Modes of Mission in New and Established Churches
by Ed Stetzer
To help clarify, challenge, and encourage church leaders (and their churches) towards missional effectiveness, it may be helpful to consider three modes of mission as embodied by the Petrine Mission (1 Peter 2:9–12), the Johannine Mission (John 20:21), and the Pauline Mission (the life of Paul).
To help clarify, challenge, and encourage church leaders (and their churches) towards missional effectiveness, it may be helpful to consider three modes of mission as embodied by the Petrine Mission (1 Peter 2:9–12), the Johannine Mission (John 20:21), and the Pauline Mission (the life of Paul). In doing so, we can discern that a missional people, embodying “sentness,” are on a mission of multiplication.
The reality of these modes is that an in-depth study of each would reveal elements of one another. However, below I intend to stress the major foci of each in an effort to build a visual of the enactment of the message and movement of mission, which results in missional effectiveness.
Petrine Mission—A Missional People
When God saves people, he doesn’t save them only from their sins and themselves, but also saves them to himself and to his people. For instance, when God called out Abraham, it wasn’t merely for Abraham, but also for the people who would descend from him. Thus, God’s mission includes forming a people for his glory and his purposes. In the New Testament, the Petrine mode of mission establishes “community” as a missional impulse, for it emphasizes that God’s mission involves God forming a people, or a community, for himself.
The basis for the Petrine mode of mission is found in 1 Peter 2:9–12, where Peter writes,
[Y]ou are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. . . .Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.
In this passage, Peter draws from Exodus 19, where God established his covenant with Israel. According to Christopher Wright, the covenant God established with Israel was a missional covenant, which made Israel a missional community (2006, 324-340). Given that Peter connects the Church with
Israel, the New Testament missional “community” should also be a community that (1) exists for God and for the good of the world, (2) is shaped by the gospel, and (3) serves as a centripetal “attractional” force by which God draws people to himself.
1. A missional community exists for God and for the good of the world. Peter uses the term “possession” to communicate the idea that the Church doesn’t exist for itself, but for the very one who brought it into existence. Just as Israel was a people created by God and for God, so too is the Church. Just as Israel had a High Priest who functioned as priestly head and entered the Holy of Holies, we have a High Priest in Jesus who functions as head of his Church.
In addition, Peter uses the term “priesthood,” which speaks of the Church as a community living in the presence of God and mediating between God and the world. Just as Israel was to be a people standing in the presence of God, reflecting his glorious light, and being a mediator for the nations living in darkness (Beale 2004, 115), so too is the Church.
2. A missional community is shaped by the gospel. Peter describes the Church as a “holy nation” that “proclaims the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” In other words, the Church is to be a “community” marked by Jesus’ life and way. Jesus saves his people; Jesus sanctifies his people.
It seems that longing for the word (1 Pet. 2:2) and coming to Jesus (1 Pet. 2:4) are prerequisites for the “community” of God to be holy. If so, the community is shaped by the gospel. Therefore, the Petrine mode of mission seems to call for a gospel-centered community. This means everything about the community—including its structure, strategy, ministries, programs, and processes—should center on Jesus and his word.
3. A missional community should be “attractional.” As the Church exists for God and for the good of the world, and is shaped by the gospel, God uses us as an “attractional” mechanism to draw others to himself. Peter shares that by observing our good works, those far from God will come to glorify him. Thus, as the Church embodies and enacts the life of God, we become an “attractive sign” to a watching world (see Goheen 2011, 25).
The church in Jerusalem exemplifies the Petrine mode of mission. When Luke describes the early church in Jerusalem, he reveals that they were strong in unity, togetherness, and service to those inside and outside the fellowship (Acts 2:42–47) as a result of their gospel transformation. Because of this, they attracted (drew in) many Jews to their faith family. In addition, they had many leaders who sought to protect the integrity of the ministry and mission (Acts 4, 5, 6, 7, 15) as well as add structures to enhance ministry and community effectiveness (Act 6:1–7). In short, the church in Jerusalem excelled as a faith community in its locale.
In each mode of mission, however, there can be unintentional and unhelpful consequences. Although space does not allow exploring the downsides of each mode, perhaps one example can be illustrative to the broader challenge. For example, there were some in the church in Jerusalem—including Peter (Gal. 2)—who had difficulty crossing cultural, ethnic, and racial boundaries. In fact, some struggled theologically and practically with a multiethnic, multicultural church (Acts 15:1–35; Gal. 2:11–14). Many wanted to cling to their Jewish traditions and practices (e.g. circumcision) and teach Gentiles that in order to be fully part of the faith community they needed to do likewise.
