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God, what are You doing?

Genesis 6 outlines God’s mission in the world

By Jules Glanzer

In 1982, we packed our belongings into a Ryder truck and our children into our Mercury Zephyr station wagon and moved to Houston, Texas, to plant Mennonite Brethren churches. With a deep conviction that God had called us to this ministry, with the affirmation of the church we had been serving and with the blessing of denominational leaders, we threw ourselves into starting churches. Three years later we had ministered to over 1,000 people but had not formed a congregation, and the denomination decided to withdraw from the project. We were left to figure out exactly what God was up to. It was time for a heart-to-heart talk with God.

Like Moses in Exodus 5:22-23, I had questions for God. I had been faithful to God’s call. I had listened and been obedient to his promptings along the way. I had been faithful to my wife, kept honest financial records and given my all for the sake of starting a church. But God had not kept his end of the deal. He had not done what only he can do to make the group of people to whom we ministered into a church. Why? Shaking my clenched fist in God’s direction, I yelled, “God, what are you doing?”

I think Moses is asking similar questions the day he has a face-to-face, no-holds-barred talk with God. Moses had been faithful to God’s call. He left his home and goes back to his people with a clear understanding of what will happen: Moses will ask Pharaoh to let the people go, and then Moses will lead them out of slavery and into a land of freedom and plenty.

Not as planned

Only things do not go as planned. Instead of instant success, Pharaoh says no and makes the people’s lives even more oppressive. So Moses returns to the Lord, no doubt with his fist clenched and his voice raised, and asks the question that any godly leader on a mission will ask when the mission is not being accomplished: “God, what are you doing?” 

I believe that Moses saw himself as participating with God in carrying out God’s mission in the world. He was a “missional” leader in every sense of the term. God wanted something done on earth, and Moses understood that he was called and sent by God to accomplish it. This is what a missional leader is: Someone called and sent by God to accomplish the purpose of God on earth.

The question for us to answer is: What does God want to accomplish? Usually we assume that the missional activity of God in the world has something to do with redemption—often personal redemption—and begins with and is tied to the work of Jesus on the cross. I believe God’s design includes redemption but that it also goes beyond deliverance.

Each time I hear the term missional, I think back to my Old Testament theology course at MB Biblical Seminary, taught by Elmer Martens. I can still hear Dr. Martens say, “Our pivotal text is Exodus 5:22-6:8. It is the only place in the Scriptures where God is asked, ‘What are you doing?’ and in which he answers the question directly.”

In his book God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology, Martens writes, “My claim is that the overarching theme of the Old Testament is God’s design, a design that incorporates four components: deliverance, community, knowledge of God and the abundant life. This design is articulated at the exodus, implemented and tested in the monarchy, reaffirmed in the post-monarchy period, and continued into the New Testament.”

God answers Moses

God’s answer to Moses provides us with the outline for God’s activity in the world, from the beginning of time to the hereafter. God answers the question, “God, what are you doing?” Regardless of our place in life, be it in vocational ministry, serving in the marketplace or providing leadership in an ecclesial setting, God’s answer to Moses serves as anchor points. 

After reiterating his promise to Moses that deliverance will take place, God attaches a name to himself, describing who he is: “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD” (Exod. 6:6-8).

God intends to bring his people out from under the burden of the Egyptians, to make them his own, to have them know that he is God and to give them a land. These are the four-fold purposes of God that flow from his identity and describe what God has been doing, is doing and will do in the world. The activity of God in the world is to bring deliverance, to form community, to know God and to provide a quality life.

We can trace these four themes throughout the various periods of biblical history, including their fulfillment in Christ and his church and culminating in the end with the heavenly kingdom. Throughout history God has been delivering people and forming them into community. He desires a relationship with them and reveals himself to them in various ways so that he can provide an abundant life for them.

Participating with God

So missional leadership is participating with God in his activity in the world, making the world as God desires it to be by bringing deliverance, forming community, knowing God and providing a quality life. In order for missional leaders to make good on this call, we need to design ministries, provide leadership and create environments where deliverance is experienced, community is expressed, people discover God and the quality of their lives is improved. 

Missional leadership is influencing people towards this end. It is not enough to proclaim the provision of God for salvation. We must communicate and demonstrate that which Jesus proclaimed—the kingdom of God. As Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate once said, “Christianity began in Palestine as a relationship, moved to Greece and became an idea, went to Rome and became an institution, then came to America and became an enterprise.” It is time we go back to Palestine and offer Christianity as a relationship, a relationship that brings deliverance, forms community, knows God and provides a quality life.

As I think back on the ministry in Houston that took place in the church that never came to be, I now realize that we were missional. I am convinced that the kingdom of God was proclaimed and received. We were participating with God in his activity in the world, bringing deliverance, forming community, knowing God and providing a quality life. When we first moved to Houston, we defined the church as “people, equipped to serve, meeting needs everywhere in Jesus’ name.” In the purest sense of the word, this is the mission of the church.

Missional leadership understands that the church is not the end but the means—it is a catalyst for the kingdom of God. The church in America needs to recapture the purpose of God as described in the exodus event. We need to enter into the story and discover how to serve and lead in today’s society.

Jules Glanzer is president of Tabor College, the Mennonite Brethren college in Hillsboro, Kan. Glanzer, a 1978 graduate of MB Biblical Seminary, served as a church planter and pastor for the Mennonite Brethren and Evangelical Covenant denominations before moving into higher education.

Glanzer says this about the word "missional": The term “missional” first appeared in 1907 in the Oxford English dictionary. Since then it has had a variety of usages. Parachurch organizations are often called missional organizations. For others, it refers to a method of consulting churches to become relevant—becoming a missional church. Still others use the term as a technique of evangelism—being involved in missional activities. And some refer to missional as the umbrella of the various disciplines of study, as in the mother of theology. Recently some Protestant denominations have begun referring to God as a missional God. Most interesting is that Anabaptists have always understood the church as being missional.

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