VISION AND MISSION
P. A. Thomas
The words vision and mission find various meanings in the commercial, business, political, social and religious world. As languages have ever been developing as expressions of human communication in a given context and period, words can take up new meanings and shades and that is for the linguists to work on. The purpose of this article is not to consider the linguistic aspect but to look at it as a concept on which a lot of human activity has taken shape.
Vision and mission have been two words which often found Christians grasping onto them personally and collectively in the last few centuries. A lot of activities have been initiated; a lot of investment of worthy human souls and their possessions have been made in the name of these words. Institutions and organisations have been built around those words; competitions and struggles to gain power and influence have been rampant. Trainings after training and academic thesis after thesis have been made to promote the words, their implications and effectiveness. Somehow all have made efforts to link these words into the Bible and its truth. Many international NGOs rationalise their existence based on these words and pick up some links with a Biblical story or verse.
Selling The Words
We hear a lot of people starting new ministries, institutions, getting into new activities, jobs or even making a business selling these words. I know a person who has changed his vision five times within a year, every time claiming divine guidance. Many others use these words to rationalise their move from one job or ministry (in which usually they could not succeed) into a new one with more incentives and benefits (hoping to be greatly successful). There are Asian Christians who apply and get a DV lottery to settle in US and say then they had a vision for US and hence are going on a mission. God becomes controlled by electronic lotteries in making His people catch the vision! It may not be desirable, and definitely not possible, to expose all those motives behind all those who use these words, especially in Christendom. Many Asian Christians, who spent all their lives in North America or Europe earning money and making their children 'blessed,' suddenly catch a vision and come back with a mission in their old age (they are useless retirees there) and of course, spend most of the year back there itself to promote the mission and collect funds. Surely all this can be seen as a return of God's blessing on the poor South and its hungry populations. But would that justify using the words vision and mission, and getting them attached to the Bible and God?
Concept Of God
Let us examine it as a concept of God for His man on the earth. For Adam, the first man, the vision must have been just to be in fellowship with God and hence complete the mission of obedience. He failed in both, but lived with the vision of satisfying themselves and hence a mission of increasing rivalry and wickedness.
Noah seems to have a vision of just obeying what God said and accomplishing the mission of rescuing life through judgement; but he doesn't seem to bother about that vision or mission afterwards.
Abraham was a great visionary and he started with a vision to follow God and His plans for him. According to Hebrews, Abraham was consistent and committed to his vision and continued a life-long mission of obeying God and functioning as a true envoy of God for the nations he sojourned through. He neither changed his vision nor revamped his mission even with his limitations of the knowledge of God and His plans, and the lack of any prevailing right religious system of serving God.
Moses seems to have caught up with a vision of being a saviour, but confused with the timing and pattern of the mission. God had to reform him and it took time; but the vision was confirmed in Exodus 3 through a supernatural meeting with God. Moses continued in the mission of saving his people, exemplifying the vision of being a saviour. He never wavered in that commitment, though he never understood the whole implication of the role, nor the vast scope of that mission for the whole of humanity. But he served his generation as a faithful servant. What a commendation (Heb.3:5)!
Consider Joseph. The only vision he held onto was the dream he had as a lad that God was going to make him someone important and great. He started his life mission as a spoiled son, a slave, a good manager and finally, a great prime minister of the world empire! Functionally, he went through various roles, but his mission was clear-communicate with God and serve his generation. Opportunities, struggles and threats never changed his vision or mission, but he held on to them till death. The vision was the guiding light and the mission was following of that light in everyday life.
Some of the judges could be examples of limited and temporary visions and their accompanying missions. So their names are not important. In the end, Samuel had a vision of bringing people back to God as a community and shepherd them; he accomplished it through the establishment of various places of teaching and worship in Israel. Anointing of kings didn't exactly fit into his vision matrix, but he completed the mission of shepherding by anointing a shepherd king of God's choice.
Then comes the list of the life-long as well as the one-time ministry prophets in Israel. They all had the vision to serve God by communicating what He wanted to speak to the faith community in their own context of rebellion or revival. Some like Elijah and Jeremiah stuck to their vision of serving God in spite of threats and accomplished their mission of challenging people and bringing them back to God. Some had time-framed messages for Israel as well as the nations around them, though nothing much is known of their life or missions.
Daniel had a vision to be a witness to holiness and living to the God of the Israelites in very unpalatable historic settings. His single minded commitment to the vision made him unprecedentedly successful in his mission as a statesman-missionary through long periods of various empires and kingdoms.
