Mission is a word often used but it is not easy to find a concise definition of it, let alone one on which everyone can agree. Mission has many elements to it.
Decades ago, the Anglican Communion identified five strands to mission which have since gained wide acceptance:1
- To proclaim the good news of the kingdom.
- To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
- To respond to human need by living service.
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
It was entirely appropriate that this attempt to define mission was broad in scope because Jesus signified there is good news to be proclaimed not only to humans but to the entire created order. In Mark 16:15, he commanded his followers: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.“
The nature of that good news is fundamentally the same for both people and nature, namely the hope and assurance that they will remain in existence (material continuity) and be set free from all that currently blights and limits them (redemption, restoration and renewal). It is a message that Paul unpacks cogently in Romans 8:18-25, and which finds expression in Isaiah 65:17-25, Ezekiel 47:1-12, Colossians 1:15-20, and Revelation 21-22.
The breadth of this commission has been recognised in recent years by the Lausanne Movement. It’s Cape Town Commitment (2011) stated:2
Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming, and living out, the biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for individual persons, and for society, and for creation. All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all three are included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people.
This was followed by their ground-breaking Jamaica Consultation in 2012, where delegates agreed that “environmental issues represent one of the greatest opportunities to demonstrate the love of Christ and plant churches among unreached and unengaged people groupsin our generation.”3They encouraged the church to promote environmental missions as a new category within mission work.
According to Edward Brown, the biblical goal of shalom is bigger than the truncated view of mission as just a simple message of salvation.4In countries where mission has been carried out for over a century, environmental degradation is reaching the point of endangering much of what has already been accomplished. Moreover, we are commanded to love our brothers and sisters, which increasingly means helping them to cope with degraded environments. The opportunities for this are both global and local.
How does all of this translate into our backyard? A friend I occasionally used to fish with would climb into his waders and boots, gather up his gear, sit on the tailgate of his truck and scan the river for 15 minutes or more, looking for rising fish. “No use fishing where they ain’t,” he would say. Sometimes we fish for souls where they ain’t, but they are certainly present when you get involved in environmental endeavours.
Citizens of the kingdom of God yearn for shalom, but non-Christians often yearn for it too, and sometimes work so tirelessly for this that they put Christians to shame. Creation care furnishes an immediate point of mutual interest, shared vision, identification and commonality. It also provides a context in which to forge meaningful relationships as a prelude to evangelistic influence. For this reason, Christian environmentalism is currently the fastest growing missional enterprise in the global church.
In microcosm, if a local church engages in a practical environmental project, it raises the question among the neighbouring people, “Why are they doing this?” It gives opportunities for them to find out that their ecology is based on the gospel and their gospel is centred on the Lord Jesus Christ. As the life and light of Christ is gradually expressed through us, others are drawn to him.
Creation stewardship integrated with missions is a new frontier, wide open for exploration, and filled with opportunities as numerous as they are exciting. This is a mission field ripe for the harvest. If every congregation in New Zealand actively engaged in caring for the non-human creation as a witness to the human creation, and also as a way of increasing the well-being of both, the beneficial results could barely be imagined!
Story: Phillip Donnell
Phillip is the Director of New Creation New Zealand, which seeks to assist churches in environmental mission (redeeming people and restoring nature). He pastored four Baptist churches in New Zealand and currently attends Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Tauranga.
- Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6:49; Mission in a Broken World -1990 ACC:10.
- “The Cape Town Commitment,” The Lausanne Movement, lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment.
- “Creation Care and the Gospel: Jamaica Call to Action,” The Lausanne Movement, lausanne.org/content/statement/creation-care-call-to-action.
- Edward Brown, Our Father’s World: Mobilising the Church to Care for Creation(Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2008), 156-160.
Scripture: Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.