The Church on Mission

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 May 2019

Member Reviews

Amazing! What great writing and a great breakdown of the topic! It's certainly a must read, especially since it's small ;-)
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What is the mission of the Church? There is a narrow view and a broad view. For the narrow view (or some would prefer to call 'focused view'), some like Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert would say that it is the Great Commission. When that is the case, as far as the Church's mission is concerned, the Great Commission is primary, and everything else is secondary. This perspective is important for any Church that is becoming confused about how their programs and activities work toward a single goal. In the broad view, one might even claim that everything they do will be based on their mission statement. That is usually more theoretical than practical. Many churches have already invested in many ministries that do not translate into such mission purpose. Just like what Stephen Neill once said: "If everything is mission, nothing is mission." That is to say that if we don't have a proper focus, then we are not aiming squarely at anything at all. In other words, if we are too broad, we could become all things to all people making the Church's mission overly diluted with different emphases. Author and professor Craig Ott has looked at a variety of mission definitions and focuses and proposes a new way of understanding the mission of the Church. He puts it as "to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people."  The rest of the book is to look at this central statement from six perspectives.


This first transformational work is about moving toward God's glory: within us and with God's help, through us toward others. Looking at the sampling of stories in Roman and Greek times, the author notes that transformations are "substantive, qualitative, and supernatural." According to the New Testament, each mention of transformation always point to one thing: God's glory. This marks the purpose of a Church mission, which is to be transformed by God in order to be part of the bigger mission of transformation of the world. Thus, God's glory is both "the source and goal" of our mission. Well put. Which leads us to the second aspect of transformation: "Transformational communities." Ott brings out three dimensions:

1) As "new-creation": redeemed from sin; new life in Christ; and having a foretaste of the kingdom.
2) As "kingdom": that the Church is called to be the model of the future kingdom of God
3) As "missional": The Church is to grow in Christ in order to go for Christ.

The third aspect is to be transformed by the Word of God as Bible people. This is the means in which we be a Church on mission. Churches are established as the Spirit of God leads the people of God through the preaching of the Word and the proclamation of the gospel. This essentially means that the people of God learn to interpret Scripture accurately; apply the Scripture contextually; recognize the missional thrust accordingly; and identifying ourselves in the Big Story appropriately. The fourth aspect is application through the metaphor of "salt and light" to the world. If the first three are spiritual transformation, this is practical application of being a transforming community. Here, the author briefly addresses issues such as social justice, systemic injustice, political involvement, and so on. These are important but would need to be subject to the biblical truth. Of particular interest is the way Ott highlights the place of the community over and above the individual contribution. This is so important because Church is essentially about people rather than individual call to action. Using the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, the author shows us the need to see these parables from first century Jewish eyes. The tree is the biblical image of the kingdom. size of the mustard seed represents the seeming insignificance of the seed growing into a huge tree of giant proportions. It is about the power of God made manifest in the lives of willing disciples of Christ. Likewise, it is the insignificant yeast that works through the entire dough to make bread. The fifth point made about transformational communities is about being transcultural. This means being open to diversity, welcoming of inclusivity, and putting aside prejudices and discrimination of any kind. This is because the gospel is for all people and every church should welcome all. Ott mentions the unique story of acceptance and empowerment in the biblical story of the Ethiopian eunuch, who essentially became the first person to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. This chapter about multiculturalism and transcultural perspective is by far the most powerful. The sixth aspect of transforming communities is the act of transforming others through multiplication. Ott spends time explaining that he is not concerned about the strategies and techniques of growth and multiplication. Instead, he is more keen on the eschatological vision of the kingdom and how a church on mission is to aim toward growth and fruitfulness at all levels.

My Thoughts
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If there is one big idea in this book, it would be the word "transform" in two parts: Inner and outer transformation. Ott makes it clear that he is not talking about evangelism or any specific outreach. Neither is he talking about missionaries or mission per se. He takes on an ontological point of view to see the Church's identity as a transformed people of God called to play her part in the transformational work of God. She is to bear witness of the Kingdom that has come and the kingdom that is to come. The two aspects must be made clear. One must first be transformed from within. Then one could participate in the transformation of others. Such a transformation is "substantive, qualitative, and supernatural." Ott acknowledges the major role of the Holy Spirit. In dealing with this big idea, he acknowledges that there are other perspectives about the mission of the church, dealt with eloquently in other books such as Zondervan's "Four Views on the Church's Mission" and Baker Academic's "The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Conversation." He is also familiar with the broad mission statements of other large denominational bodies as well as Donald McGavran's theology of mission work and missionaries. Out of this awareness, Ott manages to crystallize a refreshing way to see the Church's mission: Transformation both inside and outside.

I think Ott's approach is quite credible. After all, the mission of the Church is to make God's glory known throughout all the world. This includes the Great Commission, the mandate to be the salt and light of the world, the call to bring God's message to the world, and to be fruitful and multiply, etc. The main critique I have is with regard to social matters such as social justice and systemic injustice. How would a transformed community bring about change in such situations? Ott leaves it at the renewing of the mind without details about the difficulty of practical redemption of the broken structures of the world. In other words, Ott is clear about the theological perspective but lacks the practical approaches needed to apply them. If he had added more stories of real life examples, it would have given this book a more grounded feel as far as the layperson is concerned.

Having said that, I believe Ott is on to something. More importantly, the Church needs to be reminded that they are called not only to be transformed in God, but also with the help of the Holy Spirit, to transform others for God.

Craig Ott is Professor of Mission and Intercultural Studies ReachGlobal Chair of Mission. He holds a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has been a faculty member of the school since 2002. He has edited and co-authored several books, including Baker Academic's "The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Conversation."

Rating: 4 stars of 5.

conrade
This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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