This session lays out God’s mission in the world and our involvement in that mission. Our role is to respond to what God has initiated and to partner with the Holy Spirit. The session aims to increase your awareness of what God might be initiating in your life and your confidence to join in. It also features an interview between Hannah Steele and Justin Welby.
This session is based around Chapter 2 of Hannah Steele’s book Living His Story. A featured passage is below, but you are encouraged to read the whole chapter as the questions often reference the book.
From Chapter 2 of Living His Story
Jesus himself told a story about an urgent and compelling invitation. In Luke 14.15–24 we read the story of a man who prepares a lavish banquet. But on the day when his guests are supposed to arrive, one by one they make their excuses not to attend. Angered by this response, the master instead commands his servant to go into the town and bring in anyone he can find, including those who are not normally invited to such prestigious gatherings. Parables such as these would have been shocking to Jesus’ listeners, particularly the religious who considered themselves safely on the list of those invited. Through these parables, Jesus asks who are the recipients of this good news and suggests that it is not the prestigious and important people, those who simply assume they are invited. Jesus’ extraordinary kingdom prioritized the poor, the neglected, those who didn’t think they stood a chance.
The parable of the banquet, like those of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son in the following chapter of Luke, reveal God’s heart for those who are not yet part of his kingdom. Central to the notion of evangelism is this simple yet profound theological truth: God loves. Any understanding of evangelism that takes its starting point from anywhere else can so easily become coercive, manipulative or purely pragmatic. The overarching narrative of Scripture is that God loves people. Evangelism, then, finds its ultimate motivation not in the crisis of a church in decline that needs to act in order to prevent its own extinction. Evangelism is always only and ever because God is love. Our witnessing, therefore, is only ever in response to the invitation that God has already made. As I discovered that day at the hairdresser, my role as a witness was to follow up and speak clearly of the invitation God was already making.
In theological terms, this conviction is often expressed as missio Dei, a Latin phrase meaning ‘the mission or sending of God’. This concept was articulated at a conference on mission in 1932 by the theologian Karl Barth. This signified a move away from under-standing mission as something that the church did in response to God’s action, and instead reimagined mission as rooted primarily in God’s being and his intention in the world. The term missio Dei was later formed and identifies God himself as the initiator of mission rather than the Church or any other Christian organization. While mission is far broader than evangelism and encompasses the scope of the Church’s presence and action in the world, such as social justice and environmental concern, the call upon the Church to witness is an integral part of its mission. Understanding mission as primarily rooted in the nature and purpose of God means also that evangelism is not our clever idea or a calculated response to try and boost church membership during a period of decline. Evangelism finds its rationale and origin in the love of God for the world, and this theme bubbles over in many of Jesus’ parables.
The three lost things (a sheep, a coin and a son) collectively focus on the one who is seeking. In turn, the shepherd, the woman and the father seek diligently and sacrificially for the one that is lost. First, the shepherd leaves behind the 99 that are safe (by all ac-counts a high-risk strategy) and looks for the one that is lost. The woman, though she has nine other coins, is not prepared to wait for the natural light of morning but uses valuable resources to search thoroughly until the one missing is found. Finally, the father, whose son has severed his familial ties and set off for an independent life, glimpses his son in the distance and runs towards him, silencing the prodigal’s cries of regret and remorse with joyful celebration.
In these stories Jesus teaches the religious leaders, who chastise him (as they do on several occasions) for his questionable choice of dinner guests, that God’s love is for the lost, the least and even the lawbreaker. In so doing, he challenges them that they should not be surprised that the Messiah acts in this way. God’s love is and has always been for such as these.