about in the first chapter. Instead we have to learn to integrate covenant and kingdom if we’re going to fulfill the call of God. We have to learn to be families ON mission.
This is how God has always worked. Before there was a tabernacle, temple, synagogue, or church, there was a family. Family on mission was how God started his project of creating beings in his image to represent him. Family on mission was how he started his project of saving and redeeming his creation after they fell. Family on mission was how he operated throughout salvation history. And Family on mission was how Jesus functioned in bringing redemption to its climax in his life, death, and resurrection. Let’s take a stroll through the Bible to see how these things play out.
God is Family on Mission
Even before we go back to the beginning, we need to go back to before the beginning. Before we talk about creation, we need to talk about the God who created everything, who existed before creation. We need to look at the nature of God himself to see how this family on mission stuff goes all the way back to who God is.
One of the key concepts within the missional conversation over the past few years has been the missio dei, which means “the mission of God.” This concept has been supremely important in helping to root our missional activity in the nature and activity of God himself. We are on mission because we are created and redeemed by a God who is himself on mission. The missio dei emphasis has been long needed and was much welcomed. It meant that our activity was grounded in the activity of God, meaning that we weren’t so much doing mission for God as doing mission with God. This makes all the difference in the world when it comes to missional living.
However, to be honest, I think this has caused some unintended consequences. It’s very easy for people to hear all this missional talk and feel guilty about their lack of missional performance. At worst it stirs up guilt that we’re “not doing enough,” and at best it produces people who have a vague conviction that they should be “missional” at work, at school, in the neighborhood, etc, but who don’t really know how to do it in a non-weird way. So we either end up saying and doing awkward things, or we say and do nothing at all (which inspires more guilt!).
We hear the theology of missio dei and feel inspired by it, but we end up faltering in our practice, because we lack an identity that could inform a more effective methodology. The primary identity we carry is “individual missionary,” and so our methodology becomes individualistic. We are individuals on mission. Think about it—even the most “missional” churches probably do something along these lines: we get together on Sundays to be inspired and encouraged, but when we are sent to go participate in the missio dei, we are sent as individual missionaries, trying to influence our workplace, struggling to make an impact in our neighborhood, attempting to be a solitary witness to our peers at school. If we’re honest, this methodology isn’t producing the same kind of fruit as we see in the book of Acts.
In other words, something about the way we conceive think about the missio dei is producing the methodology of individual missionaries. When the missio dei is combined with the heady cocktail of Western individualism, it inevitably gives rise to an individualistic methodology of mission. We think through the lens of individuals being sent on mission because we envision God as an individual on mission.
However, one of the distinctive hallmarks of Christian faith is that God is not simply an individual. Although we do of course believe that God is one, the New Testament reveals that we see his unity expressed in a diversity of three persons. Within the Mystery that is the unity of the Godhead, there is community.
This community of persons is revealed at the baptism of Jesus, where “heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17) Note the language of family! There is a Father speaking identity to a Son, and the empowering Spirit of God descending as a dove. This is the Trinity, as it was eventually called by the early church father Tertullian.
The interesting thing about what the Father spoke over Jesus at his baptism— which anyone listening at the time would have recognized—was that they were words of commission, sending Jesus on official family business. Paul uses almost the same familial language when he sends Timothy to Corinth on gospel business, “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 4:17)
The revelation at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry is that he is not operating independently, but he is coming from a family to represent a family. The Trinity isn’t simply an abstract concept to be contemplated by spiritual directors and scholars; it’s a deeply relational reality that tells us that at the very center of God’s nature is community. A family. God is family. And the God who is family is on mission. God himself is Family on Mission. So if our theology ends up defining our methodology, perhaps we need to start emphasizing the Trinity in our talk of missio dei.
Perhaps it’s time to start talking about the missio trinitatis, the “mission of the Trinity.”
As we do, we’ll find our methodology shifts from individual missionaries doing the best they can to families on mission who demonstrate and proclaim a fuller picture of who God is.