“Our personal mission is not something we do for ourselves.”
When I ask “Do you have a mission?” I mean you personally. Let me presume to answer: You do. As a Christian, you do. As a Salvationist, you do.
The word mission comes from the Latin word missio, which means “I send.” If you are on a mission, you have been sent. Disciples of Jesus are those He sends on a mission.
When Jesus prayed to God in the disciples’ presence, He “looked up to heaven and said… ‘Just as You sent Me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give Myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by Your truth.’” And when the disciples huddled together in fear after Jesus had been crucified and buried, we read that “Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! ‘Peace be with you,’ He said. As He spoke, He showed them the wounds in His hands and His side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again He said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you”(John 17:18-19; 20:19-21).
Jesus does the sending and we are the sent. As missiologist Michael Frost keeps reminding us, we Christians, all of us, need to come to terms with our “sentness.”
Well, if we Christians are a sent people, what are we sent for? What is our personal mission? Are we sent on a mission to make us better Christians?
It is certainly important that we are attentive to our own growth in grace, but this is not our mission. It is also important that our involvement in mission helps to free us from a narrow, self-centered spirituality. But this is not why we are sent on a mission.
Our personal mission is not something we do for ourselves. Neither is it something Salvationists do for the local corps. The life of the corps is important, and every Salvationist is called to use his or her gifts and resources for the health, unity and minis-tries of Christ’s Body on earth, the church (1 Corinthians 12). But corps programs are not the primary location of our mission. The corps is our spiritual family where we share the love of Christ and receive spiritual nurture, preparing us for a larger mission field.
So is our personal mission something we do for the world? Christ does send us into the world on a mission. The fact is, however, we have precious little to offer the world.
We are a kind of laughingstock, God’s weak-chosen of the world. “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And He chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).
No matter how hard we may work to help others, what we do is paltry in comparison to what this desperate world needs. Jesus sends every one of us to the world, but we go with empty hands. There’s nothing we can do for the world to redeem it.
However, there’s plenty Jesus can do. Our mission is to follow Him into the world. He’s given His life for it. None of us is a savior, only Jesus. We initiate nothing. We follow. We don’t even bring Him into the world with us; He’s already there through His Spirit. Our mission is what we do for Jesus, for the world.
What He’s asking of us is this: to be the flesh and blood of His continuing work in and for the world—to act like Him, speak out for Him, to let Him get sufficiently under our skin for us to resemble and represent Him. This is incarnational living, Christ literally “enfleshed” in us so that our lives are suggestive of Him. We, all of us, have this very mission to embody Christ—or as Luther put it, to become “little Christs.”
As individuals, we’re all different—different backgrounds, gifts, experiences, interests, capacities, personalities, advantages and locations. All those differences mean that every one of us is uniquely positioned to serve Jesus in a strategic way. But what we share is our mission for Jesus in and for the world. That is your mission, and it is mine.
Sunshine is a soldier in our corps. She and Daniel have a profound love for the young people of our corps, many of whom come from poor or immigrant families. John and Leah share that same love for the youthof our corps. Both couples spend hours each week at the corps working in youth ministries. What about the rest of the week, the majority of their time? Well, Sunshine is an elementary school teacher, meaning: She is in contact with a lot of children and administrators! Would that not be the major part of her mission field? John owns a successful storage business. He interacts with numerous customers every day. Is this not the major part of his mission field? And by the way, John and Leah themselves started attending the Army because a very talkative Salvationist named Janell was one of John’s customers.
How we participate in the life and mission of the Salvation Army corps is important. We all, however, need to claim our larger mission field: the places where we spend the great majority of our time—home, neighborhood, workplace and places of entertainment or recreation. Jesus wants us, His salt of the earth, scattered evenly across all parts of life, not concentrated in a bitter lump. Think of all the people you know and meet during a week. That is your mission field! That is where Jesus is calling us all. That is God’s plan to save the world!
We have each been sent on a personal mission to be a disciple, an imitator of Jesus, by confronting the culture of consumerism and embracing the enduring reality of the kingdom of God. Confronted by a world that worships extreme self-interest, we choose to risk costly compassion. Confronted by the drive to win and achieve, we follow the lowly Nazarene. Confronted by the enslavement of addictions, we nurture a healthy holiness. Confronting the lure of the most attractive, we worship the One “without form or comeliness.” As best we can, we follow and speak out about Jesus. We claim nothing for ourselves and everything for Him.
This is a calling we don’t have to pump ourselves up for. We don’t need to be clever debaters or persuaders. We just need to live like Jesus as best we can wherever we are. Let the Holy Spirit take over, and the Father will use the almost-adequate witness of our words and actions to open hearts to Him.
Commissioner Phil Needham lives in retirement in Decatur, GA. His published works include the books “When God Becomes Small” (Abingdon Press, 2014) and “He Who Laughed First: Delighting in a Holy God” (Crest Books, 2000, www.crestbooks.com).