So all these Old Testament models bring the picture of a vision which is towards God, lifelong and moving in a unidirectional mission with activities which accomplish the vision, through geographical settings, life activities and impacts of all that were different and varying. Primarily it doesn't count much on the person and his achievements, but on how much of the vision is accomplished.
Coming to the New Testament (NT), we see John the Baptist taking on the vision of a herald and single-mindedly accomplishing that mission through regular preaching, leading people for baptism and bringing them to Jesus (Jn.1:29, 35-37). Jesus apparently continued that mission of calling for repentance and inviting them to join the kingdom band. But Jesus had a definite three-fold vision of revealing the unseen God fully to the humanity, living the model of a perfect Son of Man and being the redeemer of humanity through the vicarious sacrifice. So His mission was progressive, all inclusive and complete. He began as a good teacher explaining God and His kingdom, but slowly bringing out the fullness of the Son of Man in tune with the Father exercising authority, power and reign over powers of devil and darkness, and overcoming the world and its sin-oriented corruption. He led a team together with Him in that process and asked them to wait for the power from above while He went on to complete the third part of the mission, the vicarious death on the cross. They were taught to take up their own crosses and follow Him (Phil.1:29; Gal.2:20) which in effect was transferring the three-fold vision and the mission which accomplishes that. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see each of the apostles committing his life to that vision of witnessing to the living Christ and nothing else. None of them wavered in their mission to be the witnesses in whatever they did, or wherever they got located. They came from various professions and cultures, but cherished the same vision and committed themselves for the same mission of expressing the kingdom of God here and now, in personal lives, families and communities called congregations or churches.
The NT vision was definitely to become a witness to the living Christ (Acts 1:8) and they were all to be missionaries wherever they were and whatever they did. The so called full time ministers were called out to be apostles, itinerant evangelists and teachers not much like the local elders/pastors of today. There was no differentiation between full time and part time ministers. James with a family in Jerusalem was as respected as Peter and Paul who were itinerant apostles, full time most of the time. Every Christian was a full time Christian and hence shared the same vision and mission. The calling and election made the difference in how they activated their vision into the mission of their daily lives. This is emphasised in Paul's teachings (2Cor. 5:1-21; Eph.4:1-16; Col.1:24-29). Every Christian has to be Christ-like (Rom.8:29) and the only mission demanded is an available and acceptable body dwelt by a renewed mind (Rom.12:1-2) to accomplish the predetermined purposes of God (Eph.2:10).
Today's paradigm of an exclusive club of holy and spiritual ministers and a host of customer-like believers around them cannot be considered as a biblical or historic church model. It cultivates the syncretised religious culture of some saints being close to God who favour those who appease and honour them rather than those who worship God and serve Him directly. Those who have opposed the traditional saints and mediators have brought in a new version of living mediators who usually make a brisk business for themselves. Thus the traditional churches as well the mushrooming new churches both follow the same basic humanistic religious pattern. It encourages and venerates the cult of having intricate personal visions and offing from that, personal and very narrow missions or ministries. Some of them have developed around schools and hospitals historically, but more recently around orphan children, destitutes, social issues like HIV and refugees and even all other human social activities like sports, arts, music and what not. Organisation after organisation with expensive physical and human infra-structures have been established, split up for personal reasons and then duplicated and hence wasted a lot of God-given material and human resources, all in the name of vision and mission!
So how narrow and personal can we make the Christian/Biblical vision and mission? The missionaries of old with life-long vision and mission are extinct; many (not all) of today's missionary lots are mainly professionals and tourists who bank on the few years they spend in the mission field for their spiritual status and credibility for the rest of their lives. Then there are the self-appointed, self-titled globe trotters as missionaries, teachers and apostles. Some of them do not have a stable family or a local church which they belong to and are accountable to. But they claim to have a vision and hence a mission to the poor third world, where their small resources can reap a great harvest and then satellite missions can be established usually with unemployed, west-crazy local Christians. This will allow them to make it an international ministry with a home office, costing funds in multiples of what is used actually in the mission and the field! So visions and missions are a great beneficiary endeavour both ways.
The Christian academicians/theologians have become a separate club for multiplying degrees, increasing the number of conflicting theories and founding and building similar institutions/empires usually to serve their own ends. The church at large remains dry and bony even with all these missiological and theological knowhow and input. Where is the vision, and where is the mission? Every Christian has to answer those questions very personally before God and before their own conscience. We should have the vision of the Risen Lord and the mission of being His witnesses.