As a theology nerd, a lot of books don’t get past my head into the heart. One profound exception is The Symphony of Mission by Michael Goheen and Jim Mullins. I have to read it in chunks, not because it is complicated. Rather, it overwhelms my heart with hope. Every time I pick it up, I’m motivated to become a better person and a more faithful follower of Christ.
Mission is about….
Jim Mullins opens by sharing what spurred him to write this book. As young twenty-something, he and several friends served as missionaries in Turkey. They called themselves the “Moravian community,” in honor of the Moravians led by Count Zinzendorf in the 1700s.
This group was fired up to serve God in whatever way possible. First, they needed to figure out what exactly they needed to do. They attended conferences and read books in order to figure out what role they should play in God’s mission. Jim explains,
“Not wanting to waste my life, I bounced from cause to cause and idea to idea, trying to drag the rest of the Moravian Community along with me” (xvi)
Initially, he thought “Mission is about unreached people groups.” This idea is what initially spurred him and his group to move to Turkey, which was 99% unreached.
Then, he began to think, “Mission is about church planting.” He says,
“With the growth of the Acts 29 Network, many people were making the case that church planting is the most important approach to mission, because the church is sustainable and the church is the bride of Christ. Therefore, we decided not just to go to Turkey but to focus on church planting while we were there.”
He then evolved his thinking, saying, “Mission is about campus ministry.” College students represented a strategic group, at a critical time in life and who could impact future generations.
Next, he said to himself and his Community, “Mission is about urban ministry.” This shift of emphasis was ushered in by Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, and countless others. Paul himself seems to have focused on major cities in his own ministry. Jim recounts,
“So the Moravians decided they needed to do more than merely move to Turkey, do campus ministry, and try to plant a church. We needed to be in a large city, influential urban centers, like Ankara, the capital of Turkey.”
Then, BAM (“Business and Mission”) grabbed his imagination. So, he concluded, “Mission is about our daily work and vocations.” As a result, Mullins’ group began reading books and researching potential businesses they might start.
After reading Scripture and listening to many sermons, the group then said, “Mission is about living among the poor.” As a result, they wondered whether they not only should live among the marginalized of society but whether they should move to a “more economically distress country.”
Looking back, Mullins says,
“Inevitably, about this time, my wife and teammates had had enough of me. I was wearing them out with a dizzying barrage of conflicting visions. Trying to figure out the most important aspect of God’s mission, we hedged our bets by moving to an influential city in a country that was 99 percent Muslim to start businesses and do campus ministry and plant churches while I started looking for apartments in the poorest neighborhoods.”
Jim captures his experience well. He concludes that he suffered from “missional ADD.”
The analogy with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is extraordinarily fitting. What people don’t often realize is that ADD can manifest itself in two seemingly contrary ways. The first is high distractibility (the “Ooh …. a butterfly” effect). The second, actually, is hyper-focus. It’s a coping mechanism to deal with the overstimulation of one’s environment. Whereas Jim’s symptoms of “missional ADD” were the first kind, bouncing from one thing to another, countless other missionaries hyper-focus on a single sphere of God’s mission as if God only cared about X, Y, or Z.
This experience spurred much reflection on the part of Jim and his friends. He eventually read Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture, which raised numerous questions about the nature of God’s mission. He saw that God is “a missional God, whose goal is to restore a broken world.”
Mullins and Goheen co-write a book that explores some of the most significant questions one can ask. Three questions shape The Symphony of Mission.
1) What is the church’s mission as it participates in God’s mission?
2) What is my role within God’s mission?
3) What does mission look like in daily life?
Jim’s experience is not unique to him. Many people continue to struggle with these questions today. Countless missionaries have suffered from missional ADD. It not only afflicts individuals but entire teams and organizations.
In the next post, I’ll dig into some of the book’s big ideas.