Unity, Relationship and the Future of Mission - Part 1

In a great article in the Evangelical Mission Quarterly (October 2012), Rich Starcher shares his story of intercultural collaboration and some of the lessons he learned while working with a Sudanese denomination to equip church leaders serving refugee camps in Kenya. He recounts how he initially approached the collaborative project with a very task-oriented, Western-informed worldview. It wasn’t long before he ran into trouble. 

Rich writes that he failed to consider three “important relational realities: (1) mission is about relationship, (2) worldviews are really important, and (3) godly relationships require give and take.”

I want to focus on “mission is about relationship” in this article and how it relates to unity and the future of mission in Canada.

God’s Mission is about Relationship

Ross Hastings, in his book Missional God, Missional Church, says, “There is a correlation between Christ’s sentness by the Father, arising from Trinitarian union, and our sentness by Christ, inferring mission in union with him, and therefore the Father. Thus, ‘mission by us’ in Christ is a continuation of ‘mission by Christ’ in the Father.”

When you read “union” you should read “deep loving intimate relationship”. In other words, God’s mission relies on relationship. It starts in the Trinity, then includes us when we’re reconciled to God through the work of Christ which connects us to his heart for creation; then continues as we’re given the message of reconciliation and made Christ’s ambassadors through the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 5: 18-20). 

We participate in the union of the Trinity, a loving relationship, so that we can bring others into this union – our ultimate purpose or end (telos), as some say.

If the mission is our Heavenly Father’s, and is—at its core—about relationship, then it’s not hard to understand the importance of unity, both with God and with the rest of the family (body of Christ or Church).

In John 17 when Jesus prays, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me,” he is describing a cornerstone of mission. We’re united to each other and to God, unless we’re not. As the apostle Paul suggests, it is possible to break unity when we break the peace (Eph 4:3). We often break the peace in at least one of three ways.

Indifference

Open conflict can be an obvious sign of disunity, but indifference can be a barrier, too. If we are ruled by a schedule and oriented to our programs, yet don’t budget for relationship, are we really walking in unity? Of course, there are limits to the number of relationships that an organization or individual can have. We want those relationships we have to be deep and meaningful. But what may be more important is that we have a clear sense of following God’s lead in the relationships. Are we surrendering our time to him so that our relationships can change or grow?

Judgement

Darrell Guder joined Mission Central in May to share with pastors about overcoming the historic tension between the local church and para-church organizations. There has often been a sense of competition or divergence in vision that results in hard feelings. Darrell’s suggestion is that if we want a healthy relationship, then we need a Christ-centred vision of the church as the body which includes both the local church and the para-church. They’re both valid expressions of the “big C” church. When we view the Church in that light, we have no right to use the values of our ministry to evaluate another ministry. We all have different callings and different ways of expressing that calling. 

Lack of Submission

Disunity often pops up when we attempt to partner or collaborate with others. We could call partnership or collaboration practical unity. The Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town Commitment says, “Partnership is not only about efficiency. It is the strategic and practical outworking of our shared submission to Jesus Christ as Lord.” Our submission to Jesus is the pre-requisite for unity, and particularly partnership or collaboration. If we experience disunity, our starting point to correct it must be a question for ourselves: “Am I walking in submission to Christ?”

The difficult part about submission is that we have to trust that our partners are continually submitting themselves to the Lordship of Jesus in every area of their lives, just as they have to trust that we are, as well. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is constantly bringing correction to his children.

The fact is, we’re all sinful and our brokenness is sure to pop up at some point in every collaborative effort or partnership. In Christian circles, it’s very easy to be tempted to spiritualize partnership, and to overlook or completely disregard practical considerations, as Rich Starcher found out.


Practical Response

There are always obstacles to practical unity in mission, and the Cape Town Commitment from the Lausanne Movement helps us by identifying some of them.

Consider the impact of these obstacles on your own efforts to collaborate:

  • Prioritization and preservation of our own identities above the supremacy and centrality of Christ
  • Power imbalances:
    • Between have and have nots
    • Between men and women
    • Between local churches and agencies

When we take the time to consider these obstacles, we’re actually beginning the process of repentance and reconciliation, but we need to go deeper and do it in dialogue with those with whom we may have broken the peace. In the next article, we’ll be looking at how unity and the characteristics of Millennials merge together in a powerful tool for mission.

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