Today we begin a three week series on the relationship of congregational mission to stewardship. I have observed that where a congregation is clear about its mission, identity and purpose, it also tends to have a healthier stewardship practice. Today's writer, Jon Lee, is a skilled missional leader.
Glenn Taibl, Co-Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
God's Mission and Our Stewardship
by Jon Lee
OK—admittedly it's not a new question—What are we here for? What is the church's purpose? What is God calling God's church to be and do?
Though I've read a number of books about "mission" and "purpose," for me one of most insightful and helpful is "The Mission of God's People" by Christopher J.H. Wright.
Wright suggests the church has mistakenly done its theological reflection by beginning with Genesis 3 and ending with Revelation 20. Stripped from scripture's beginning in Genesis, chapters 1 & 2, with God creating the heavens and earth, and ignoring Revelation's ending with God "making all things new," the reductionist result is a distorted sense of mission with a singular focus on our individual sin problem along with a solution of a swipe card for heaven's door. This distortion leads us to imagine that God's only concern and therefore ours, is to save people from sin and judgment. Indeed this is at the heart of our mission, but it's not the whole story of the Bible, and it should not be the whole story of our mission (p.48).
Wright reminds us that our first mission was to care for creation—to "tend the garden" (Gen 2:15). God delegated to us God's own kingly authority over God's whole creation—an authority characterized by wisdom, power, goodness, grace, compassion, faithfulness, generosity, provision, protection, justice and love (Ps 145). This is also at the heart of our understanding of biblical stewardship. Our stewardship flows from God's mission.
The Psalms speaks intimately of creation: "Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy" (Ps 98). Even the writer of Jonah surprises us as God addresses Jonah—"Should I not be concerned about Nineveh ... more than 120,000 persons ... and also many animals?" (4:11).
Apparently God's love, compassion, and redemptive activity are not limited to human beings. The Apostle Paul shares this same awesome comprehensive scope of God's redemptive activity in Christ as he writes, "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us" (2 Cor. 5:19).
The writer of Colossians continues this theme, "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Col. 1:19).
Concluding in Revelation 21 we see a vision of "a new heaven and a new earth, a holy city coming down out of heaven from God, with the promise that the home of God is among mortals, and God will dwell with them as their God."
Reading the whole biblical story begs the question—What if God's redemptive love in Christ for all of creation were the foundation and scope of any understanding of the church's mission? For example, Wright asks, "Is ecological concern & action a biblically legitimate mission concern, or merely a contemporary obsession driven by the world's agenda?" (p 27). Imagine how an awareness of God's cosmic redemption in Christ might inform our role as stewards. The people in our congregations who continually remind us that stewardship is about more than money are certainly right ... and, we might add stewardship is about more than Time and Talent, too.
Though not new, the question of mission is crucial. Whose mission are we on? Whose agenda are we pursuing? What if the church had no mission of its own other than to respond to God's call to participate in God's mission in Christ to heal, bless, and make new God's whole creation?
Wright's insights may transform our notion of congregational mission. I invite you to begin thinking about the potential implications for the stewardship ministry in your congregation.
Pastor Jon Lee served as Sr. Pastor at King of Glory Lutheran Church, Dallas, Texas. He continues to do consulting work with congregations in creating healthy missional cultures as well as work with Peter Steinke in assisting congregations to discern their mission.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.