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Towards a Biblical Theology of Mission Evaluation


Editor’s Note: This is a work in progress, and is part one of a longer work that seeks to establish a Biblical basis for evaluating the effectiveness of Christian mission (in a Seventh-day Adventist context). Increasingly, Adventists recognise the need to stop and take a look at ourselves, to see how we are doing, whether we are doing it as effectively as we might, and whether we have made the best use of resources, whether of money or people. The mission of the church is not a business and can never be assessed on a simple cost effectiveness basis, but some kind of evaluation is essential if we are to be good stewards of the resources we are entrusted with. This represents an attempt by one Adventist scholar to identify how the effectiveness of mission could be evaluated, taking into account Biblical principles.

I. Essence of Church Mission

Missio Dei[1]: origin of mission

The mission of saving people originated in the heart of God and unfolded in the incarnation of Jesus, his ministry, death, and resurrection. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

The plan of Jesus’ sacrifice for humankind was set up long before the Eden harmony was destroyed by sin, as we read in Scripture: “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev 13:8). 

Thus, the mission of saving people is God’s enterprise, and he is “the source, the originator, and the end of all things, including mission.”[2] All three Persons in the Trinity have been fulfilling their part in this Missio Dei with God the Father as the sovereign Ruler over the universe, Jesus as the Redeemer and the first missionary sent to the perishing world, and the Holy SpiritasaCounselor (John 14:16; 16:7), a Teacher (John 14:26), the Spirit of truth (John 14:17), the Spirit of power (Acts 1:8),and the Spirit of transformation and adoption (Rom 8:5-11; 14-16). All heavenly agencies are involved in this universal enterprise of salvation, including angels who are sent to assist men in saving souls and “to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14). 

God has always taken the initiative in the salvation of his people. He looked for Adam and Eve after the Fall (Gen 3:8-9); he provided the ark as a rescue from the Flood (Gen 6:14,18); he originated and completed the Exodus of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land (Ex 3:7-8), and he will come back to take his people home (John 14:1-3). He is the guarantee that the mission initiative will be successfully accomplished.  

Mission scope and purpose

Missio Dei has universal, all-inclusive scope with its climax in the Second Coming of Jesus. Then the final phase of God’s mission will come to completion, and “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11).

Thus, the purpose of God’s mission is much broader than just proclamation of the gospel. It implies multifaceted assistance to people before and after baptism with the final goal to help them become children of God and citizens of his kingdom.  It reaches people where they are and brings them to eternity. It is a long process of discipleship that consists of several phases, such as:

a.       proclamation of the Gospel: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom 10:14)

b.      acceptance of Jesus as a personal Savior: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) 

c.       baptism as an entry into the Body of Christ: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” (Mk 16:16)

d.      obvious change in habits and life style, transformation and sanctification (Gal 5:22-23)

e.      spiritual growth resulting in the ministry to the world (Eph 4:13-16; John 17:18; Matt 28:19-20)

Risen Jesus gave his church his mission statement – the Great Commission(Matt 28: 19-20). It contains the purpose of Missio Dei and reflects the stages above: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  God’s mission with such a scope and task can be accomplished only in partnership with God – its Originator.

Church as the Body of Christ

Jesus founded the Church to be his embassy and agency. Thus, the Church is God’s enterprise, and Christ is its Head (Mt 16:18; Eph 1:22). Ellen G. White describes the purpose of church existence and its mission as follows: “The Church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world.”[3]

It is obvious, that the Church should combine different talents and gifts of its members to accomplish this complicated endeavor and all stages of discipleship successfully.  Interestingly, the Bible gives us a clear and interesting picture how it can be done, presenting an image of the Church as the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-31; Eph 1:23; 4:11-13). This image is a symbol of diversity, interdependence, and unity of the Church.  It also shows that God provided a way his mission could be accomplished through his Church.

Every part of the body has its special ministry and also ability (spiritual gift) to accomplish it. Spiritual gifts should: “prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be build up until we all . . . become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  This image helps us understand that “… we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:13,15-16).The success of the Church in its mission will be only when “each part does its work” properly.

The limbs of the body are not only individual believers with particular spiritual gifts, but also groups of believers as apostles, prophets, teachers, etc. In addition, the limbs can represent church ministries and programs which should be interrelated and mutually supportive and complementing. Efficient functioning or failure of the separate parts of the Body of Christ will influence the effectiveness of the whole Church. “And so there is no division in the body, but all different parts have the same concern for one another. If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness” (1 Cor 12:25-26).

SDA Church and its mission

Since the Church is God’s enterprise, its mission priorities should be in harmony with God’s mission.  Only then the Church can effectively realize its mission to the world.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church emerged in the context of eschatological expectations in the nineteenth century. It took the Three Angels’ message as its mission priority, and gradually grew to the understanding that the scope of its mission should be the whole world (Mt 24:14, Mk 16:15). In the 21st century the SDA Church carries on its mission to the world in continuity with the Great Commission and the vision of Adventist pioneers with the following mission statement: “ to make disciples of all people, communicating the everlasting gospel in the context of the three angels’ messages …, leading them to accept Jesus as personal Savior and unite with His remnant Church, discipling them to serve Him as Lord, and preparing them for His soon return.”

The SDA Church understands that there should be a holistic approach in mission towards people in this world.  “The mission priorities will not be limited to preaching the gospel, but will encompass all necessary efforts for fallen human beings to be restored in the image of God.”[4] As Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Church-in-mission lives “in the creative tension of, at the same time, being called out of the world and sent into the world. ”[5] All activities of its organizations, programs, and ministries should be in harmony with its mission statement and reflect the full understanding of God’s mission – Missio Dei.  

[1] Missio Deiis a Latin Christian theological term that can be translated as the “mission of God,” “God’s mission.”

[2] Ajith Fernando, “God: the Source, the Originator, and the End of Mission,” in Global Missiology for the 21st Century, ed. William D. Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000), 192.

[3] E. G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1911), 9.

[4] Wagner Kuhn, “The Need for a Biblical Theology of Holistic Mission,” in A man with a vision. Mission, ed. Rudi Maier (Berrien Springs, MI: Department of World Mission Andrews University, 2005), 102-103.

[5] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 11.

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