There are many different metaphors or images to describe the Mission of God throughout the bible and Christian tradition.
Here are just ten of them which you may or may not have encountered before:
The Latin root of the word mission (“missio”) literally means sending, originating with Jesus’ command to his disciples to “Go!”.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus sends out the twelve and then the seventy-two to “proclaim the Kingdom of God”. The proclamation metaphor is central to the traditional Reformed/Protestant understanding of mission.
Based on imagery from Genesis and Revelation, as well Jesus’ resurrection, the last of the Anglican Communion’s five marks of mission is “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”
Drawing on themes from the Exodus and Exile narratives, Liberation is a strong metaphor in Latin America and other cultures where there is a strong sense oppression and injustice. In Luke 4, Jesus himself borrows the words of Isaiah in order to express his own vocation to “proclaim freedom to the captives” and “to set the oppressed free”.
Healing the sick is one of the most obvious visible out-workings of Jesus’ ministry, and something he also instructs his followers to do when he sends them out.
The third of the five marks is “To respond to human need by loving service,” drawing on the service modelled by Jesus to his disciples.
There is strong theme throughout the biblical narrative of reconciliation, which Paul touches on in Colossians 2, as well as other places. The concept of peacemaking is also introduced in the Beatitudes.
Hospitality is often a strong image for mission, drawing on several different biblical narratives. For example, the story of Abraham welcoming the stranger, and Jesus choosing to eat with sinners.
The image of illuminating, either in terms of illuminating truth or of witnessing to others, can be drawn from passages like the “Light of the world” section in the Sermon on the Mount.
The parable of the sower introduces the idea of the garden as a venue for mission, as well as harvest themes which appear throughout the bible. The Roman Catholic missiologist Stephen Bevans talks about the idea of mission as “entering someone else’s garden”, reminding us that often we should engage in mission as guests rather than hosts.
Is your approach to mission one-dimensional or multi-faceted?
- How many of these metaphors are already part of your understanding of mission?
- Do you tend to focus on one or two images more than the others?
- Which metaphors do you need to develop more within your mission context?