An Excerpt from
United Methodist Theology of Mission
by John Edward Nuessle
(©2008, General Board of Global Ministries, $14.95; Paperback, Publication date March 1, 2008; ISBN 978-1-933663-19-7;
Available through Cokesbury: online at http://gbgm-umc.org/e-store;
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From Essay 4:
Who Is Mission?
Our Call, Journey, and Incarnation in the Global Ministries of the Church
Isaiah 6:1-8: "Here I am, send me," and 43:1-2: Called you by name.
Luke 9:23-27: Pick up your Cross and follow.
2 Corinthians 4:7: Treasure in earthen vessels/common clay pots.
John 1:1 and 14: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us."
"Then he said to them all, 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me ...' "
This personal call to "go" is a journey throughout a lifetime. Yet it is not a vacation from our daily living, but a vocation as a servant of Christ. Mission must not be seen as just a trip or a program or activity within the life of your congregation, but rather a wholly holy, holistic identity as the body of Christ. Mission is a daily walk as one who comprehends yourself as living in the world for the sake of the whole world, regardless of your daily activities. The Book of Acts, the mission history of the early Church, has journey as a central motif.1 The disciples move out from Jerusalem to Samaria to the Hellenistic world of Asia Minor, and on to Rome and beyond. While they move geographically they also move out in ever-widening circles from the Jewish community to God-fearing Gentiles to secular Greeks and Romans, including within the church all persons -- male and female, slave and free, persons with handicapping conditions, and the wealthy and powerful.
Mission is being on a journey of faith, going from here to there each day ("jour," the Anglo-French root of journey, means "the day"). How far can one go in a day? That is a practical and spiritual question to answer. How will you spend your time during the day? Just going from here to there? Or engaged in God's movement and in God's time for that day?
Jesus stated to the disciples that to follow him means to pick up the cross and go (Luke 9:23). This surely is a sacrifice, but it also means to participate in movement, to be on a journey. It was suggested by the Rev. J. Alexander Findlay, a British Methodist pastor of the early 20th century, and quoted by the noted Methodist missiologist, D. T. Niles, that among the nomadic peoples of the Middle East, the Greek word, stauros (used in Luke 9:23, as well as Mark 8: 34, 10:21, and Matthew 10:38, 16:24), which is translated as "cross" in the New Testament, could mean simply a stick upright in the ground.2While stauros did refer to the cross of crucifixion, it could also be meant to describe a tent peg. When the nomadic tribal leader gave orders to move the community, he would say, "pick up the cross (tent peg) and follow me." To pick up the cross is a matter of sacrifice, but it is also a matter of moving on in a journey. God is calling us to get up and go, to move the tents of our lives and be prepared to follow Christ into other places, ideas, and concepts of mission.
Picking up your cross or your tent pegs in life, and going on this missional journey is not always a matter of either going where you want to go, or even knowing where you are going. As the writer to the Hebrews stated, Abraham went on mission not knowing where God was sending him: "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going" (Hebrews 11:8). We journey to places and situations because of the need, as God speaks that need, not necessarily because of our own wishes and desires. Our desire is to faithfully serve, to bloom not only where we are planted but also where we are transplanted to. The Psalmist says, "For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears" (Psalm 39:12). We journey on in mission, following Christ into the changing needs of the world, and into places that God calls the Church to proclaim the coming reign of God, for we are called to be Christ in this world.
- For a more complete analysis of this, see Robert L. Gallagher and Paul Hertig, eds. Mission in Acts, op. cit., pp. 12-13.
- Quoted by D. T. Niles in Upon the Earth, Foundations of the Christian Mission, Studies in the Gospel and the World. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1962), pp. 77-78; taken from J. Alexander Findlay, A Portrait of Peter (New York: Abingdon, 1935), p. 130.