The "Going" Church vs the "Sent" Church

Len Hjalmarson

Pulling together two threads, one from Bishop David Zac Niringiye in Christianity Today Magazine, and the second from Todd Hiestand in his paper, “The Challenge of the Missional Church in Suburbia.” David asked, “What could equip us to be more countercultural, living in a nation that is very much at the center of power?” Todd’s answer relates to escaping the dualistic western worldview. David’s answer locates a different center.

“We need to begin to read the Bible differently. Americans have been preoccupied with the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the Great Commission: “Go and make.” I call them go-and-make missionaries. These are the go-and-fix-it people. The go-and-make people are those who act like it’s all in our power, and all we have to do is “finish the task.” They love that passage! But when read from the center of power, that passage simply reinforces the illusion that it’s about us, that we are in charge.

“I would like to suggest a new favorite passage, the Great Invitation. It’s what we find if we read from the beginning of the Gospels rather than the end. Jesus says, “Come, follow me. I will make you fishers of men.” Not “Go and make,” but “I will make you.” It’s all about Jesus. And do you know the last words of Jesus to Peter, in John 21? “Follow me.” The last words of Simon Peter’s encounter are the same as the first words…”


Todd Hiestand’s paper has been circulating for a while, and was reprinted this week on Mark Priddy’s new blog, Moving Into the Neighborhood. Todd writes that there are two models of mission that are possible for us, one that is typically western and dualistic, and another that is post-colonial and that is rooted in a the Trinity. Bosch writes in Transforming Mission:

Mission [is] understood primarily as being derived from the very nature of God. It [is] thus put in the context of the doctrine of the trinity…The classical doctrine of the missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit [expands] to include yet another “movement’: Father, Son and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world…mission is not primarily an activity of the church, it is an attribute of God. God is a missionary God. Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God into the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is a church because there is a mission, not visa versa. 2

Typically we make missional living a secondary result of the church’s life together. Todd questions this paradigm in favor of mission as expressing the very reason for our being. He writes,

“If we understand that the mission of the church is derived from the very nature of God and that the church’s mission flows from God’s desire to redeem the creation, then we cannot minimize it as something that is simply part of the church’s task. It is the church’s task. In this desire to redeem the creation, God has sent the church so that in His mission His “love and attention are directed primarily at the world.” 3

“So if we can understand mission as the Father sending the Son, the Father and the Son sending the Spirit, and the Father, Son and Spirit sending the church, a question still remains: What does this look like? The answer to this question lies in being congregations that are “sent” instead of congregations that “go.”

“The church that “goes” is the church that finds its primary identity detached from the world and set apart as holy. When it does mission, it ventures into the world to share the gospel. This view of mission could be depicted with the following illustration: the going church

“Here, the separate and untainted church rightfully understands that it needs to be a witness for the gospel. The church then takes a risky venture into the world to “do mission.” After it is done with this task, it retreats back to the safety of separation in order to be refueled. Missiologist David Bosch offers a helpful critique of this idea. He writes, “Spirituality or devotional life seems to mean withdrawal from the world, charging my batteries, and then going out into the world. The image is of an automobile that runs on batteries only.”5 He goes on to explain how this understanding of the Christian life in which the world “is primarily seen as a threat, as a source of contagion from which the Christian must keep himself free” leads to a view of life that is “docetic.” Docetism essentially claims that matter is inherently evil and has been rejected by all mainstream forms of Christianity.

“A more helpful and biblical view of mission is seen when the church understands itself as sent (into the world) as set apart and unified. This view of the church and mission can be depicted in the following illustration: the sent church

“This illustration comes from Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Here we see Jesus describe the church first and foremost as sent into the world. In verse 15 he prays that it would be sent, “my prayer is not that you take them out of the world.” In verse 18 Jesus states the need for them to remain set apart in their sentness, ” They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” Finally Jesus prays that they would remain unified, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” With Jesus’ prayer as a foundation for understanding the nature of the church we see that the Church finds itself in the world, yet set apart and unified.” 4

See also the new book by Will and Lisa Samson, Justice in the Burbs. YouTube links the video entry...HT to Jason Z.


1 Bishop David Niringiye, quoted by Andy Crouch, “Experiencing Life at the Margins.” Christianity Today. July 2006, Vol. 50, No. 7, Page 32

2 Bosch, David. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991), 390.

3 Ibid., 10.

4 Bosch, David. A Spirituality for the Road (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1961), 12.

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• © 2005-2007 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated in Ocotber, 2007