The First Frontier of Mission: Holy Living

I know plenty of Christians who get far more excited about mission “out there” than they do about their own personal holiness: passionate church planters whose marriages are a mess; progressive Christians engaged in social justice but disengaged from their own spiritual vitality. But mission and morality are not two separate categories. Christopher Wright says (in The Mission of God’s People) that our holiness is “as much a part of our missional identity as of our personal sanctification.” If we preach a gospel of transformation, says Wright, “we need to show some evidence of what transformation looks like.”

One of the unfortunate tendencies of my generation of “gospel Christians” is that we’ve raised our beer glasses to the prospect of church planting and the excitement of “missional living” in hip neighborhoods and cross-cultural contexts. But we’ve failed to realize that as much as mission is a going to in the geographical sense (e.g. Abraham, the Great Commission, the apostles), it also involves a going out from worldliness, a leaving that is “spiritual, mental and attitudinal,” abandoning the worldview of self interest and adopting the worldview of God’s mission.

Mission involves faith and risk, but also obedience. We can’t be effective church planters if we are apathetic about our own holiness. We’ll have no witness in our church’s trendy gentrified neighborhood if we’re more often joining the Pabst-guzzling drunks at the corner bar than we are telling them about redemption in Jesus.

“God’s intention to bless the nations is inseparable from God’s ethical demand on the people he has created to be the agent of that blessing,” says Wright. “An immoral church has nothing to say to an immoral world.”

As unsexy as our “ethics” may sound compared to the adventures that await on the “mission field,” the fact is our own wicked heart is the first frontier of any mission.

This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community (Crossway, September 2017).