In short, they didn’t stop at being a community focused on protecting and preserving the integrity of the gospel; instead, they moved towards self-protection and preservation by creating a [syncretistic] church culture—blending aspects of Judaism with Jesus. Eventually, the syncretistic church of Judaism and Christianity became known as the Ebionites (Jewish Christians) (see Stetzer 2002).
Using a more contemporary description, a key lesson in the Petrine mode of mission is to build a gospel-centered community, but one that is able to discern when gospel-centered ministry and mission become self-centered ministry and mission. On the one hand, it’s perfectly normal (and actually necessary) to preserve and protect the church as it relates to contending for the gospel and advancing the mission; however, it’s counterproductive to preserve and protect those things that prohibit the faith community from being on mission in ways and places God has called them.
In short, the Petrine mode of mission, community, speaks of a missional people. Thus, churches must be intentional about teaching their people that church, or “coming to church,” isn’t about them consuming elements from a religious vending machine, but about being conformed into the people of God, for his glory and the good of the world. In doing so, God uses his missional people as an eschatological movie trailer that draws people into being part of his story—to being part of his people.
Johannine Mission—A Missional Posture
One of the active characteristics of God’s mission is the notion of “sentness.” God establishes this pattern early in redemptive history. He goes to Adam and Eve, but sends Abraham to the Promised Land, Moses to Egypt, Jonah to the Ninevites, Jesus to the world, the Spirit to the Church, and the Church to the nations. Clearly, God’s mission involves sending. In the New Testament, John stresses the “sent” theme more than any other. Other than describing the sentness of Jesus and the disciples, John also references John the Baptist being sent (John 1:6–7, 15; 3:28, 34) and the Holy Spirit being sent (John 14:26; John 16:7–8). Thus, the Johannine mode of mission establishes sentness as a missional impulse.
The missional impulse of sentness is found in John 20:21, where John records Jesus saying, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” It may seem on the surface that sentness means going. While sentness certainly implies going, the Johannine mode of mission stresses something far deeper and richer given that it connects the sentness of the disciples to that of the Father sending the Son. (See the following on the “sending” terminology in the context of Jesus: John 4:34; 5:23, 30, 36–38, 43; 6:29, 38,39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28–30; 8:14, 16, 18, 29, 42; 9:4; 11:42; 12:44–45, 49; 13:20; 14:24; 16:5; 17:3, 8, 18; 20:21.) The depth of sentness as a missional impulse of the Church is understood in light of Jesus’ sentness.
The richness and depth of Jesus’ sentness was that the Father sent him into the world. In Jesus’ name, the Father sent the Spirit as the indwelling presence of God to live among the people so that God may shine Jesus’ glory and bring salvation and healing to people (John 1:4, 14). Broadly, Jesus was sent to take up residence among God’s people so that they could behold God’s glory. But, more specifically, God’s glory would emanate from Jesus’ life through his faithful obedience to what God sent him to do. What was Jesus sent by the Father to do? According to Andreas Köstenberger (1998, 108), Jesus was sent to:
• Bring glory and honor to the sender (John 5:23; 7:18)
• Do the sender’s will (4:34; 5:30, 38; 6:38–39) and works (5:36; 9:4)
• Speak the sender’s words (3:34; 7:16; 12:49; 14:10b, 24)
• Bear witness to the sender (5:36; 7:28)
• Represent the sender accurately (12:44–45; 13:20; 15:18–25)
• Exercise delegated authority from the sender (5:21–22, 27; 13:3; 17:2; 20:23)
• Know the sender intimately (7:29; cf. 15:21; 17:8, 25)
• Live in a close relationship with the sender (8:16, 18, 29; 16:32)
• Follow the sender’s example (13:16)
The Father sent Jesus into the world to be faithfully present with him—which consisted of Jesus obeying the Father in all areas of life—so he would reflect the Father’s glory and as a result bring salvation and healing to the nations. John seems to understand Jesus as the fountain (or river) of life that flows from the presence of God (Gen. 2:10–14; John 4:14; 7:38; Rev. 22:1) that brings salvation and healing to the nations.
