Ted Esler recently reported that church leaders are looking to Missio Nexus for help to engage their congregations in global mission.[i] This got my attention because in recent months, I have heard a recurring theme in a variety of church settings that might be sending conflicting messages about participation in the Great Commission.
The message I hear goes something like this: God has a purpose for you, but you need to find that purpose as quickly as possible to have a meaningful life. If you don’t find that purpose, or don’t discover it at an early age, you will miss out. While finding one’s place in life is important, the current version is informed more by the culture than by what Jesus taught.
Sayers and Murton said we live in a “could-do” culture, where people are overwhelmed by a myriad of options.[ii] We face a barrage of enticing messages, individually designed by an algorithm, and hand-delivered through their phones. So people are constantly seeking life hacks to maximize their experiences. They become like safe-crackers, trying to find the ideal combination that opens the door to optimum satisfaction, driven by “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO). But this constant pressure is only producing disappointment, exhaustion, and despair.
But there is a better alternative. Instead of scrambling to find my purpose, it is much better to abandon the search and plumb the depths of God’s purposes. It’s not so much that God has a “plan for my life” as He has a plan for the world and wants each person to become immersed in it. He has revealed this plan through His Son, recorded it in His Word, operationalizes it by the Holy Spirit, and conducted through the Church. The Church is not a place for individuals to collect helpful life hacks, but is the agent of the Kingdom of God to bless the world.
So the question emerges: How can people be liberated from the tyranny of FOMO and find freedom to live according to God’s purposes? By aligning our heads, hearts, and hands with Christ’s priorities.
First, we need to change the way we read the Bible and understand the gospel. Jesus is at the center of both, but in America we tend to make Self the center. Michael Cooper said, “The gospel is about believing Jesus is God and giving him glory. When we make it about our sins, then the gospel becomes about us: ‘Jesus did this for me.” [iii] When the goal is to” find my individual purpose,” Jesus’ command to take up our cross gets lost in the process. We find our life only when we lose it (Mt. 16:25).
Therefore, we need a theocentric mind.
Cooper continues, “When Satan is successful, our focus becomes anthropocentric. If he can make us believe that the world revolves around our mission and our vision for ministry, then God’s plan to unite all things in Christ will become a secondary or even tertiary act, consequently prolonging Satan’s doomed reign on earth. We might do good things, but not the main thing.”
When we make Scripture about ourselves, we stop thinking about the bigger picture. This starts a vicious cycle of self-examination, a frantic search for identity and self-protection that can never find fulfillment because it is the wrong question. We are not meant to chase our purpose in life as a stand-alone decision. Rather we should seek the best way to contribute to His agenda with excellence.
Second, we need to see that Jesus’ priority is not for individuals (although he cares about each person), but his passion is for the nations (every tribe, people, language, nation, or “ta ethne” in Greek). In Mt. 24:14 he says the gospel of the kingdom will be preached among ta ethne and then the end will come. God’s determining factor for the culmination of human history is connected to having a representative from all people groups on earth. In other words, the work is not done until the nations have been won.
Therefore, we need a missiological impulse.
When we read the Bible with a theocentric mind and a missiological impulse, it clears up our perspective. No longer do we ask, “how does this scripture apply to my life?” but ask, “why is this scripture important to God?”[iv] This opens the narrative of the Bible in a fresh way. I don’t have to find my place in every verse, because truth be told, I don’t exist in every passage. Every part of the Bible relates to God’s plan for the ages, foretold in the protoevangelium (Gen. 3:15) and Abrahamic Covenant, where all nations will be blessed through his seed (Gen. 12:3). But not every passage of Scripture can be directly applied to Don Allsman.
Without a missiological impulse, the vacuum is filled with an individualist one that seeks self-actualization. However, a theocentric, missiological approach allows us to see that glorifying the Son through making disciples of all ethnic groups is the central organizing principle of human history. Paul and the other apostles did not seem concerned about helping individuals build their brand, but rather to understand their role in God’s purpose for the nations. Once people understand God’s objectives, their vocational choices become clearer because the criteria includes more than personal satisfaction and security. Therefore, churches should include the nations as a central theme in their preaching and teaching, not as an occasional theme to be explored from time to time.
A missiological impulse allows church leaders to engage their congregations in global mission not as a personal calling, but something the community does together. My friend Al Ewert grew up in a Mennonite farming community, in an era where the church saw world missions as central to their purpose. Either a family was deployed overseas or they worked their farm to financially support those who were sent. When the missionary returned home to report, everyone rejoiced together to hear the results of their corporate investment.
When the focus is on discovering personal identity, fulfillment, or purpose, people become distracted. Cooper reminds us that this is true not just for individuals but also for ministries. The first love of the Ephesians was a desire to see everything united in Christ, a full proclamation of the gospel so that more people groups would be around His throne. When they lost that first love, Jesus called them to repentance (Eph. 2:4). Organizations that were once Spirit-led can slip into institutionalism, making their own survival more important than God’s glory in the nations.
A theocentric/missiological framework takes the timing and choosing of our destiny from our hands and brings our focus on God’s plan to unite all things in Christ (Eph. 1:9-10).
Third, we need to change our actions to align with Christ’s Kingdom principles. Instead of FOMO, can be free to live each moment in calm and peaceful contentment under His reign. We allow the wonder of His story to lead us to worship, then worship naturally leads us to work. We are created to be significant, to make an effort that contributes to His purposes. But we live in a culture that confuses significance with notoriety. People have always found it difficult to serve in anonymity, but this is especially important in an age where celebrities are exalted and selfies are the norm.
Therefore, we need hands that seek obscurity.
Young people face an especially toxic temptation to seek fame and fortune as Hollywood stars, professional athletes, singers, or social media influencers. Parents can feed this mania with non-stop activities to help them gain an advantage over their peers, sometimes even living vicariously through their children’s accomplishments. This is much more about the American dream than Jesus’ vision for His followers. Instead, children can be encouraged to seek an occupation where they can represent Christ in their workplace, as mechanics, bookkeepers, medical receptionists, or clerks at city hall. Real purpose is achieved when we practice a quiet influence as godly co-workers and friends, investing in personal interaction, not through the ruminations of celebrities with the most likes on their social media.
Jesus’ priority is for “the least of these” over the rich and powerful (Mt. 25), and He celebrates their qualities in the beatitudes. He instructs us how to live through passages like the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7). But living according to God’s purposes requires sacrifice and discipline. We must deny ourselves and put on His yoke (Mt. 11:29). When we live as His ambassadors wherever we go, an appreciation for the unique talents of fellow believers emerges. If our church shares theocentric mind, a missiological impulse, and a willingness to take on thankless tasks, it opens our eyes to see how our own service is an encouragement to their local community.
Head, Heart, and Hands
A person who pursues a “just-me-and-Jesus-and-Bible” religion, coupled with a desire to be rich and famous, the likely result is burn out and blaming God. However, long-term satisfaction in life comes from a theocentric mind (head), a missiological impulse (heart), and service done in obscurity (hands). Anyone who aligns themselves in this way will find it easier to find their place of significance because the bigger questions in life are already answered: it’s about giving Him glory (not what He does for me); it’s about His glory to the nations (not the sum total of personal relationships); it’s about preference for the least and lost (not for the rich and famous).
And if people are freed from the tyranny of “finding my purpose,” they may have the ability to relax long enough to engage in global mission as their top priority in life.
[i] Misaligned Missions Musings, Ted Esler, https://tedesler.substack.com/p/misaligned-missions-musings
[iii] Ephesiology, Michael Cooper, William Carey Press
[iv] Jesus Cropped from the Picture, Don Allsman, TUMI Press
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