Missio Dei starts with God, not with something we decide that we are going to do for God. Mission does not start by implementing a new program or starting a new class at church. God’s mission starts with God himself. We too often assume that it begins when we discover a felt need and respond by giving money or doing a service project.
The “sending” Jesus speaks of in John 17 is plural. This means that we do not merely send people and funds out of the church to solve problems in the world. In other words, the church is not just a “sending agent.” The church is “sent” itself: as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One, when we participate in God’s mission to the world we are one on mission with God.
The church has no mission apart from its participation in God’s mission. As God expands the kingdom we either participate in what he is doing or we do not. To be missional means that the church actively engages kingdom-expansion by identifying where God is working and joining him in his activity. God is always working, but we must have eyes to see and ears to hear.
God is not just working in the church. Instead, he is always working in every part of society and culture. God is at work in the margins, in the places where no one is looking. God never starts in the center and works his way out. It’s his nature to start on the fringes and work inward. “Participation” means that we intentionally look for ways to join God in his mission. When we share in the life of God for the sake of the world, by default, we participate in the mission of God.
In Philippians 2 Paul uses the Greek word kenosis. Literally, it indicates Christ participating in the act of “self-emptying.” It demonstrates the out-poured love of God for the world. Emptying oneself is what being incarnational looks like. If you really want to take on the mind of Christ, if you really want to follow him… it requires kenosis.
How is this relevant for the church? Missional means moving away from attractional models of ministry to incarnational ways of existing with God for the benefit of the world. Only as we identify with the suffering of humanity can we identify with the suffering of Jesus.
God lives on the fringes. That’s where the story of the mutilated Body of Christ begins. This is where we see redemption being established. When we enter the margins intentionally and incarnationally we become the hands and feet of Jesus. Through this participation the kingdom of heaven is revealed.