What is the greatest threat to the mission of God in the world?

Jesus said the church is the light of the world and a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14).

While this certainly involves individual disciples following Christ in their own context, Jesus had in mind an organism, a unified body, and a kingdom collective—gathered disciples on mission together—representatives in every city and culture. This is God's eternal purpose through Christ and his church.

The Missio Dei (mission of God) is about God's missionary heart for all people revealed throughout the Old Testament (i.e., Jonah), embodied perfectly by Jesus in the Gospels, and carried out through the local church beginning with the book of Acts. In this way Jesus is the hope of the world, and the church is the vehicle which corporately manifests this hope while on mission to her neighbors.

For better or for worse, the church is the messenger of the gospel in, to, and for the world.

An enemy has done this

An increasing number of Christians are waking up to the fact that Western individualism and our egocentric living is antithetical to this vision of Jesus. I'm convinced that behind this cultural current is the work of the devil who seeks to put distance between God and humanity, between the divine and each other. This is fitting with a New Testament perspective of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:12; 1 John 3:8b).

Did you know that the name diabolos (devil) comes from the root which means "to scatter and cast apart"? Our archenemy is about dividing and destroying us (John 10:10).

Think about that for a moment.

Is it any surprise that the sinister strategy of hell is to use all forms of scattering against the church in an effort to stop the Missio Dei? Our enemy comes to us in the form of panic and persecutions; manifested as divorce, divisions, scandals, and schisms.

Local churches are experiencing these scattering forces within society and culture like never before. Our lives no longer revolve around the church and God’s mission. The demands and distractions of our hurried living are actually keeping us from each other and from God.

If we're always scattered, we're not gathering in any way that allows the church to be a formidable force for the Kingdom where we live.

Gathering, not scattering

It's always been through this gathering that the Missio Dei is lived out. Yes, the church is sent out to her neighbors, but always for the purpose of mission and gathering again. We are to faithfully gather and go with a purpose (Hebrews 10:23-25; Matthew 28:18-20).

We gather with the church and are then sent out for the sake of the Missio Dei. Click To Tweet

We gather with the church and are then sent out for the sake of the Missio Dei. Gather... sent out. Gather... sent out. Jesus sends out his disciples so that they would then return and share the experiences they’ve had in the world (Luke 10:1-17).

This gathering of the church ought to be where we grow as disciples, where we are energized and inspired in our worship together, and where we learn to regularly and faithfully practice sabbath. As Walter Brueggemann says, sabbath is our way of resisting the powers in a world that desires to have us as slaves.

When there is more scattering than gathering, local churches can forget building any missional momentum.

We often hear Jesus' prayer "Father, make them one as we are one" (John 17:20-23) in response to church disagreements. It is definitely useful in the face of our differences. However, I'm hearing Jesus say something else.

"Father, don't let the enemy scatter my people and make them slaves again to Egypt. May they know the power of being together like the missional God."

It is inevitable. If our local churches are not a gathering-to-send-on-mission sort of people, we simply won’t be about the Missio Dei, and we will live scattered lives only to gather for weekend “fellowship” that involves some singing, a lecture, and mostly staring at the back of someone’s head for an hour. And these days, just doing this once or twice a month is considered “faithful” attendance. What is going on?

Who is setting our agenda?

When this is our experience, it’s pretty clear we’ve made our home in the world. In other words, we’ve let the empire to set the agenda for us. Jesus doesn’t have our hearts. He doesn’t have our full attention. We’ve succumbed to the scattering forces.

This scattering can look different to each person, depending on their situation in life.

It looks like parents putting their kid’s sports over church functions; it looks like young ambitious entrepreneurs stretching their busy “season” of life into a lifestyle; it looks like an ever-transient people accepting that this is “just the way it is” today; it looks like disciples submitting to the civil calendar, instead of the church calendar.

When the enemy isn’t scattering our bodies all over creation, he is scattering our hearts and minds. We’ve got ADD of the soul. We’ve become restless.

Some of us are trying to make a difference, but we’re finding that our enslavement to social media doesn’t allow much time to do real social justice in an incarnational way through commitment to our local churches. And all of the problems in the world have made us angry and cynical.

The sad truth is that we are more aware of injustice today just from spending thirty minutes online, than most people in world history ever saw in their lifetime. It’s too much for any one human being to comprehend. Our hearts and minds are bombarded with evil from all directions. We are scattered everywhere, only to be nowhere.

This is what Jesus prayed wouldn’t happen to his disciples.

Resisting the scattering forces

In John 17, Jesus is pouring out his heart to the Father. He knows that the only way God's mission will be carried out is for the church to resist the scattering forces of the enemy, to know the power of unity,  and work to protect it.

This prayer comes from Jesus, the Son sent by the Father, who then sends his Spirit to us that we might enjoy the missional unity of the Triune God. This God is three persons working in unison for the sake of mission, to invite all people to share in the unifying force of God's loving community, where there is no bending or breaking.

The greatest threat to the Missio Dei, within Western society and culture, are the demonic forces that scatter. Click To Tweet

I’m convinced that the greatest threat to the Missio Dei, within Western society and culture, are the demonic forces that scatter. These forces scatter our minds, our families, and our churches. They push us away from gathering and mission.

If our local churches wish to survive this threat to the mission of God, we must resist the principalities and powers that force us to capitulate to the constant separation and scattering of disciples that regularly comes through politics, in-fighting, and busy living, lest we become nothing more than sophisticated slaves in the empire's matrix.

We must not continue to fuel the way of empire and its spirituality of distraction. It's time to resist the liturgical forces of the imperial order and the calendar of Caesar that too often rule our lives, keeping us from making disciples in the church and furthering the Missio Dei. It’s time to pledge full allegiance to Christ and his church.

We can write the next chapter

I think the next chapter for the church in North America is about to be written. I want to believe with Greg Boyd that we are on the verge of a new Reformation. However, if we are to have any part of this new day, we must rise up and resist the scattering forces on all fronts.

I'm confident that Jesus will fully establish his Kingdom at some point in the future. He said it would happen (Matthew 16:18), so I believe it. But in the meantime, we must decide if we will join the Kingdom revolution that is brewing and contribute to the building of God and the making of disciples, or collude with the empire and forfeit our inheritance.

Lord, let us live to see the fullness of the Kingdom, or may we die trying.

Viva La Revolution!

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About the author

David D. Flowers received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. He has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Christiansburg, Virginia and blogs at daviddflowers.com