Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

A Theology of Missions or Missionary Theology?

It was Stephen Neill who wrote way back in 1959 in his book, Creative Tension: If everything is mission, then nothing is mission. In a certain sense this is true and there are people today who believe that mission is defined so widely that it becomes increasingly difficult to say what mission really is.
David Bosch is one of many missiologists who unashamedly defined mission very widely, to include not only matters such as evangelisation, but also things such as social ethics and ecology. In 1991 I attended the annual meeting of the South African Missiological Society and this entire meeting was devoted to different aspects of mission and ecology – and to be quite honest, this was one of the most fruitful mission conferences I every attended! But that is a topic for another day.
Bosch wrote in his book, Believing in the future, that mission is not something secondary to the church. The church exists in being sent into the world and building itself up for its mission. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his Letters and Papers from Prison: The church is the church only when it exists for others… The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. Emil Brunner put the same idea in these words: The church exists by mission, just as fire exists by burning.
It is because Bosch realised the truth of these words that he said that we needed to develop a missionary theology, not just a theology of mission. A theology of mission will do nothing more, according to him, than to patch up the church. He continues: We are in need of a missiological agenda for theology, not just a theological agenda for mission; for theology, rightly understood, has no reason to exist other than critically to accompany the missio Dei.
What this all boils down to is that mission needs to take a central part in the church. Well, obviously God needs to be in the centre, but whatever we do in the church needs to be built around God’s heart for the world which He loves so much that He even sent His Son to die for it.
In my experience, in most churches, mission is still something that exists (if it does exist at all!) as one of many projects being run in the church. What we need to do is to say that the church exists because of it’s mission and according to this all other work in the church should be planned. Just as Jesus did not come to be served but to serve, so the church does not exist to be served but to serve.
Until we grasp this truth, we are forever going to struggle with the future of the church, planning, debating, meeting, negotiating, but never coming to the point where we realise that, as church, we have only one obligation, and this is to serve the world (through which we also serve God.)


Thursday, January 10, 2008 - Posted by | Church, David Bosch, Evangelism, Mission, Social issues, Theology


  1. Yes, its interesting to look at the bible as a whole in this context. It has an Beginning (Genesis 1-11), Middle (Genesis 12 – Revelation 3) and an End (Revelation 4-22). Have you read Christopher Wright’s “The Mission of God”? What are your impressions, do you think it is a theology of mission, or missionary theology? (I’ve just started it and haven’t gotten very far)

    Comment by Adam Hoffman | Monday, January 14, 2008 | Reply

  2. I’m not familiar with the book you mentioned. How about sharing your views on it once you’re through?

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, January 14, 2008 | Reply

  3. I agree that the church is to serve. So often, though, at least here in the U.S. people think missions only applies to efforts overseas rather than…well…everywhere. For instance, the ministry I am a part of serves the disadvantaged right where I live, but many churches would never see us as a “mission”. The way I look at it, the church body in a particular location is to come together (for services, etc.) to build one another up and express worship for G-d corporately so they have what they need to go out to serve and live out G-d’s call on their lives as individuals and as a group of believers, whether down the street or in another country.

    Comment by Maya | Tuesday, January 15, 2008 | Reply

    • that is right. ephessians do tell us that the church cogregigation is to be equiped for the work of ministry. here the church becomes the equiping centre and ministry that which the sent one get involved in outside the four walls of the church building.


      Comment by Njoroge | Monday, May 25, 2009 | Reply

  4. Maya, AMEN to that!

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, January 15, 2008 | Reply

  5. It is nocie to Know the theology of mission.
    this artical is good

    Comment by raja | Tuesday, December 23, 2008 | Reply

  6. This is very rigth. Unashamely many churches take the name ‘Missions’ and doing nothing or very very little for missions, not building God’s Kingdom but busy building their own kingdoms. To me, I feel so uncomfort to see it. This aricle is very define and coherent. I really value it.

    The church must serious about the Great Commission of our Lord.

    Comment by Suluevyi Rhakho | Friday, August 12, 2011 | Reply

  7. […] A Theology of Missions or Missionary Theology? « Mission Issues […]

    Pingback by Mission theology | Gojuiceit | Sunday, August 21, 2011 | Reply

  8. Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you really recognise what you are talking approximately!
    Bookmarked. Please also discuss with my web site =). We could have a hyperlink trade arrangement among us

    Comment by obese child | Friday, April 12, 2013 | Reply

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