Few questions seem to cause more conversation and anxiety in the lives of believers than those surrounding “mission” and “calling.” What is the mission of the Church? How do I determine God’s call on my life? Do my desires play into what God has called me to do? How should the church think about social justice? Does my work even matter? Michael Goheen and Jim Mullins’ new book, The Symphony of Mission: Playing Your Part in God’s Work in the World is a book written to help answer such questions, and does so with nuance, conviction, and plenty of practical advice.
As their title indicates, Goheen and Mullins want readers to think of mission as a symphony God has written, where the whole involves many parts. The call of every Christian is to discover their part and learn to play it with fidelity and consistency. Goheen, theological director of the Missional Training Center in Phoenix, Arizona, and contributor to Whatever You Do, and Mullins, pastor of theological and vocational formation for Redemption Church in Phoenix, Arizona, insist the first step in discerning your role in God’s mission is listening to the story of Scripture. “We need to listen to how God and his people have been performing the symphony of mission for thousands of years, to reflect on the biblical story and how it shapes us for mission,” they write. “When we do this …we will understand the nature and scope of God’s mission and how to join in.”
Essential principles of God’s mission
Goheen and Mullins are concerned that many believers bypass the act of “listening”and end up “vacillating between passion and apathy” for God and his work. In order to be faithful, we must be attentive and learn the basics of mission as seen in the Bible and throughout church history, which Goheen and Mullins distill to six principles:
- With: Mission must include incarnational presence.
- From: Mission must be empowered by the Spirit.
- And: Mission must be comprehensive in scope.
- Us: Mission must be communal.
- Be: Mission must include a distinct way of life.
- Why: Mission must be motivated by love.
This is “simple” mission, mission reduced to its basic components, its “notes.” The context of mission looks different for every Christian, but it must always be characterized by these six principles if it is to be considered biblical. Once we learn these notes, Goheen and Mullins explain how we can apply them to the three primary areas of mission: stewardship, service, and spoken word.
Steward, serve, speak
Stewardship is the act of doing good work in God’s world, of fulfilling the cultural mandate given to us by God in the garden. “When we do good work, we become living analogies of God’s character, display the brilliance of his creation, provide a foretaste of God’s kingdom, and serve our neighbors,” they write. When we faithfully steward what we’ve been given, we cultivate beauty from the “seemingly mundane stuff of earth,” pointing to its goodness and the goodness of the one who made it. Stewardship is the first and most consistent way we display God’s glory to the world.
Service happens when we model the self-giving love of Christ on the cross by sacrificing of ourselves for our neighbors. “As christians pour themselves out for their neighbors, the world catches a glimpse of the God who poured himself out on the cross.” Service can take many forms, from opening food pantries to performing responsive acts of justice on behalf of our neighbors. It can be an individual act toward one neighbor, or an effort to counteract structures of systemic oppression that harm our communities. Wherever we choose to serve, Goheen and Mullins invite us to love our neighbors with creativity and intentionality.
Stewardship and service should eventually give way to spoken word, intentionally speaking the gospel to those around us, whereby helping them make sense of life in light of the story of Jesus and calling them to repentance. As Goheen and Mullins note, “People need the verbal explanation of the gospel that connect our good works to the good news about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus… Evangelism is the process of re-enchantment, which shows the deep meaning that can be found in the simple stuff of life, rather than a high pressured sales pitch.” And when we live “enchanted” lives of stewardship and service to our neighbor, we lay the foundation for offering a truly compelling message of salvation.
Finding our calling, not self-fulfillment, in God’s mission
Through several helpful anecdotes, Goheen and Mullins dignify different types of work by showing how Spirit-led stewardship, service, and spoken word are aspects of mission that can be accomplished in any field and context. They also remind readers that calling is not about self-fulfillment, but about “losing ourselves in the worship of God and then finding the good works that we were created to do.” But the particularities of our life and circumstances still matter in determining our calling. To this end, Goheen and Mullins developed a helpful four-question tool for determining one’s “vocational sweet spot”:
- Abilities: What are you good at?
- Affections: What do you care about?
- Aches: Where do you encounter the brokenness of the world?
- Anchors: What are the realistic circumstances of your life?
From here, they provide practical steps to determining one’s abilities, affections, aches, and anchors in the contours of everyday life. They also remind that because we are finite and mission is a life-long commitment, requiring perseverance, building rhythms of sabbath rest into our lives is not optional. “The refusal to rest is treason within the kingdom of God,” they write, because it reveals that we think we are the masters of our own lives. On the other hand, “A commitment to sabbath is a way to renew our commitment to working in God’s ways of justice, mercy, wisdom, and creative stewardship.” When we rest, we are rejuvenated to face the brokenness in our world, to “lean into God’s mission with perseverance and sober hope,” committing ourselves once again to the missional tasks of stewardship, service, and spoken word.
Attentive and faithful to God’s mission
The Symphony of Mission covers a lot of ground, from biblical theology to missional strategy, to establishing a practical theology of vocation and calling to demonstrating how social justice fits into God’s mission. It also maintains clarity and accessibility throughout. Equipped with years of personal experience and several anecdotes of believers living on mission in a range of contexts, Goheen and Mullins engage the conversation about mission and vocation with the clarity, nuance, and practicality.
Their book is saturated with biblical wisdom and principles but resists the temptation to speak of mission in merely theoretical terms. It also avoids the pitfalls of making false dichotomies with how we understand mission. Mission in the Christian life is a comprehensive calling — focused on the three movements of service, stewardship, and spoken word — and being faithful in mission means being obedient and attentive to the Spirit’s voice in all three areas.