What is mission? Part 2: Mission to the glory of God
Posted on: 14th November 2023
David Williams is the Director of Training and Development for CMS, based at St Andrew’s Hall in Melbourne, Australia. In this second of a four-part series, he talks about the true goal of mission: to bring glory to God.
In Part 1 of this series, David Williams discussed “The problem of ‘Mission as Growth.’”
The growth narrative
In the first article in this series, we reviewed some problems with the ‘mission as growth’ narrative. We noted that growth is not guaranteed in Scripture; that the Bible puts a degree of separation between church growth and human agency; that Western capitalism assumes that growth is good; and that an undue focus on growth exposes us to some practical challenges as we serve in mission.
Despite these problems, we grieve when people do not know the Lord Jesus and delight when they put their trust in him. How can we not eagerly desire gospel growth when people’s eternal salvation is at stake?
Let me summarise our question: how do we care about growth without making growth an ultimate good—that is, a good in its own right? In the previous article I suggested that one way to do this is to define the ultimate goal or purpose of mission in relation to God. Rather that thinking that mission is ultimately about the growth of the church, I suggest that mission is ultimately about the glory of God.
Mission as God’s glory
In the book of Ezekiel, God acts to preserve the honour and glory of his name.
God works consistently throughout the narrative for the sake of his holy name. For the people of Israel, perhaps it felt as though God was changing his mind. However, Ezekiel makes it clear that this is not the case. In the early chapters of the prophecy, God removes his presence from Jerusalem and reveals himself to Ezekiel in exile. God withdraws from Jerusalem because the people who represent him are bringing his name into disgrace. They are worshipping idols within the Jerusalem temple. The very people who were called to reflect the divine name are in fact bringing shame to the name of the Lord. So God withdraws.
Later in the book, the foreign nations are saying that the God of Israel has not been able to protect His people. God will now restore Israel out of exile for the sake of his holy name.
“Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: it is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.” (Ezekiel 36:22-23)
God has removed Israel from the land, then restored Israel to their land. He has acted consistently for the sake of his glory.
We see this theme being repeated over and over again in the Bible. Our God is a holy God. He delights when his people reflect his love, justice and mercy. However, he will separate himself from the profane. When his people rebel against him, he will act in judgement. We see God engaging with his people and also withdrawing from his people in both the Old and New Testaments.
John Piper’s classic book Let the Nations Be Glad develops a similar argument. Piper suggests that the ultimate goal of mission is not just to bring salvation to the nations, but to see God’s name being glorified throughout the world. God is magnified as the nations praise him. The goal of mission is God’s glory—and God is glorified as the nations sing his praise. We are therefore called to mission not in order to tick off the remaining unreached people groups so that the Lord Jesus might return; but to see our great God praised and glorified as the nations are glad in him. This echoes the wonderful missiology of Psalm 67.
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us –
2 so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you. (Psalm 67:1-3)
The practice of mission
When we define the ultimate purpose of mission as being the glory of God, this informs our thinking about the praxis of mission. In particular, it helps us to reflect not only on what is accomplished in mission, but also on how these things are accomplished. It is not healthy for a church to grow because the pastor is a coercive bully. In these circumstances, a church may be growing but God is not glorified in the process. The way that we conduct ourselves in mission is every bit as important as the specific outcomes of our mission activity. In the next article, we will focus on how we hold these two things together—engaging in the activities of mission as virtuous practices.