With regard to the sentness of the disciples, Köstenberger notes that the references to Jesus’ mission “are arguably recorded with a view toward the sending of the disciples” (1998, 108). Thus, if Jesus was sent by the Father to be the incarnational presence of God radiating his glory to the degree that God brought healing and salvation to people, then this describes the essence of the disciples sentness. They, too, are sent to be the incarnational representation of God so that God may reflect his presence and glory through their lives—through both sharing and showing the gospel—and in doing so bring salvation and healing to the nations. Since God is a sending God, sentness simply means we respond to his nature by living sent lives.
The missional mode of “sentness” speaks of the Church (and individuals) having a missional posture. Thus, missional effectiveness requires churches to move from being distributors of religious goods and services to equipping a people sent on mission.
Pauline Mission—A Missional Practice
Thus far, I have attempted to outline the missional modes, or impulses, of “community” and “sentness” when the missio Dei is enacted. But there is one more missional mode that is enacted when the Church embraces the totality of God’s mission—and that mode is “multiplication.” Multiplication is used by God to advance his mission throughout the world. While the impulse of “multiplication” is hinted at in the Old Testament in places like Genesis 1:28 (“be fruitful and multiply”) and Genesis 15:5 (Abraham’s infinite number of offspring), it becomes very clear in the New Testament.
The Pauline mode of mission enacts the missional impulse of “multiplication.” Paul saw God’s global mission connected to an aspect of God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:8). Thus, in light of Matthew 28:18–20, Acts 1:8, Acts 9:15, and Romans 15:20, Paul saw his mission to the nations, multiplying believers and churches.
By understanding the mission of God as being directed toward the nations, Paul implemented a mission strategy that included: (1) targeting populated urban centers, (2) evangelizing the city, and (3) planting and establishing churches. This strategy makes the Pauline mode of mission one of “multiplication.”
According to Eckhard Schnabel, there are at least fifteen phases or locations of Paul’s missionary work that took place in the thirty-five years between his conversion (31/32 AD) and his death in Rome (67 AD) (2008, 40). During those years, Paul went on three missionary journeys (see Bolt and Thompson 2000, 102; Schnabel 2008, 40) where he engaged the cities, evangelized, and planted churches.
1. As Paul went to the nations, he would go to their cities. Tim Keller asserts that part of Paul’s mission strategy included going to the largest cities of the region (2002, 29). Seldom do we see Paul navigating away from cities. It seems Paul believed that cities had the greatest potential for gospel impact and gospel multiplication.
2. Once in the city Paul did at least two things. The first was to evangelize people. Paul evangelized through preaching at the local synagogues, participating in small group Bible studies, meeting people in the marketplaces, renting halls and lecturing, and engaging people through tent-making, his profession (Keller 2002, 355).
3. The second thing Paul would do when he arrived in a city was to plant multiplying churches. As Paul made disciples, he planted and established churches. Keller summarizes Paul’s missional engagement with the cities in this way:
When Paul began meeting with them [converts], they were called ‘disciples’ (Acts 14:22), but when he left them, they were known as ‘churches’ (see Acts 14:23). To put it simply, the multiplication of churches is as natural in the book of Acts as the multiplication of individuals. (2002, 356)
As seen in the life of Paul, “multiplication” requires intentionality. It requires going where people are, sharing the good news of Jesus, and planting and establishing self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating churches.
In short, the Pauline mode of mission, “multiplication,” became the missional practice of the Early Church. The end result of the missional practice of the Church is found in Revelation 5:9 and 7:9, where John sees a vision of God’s people being from every tribe and language and people and nation. Thus, for the Church to be missionally effective, we must participate in God’s missional intent of multiplication—going where people are, making disciples (micro multiplication), and planting churches (macro multiplication).
By outlining the Petrine, Johannine, and Pauline modes, I have aimed to hypothesize an approach describing how churches can be missionally effective by describing and considering all three modes. Once again, although these are distinct aspects of how God’s mission shaped the New Testament churches, they are nevertheless connected.
How do these modes of mission apply to churches today? Like most things, wisdom comes from knowing the current situation and what it takes to get to a future, more balanced, state. In other words, all such modes are important, but there is also a recognition that different phases of church life reflect different modes and different times. Let me share just two examples: newer churches and established churches.
