What is the most important social unit in Missions? In fact, there are many social units that could be selected. First of all, however, what is a “social unit”?
Here are some options for the most important social unit in Missions:
1. The Individual. This seems like a pretty obvious choice. After all, salvation certainly has an individualized quality to it. A “personal relationship” with God emphasizes the choice in the individual person. The individual as the most important social group certainly also fits well with the Western mindset from which the Modern Protestant missions movement has sprung.
2. The Family or Community. If the individual is the pillar of Western society, then the family or local community could be thought of as the pillar of (at least some) Eastern societies. With missions moving from Western nations to “Eastern nations” (or 2/3 world or NSCs) one might suggest the need to emphasize family and local community. Of course with group conversions, and recognition of family and community dynamics in evangelism and church planting movements, one could argue that family/community is the most important… or at least should be.
3. The Cultural Unit or People Group. In recent times, this has become of key importance. Some of this springs from (what I consider to be) a flawed understanding of Matthew 24:14. It seems to be poor scholarship to believe that we can make an arbitrary list of ethnic groups and expect that God will speed up the Second coming if we express the Gospel in an understandable way to group on that list. Still… evangelism, church-planting, and discipleship tends to work effectively within cultural units. As my former Missions Professor said, “Missions… sharing the Gospel cross-culturally… is like pouring syrup on a waffle, not a pancake.” By this he meant that the Gospel tends to be accepted, pooled, in little cultural pockets (like syrup on a waffle) rather than spread out and responded uniformly by many groups like syrup spreading over a pancake. Cultural groups are important… they can’t be ignored.
4. Local Church. Maybe the local church is the center of our understanding in missions. I do tend to appreciate a Missional church understanding of Missions over the common Cross-cultural understanding of Missions. The importance of the local church as the sender… and a local church as a primary result of Missions is very true.
5. Universal Church. Maybe the focus is on the Body of Christ as a whole. We are baptized into one church and one Spirit. We are all new creations with (my opinion) a new (missional) calling. And while the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ are not (and should not be thought of as) synonymous… there is a lot of overlap since the Body of Christ has a very important role as salt and light and as leaven (in a good way) bringing in God’s Kingdom in some small, but critical, way.
6 and 7. There are other choices as far as other social units as well. Some might focus on Denominations, and Particularists (both cultic and noncultic) often do. Others might focus on Nations (particularly in the past era of State Churches). Both of these are generally less favored now.
My choice is HUMANITY.
However, one may choose to interpret the first three chapters of Genesis, one thing is clear, WE ARE ALL CREATED AS LIVING CREATURES (of Nature) AND AS BEINGS IN THE IMAGE (authority) OF GOD. We are all children of God in the sense of our Creation, and we share in the turmoil of a shared Fall, and share the common need of Restoration. This common kinship, and common need should motivate us (in part) to love and act as channels of God’s love and blessing.
Often Missions (and followers of God) has not seen the great importance in the shared experience of our common humanity. Many have embraced Jonah’s attitude in which one’s people group needs (deserves?) God’s blessing, while others need God’s retribution. I am reminded of the amazing quote of a German cleric (17th century) about an early Lutheran missionary, Justinian Von Welz. Von Welz was described as “… a dreamer, fanatic, hypocrite and heretic, … it was absurd, even wicked, to cast the pearls of the gospel before the heathen.” (Robert Glover, “The Progress of Worldwide Missions,” 1953, pg. 46). This quote makes NO sense at all unless one sees the relationship as fellow humans (brothers of a common God, and in need of a common savior) taking secondary precedence to both church and ethnicity.
Perhaps we need a missiology that starts with Genesis 1:24ff before it gets to Acts 1:8.
- Revisiting the Gospel and Evangelism (bostoncovarbor.wordpress.com)