Newer churches. Church plants and newer churches tend to be strong in Pauline evangelism and multiplication. They may need some Johannine sentness, but often are in need of a Petrine community. Thus, new churches often exude a passion and vision to reach out to those who are unbelievers and unchurched.
Many seek to live on mission in their community by becoming part of the local rhythms of life and looking for ways to serve those around them. However, this tends to be an area where they need to develop a stronger Johannine missional focus.
Primarily, however, new churches often lack a Petrine mode of mission. Many new churches struggle with developing the community of mission—the teams, leaders, systems, and processes that help facilitate ministry and mission. They struggle with foundation and the established community, and therefore are in need of creating centered-set primary theological boundaries as well as a solid structure that includes governance, systems, and processes.
Established churches. Older churches tend to be more Petrine, using my hypothesized distinctions. Such churches have a stronger inward pull to the foundation they have laid—usually through their programs, systems, processes, and structures. Many have created a theological and practical culture and have become financially stable. Many have given years of faithful service to their community. Their longevity, in some cases, leads to trustworthiness in the community.
Yet, established churches tend to lack a Johannine and Pauline mode of mission. They are often inwardly focused and lack a passion for sentness, hence the growing movement to help established churches be more missional. The need is evident.
However, they also often lack a Pauline approach to multiplication. Stagnation has become more common for they have difficulty multiplying in both micro (disciples) and macro (churches) ways. Thus, they need more elements of the Johannine and Pauline modes.
Although not all established churches are unhealthy, most of the healthy ones would still benefit by building on Petrine modes with a greater Johannine sentness and Pauline multiplication. Statistically, most established churches are plateaued or declining, becoming the inward version of the Petrine mode (which didn’t end well for the Ebionites). Such churches tend to be inwardly focused—having lost sight of the mission.
Rather than being motivated by mission, many times established churches are motivated to maintain their traditions, preferences, culture, and systems. They fall into the same trap as the church in Jerusalem; they go overboard on their foundation and end up protecting and preserving their culture and homogeneity at the expense of mission. Unfortunately, many churches often choose maintenance over mission.
A Fully-orbed Mission
The goal is well-grounded and developed people (Petrine), living sent by their very nature (Johannine), and multiplying believers and churches (Pauline)—a missional people, embodying sentness, on a mission of multiplication.
These are not three different paths of doing mission, as if you could do one and not the other. Rather, they are all aspects of our mission pulled out here for consideration, with the recognition that our tendency can be to emphasize one over the other. Thus, there are three modes, but they need to work together for fully-orbed mission.
Certainly, my synthesis, though limited, can be a helpful reminder that the New Testament patterns of mission can teach God’s people today. As such, churches seeking to be missionally effective will need to embrace their nature as a missional people in “community” (a Petrine mode of mission), embody a missional posture of apostolic “sentness” (a Johannine mode of mission), and enact a missional practice of “multiplication” (a Pauline mode of mission).
Beale, G.K. 2004. The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic.
Bolt, Peter and Mark Thompson, eds. 2000. The Gospel to the Nations: Perspectives on Paul’s Mission. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Bosch, David. 1991/1999. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission American Society of Missiology Series. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.
Goheen, Michael. 2011. A Light to the Nations. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.
Keller, Tim. 2002. Church Planter Manual. New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
Köstenberger, Andreas J. 1998. The Missions of Jesus and the Disciples According to the Fourth Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
_____. 2001. Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission. Leicester, England/Downers Grove, Ill.: Apollos/InterVarsity Press.
Schnabel, Eckhard J. 2008. Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic.
Stetzer, Ed. 2002. “The Missionary Strategy of the Early Church (70–135CE).” Cited August 5, 2015, from http://church-planting.net/FreeDownloads/Methods%20and%20Models/Mission%20Strategies%20of%20the%20Early%20Church.pdf.
Wright, Christopher. 2006. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of LifeWay Research. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. He also is senior fellow at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as lead pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, a congregation he planted in 2011.
EMQ Oct 2015, Vol. 51, No. 4 pp. 378-386. Copyright © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors. For Reprint Permissions beyond personal use visit our STORE (here).
Questions for Reflection
1. What’s your understanding of the mission of God? Is it too narrow?
2. Does your church exhibit both movements of mission? If not, which one is lacking?
3. Does your church exhibit the three modes of mission? Which one is more dominant? How can you incorporate the other mode(s)?
4. What are some practical steps you can take to become more missionally effective?