I don’t know why, but I have a fascination with yo-yos. Now, I can’t yo-yo. Nevertheless, I find it amusing and entertaining as a skilled yo-yoer (if I can use that term) cast the yo-yo out with great rhythmic force only to have it return with an energetic bounce to be cast back out and to come back to its starting place.
I often use the yo-yo and its movement as a way to describe God’s mission. Just as a yo-yo, when properly used, has a ‘going out’ and ‘coming in’ function, so too does God’s mission. Missiologists sometimes refer to this going out and coming in as the centripetal and centrifugal forces (movements) of God’s mission.
The Centripetal Movement of God’s Mission
The centripetal movement (coming in) of God’s mission is most clearly seen in the Old Testament with the nation of Israel. God placed Israel in the middle of the nations. In the Promised Land they were called to be a light to the nations—to live so that the nations would be drawn to Jerusalem (see Exod. 19:5–6; Deut. 28:10; Isa. 49:6). As Israel embodied and enacted the life of God (i.e., the Kingdom of God), they were to be an ‘attractive sign’ to a watching world.
The centripetal movement of God’s mission remains as part of God’s missional call for the New Testament people of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His followers, “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world. . . .[L]et you light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:13, 14, 16). Peter uses similar language found in his epistle (1 Pet. 2:9–12).
The centripetal force of mission expresses that mission isn’t only about going or doing (missions), it’s also about being. Thus, the identity and nature of God’s people manifested in the way they live out the cultural mandate, the Great Commandment, and their relationship with God becomes an attractional missional element among a lost and dying world.
The Centrifugal Movement of God’s Mission
The centrifugal movement (going out) of God’s mission is most clearly seen in the New Testament—although it is present in the OT in places like Joshua 2, Jeremiah 27 and 29, and Jonah. However, in a more pronounced way, Jesus introduces the paradigm shift of going out when He gives the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 1:8).
The Great Commission teaches that God’s mission isn’t just local, but global. And it is not the globe’s responsibility to come to the area where the local church resides, but the church’s responsibility to go to the globe.
The Great Commission (as well as Acts 1:8) is commenced in the Book of Acts and is to be continued today. Rather than people coming to Jerusalem, the believers went out from Jerusalem. Some have taken Acts 1:8 and created a (centrifugal) missions strategy that includes local missions, domestic missions, and international missions.
While I think this is helpful, I would also like for us to think about Acts 1:8 as a cross-cultural, cross-ethnic, and cross-racial mission. In other words, the Jewish believers were to centrifugally cross cultural, ethnic, and racial boundaries in order to share the gospel with those far from God.
This is an important point for believers living in an urban context—not to mention for all Christians given that we live in a globalized world. Over the last half-century, our world has experienced urbanization—an influx of people moving into cities.
Thus, our cities and their metro-plexes contain much diversity—they are typically multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial. And the reality is that diversity isn’t slowing down; if anything, it’s accelerating. Those living in or around urban centers may encounter their own Jerusalemites, Judeans, Samarians, and foreigners.
The following is a chart to help understand the differences between the diverse groups—which are not only found throughout the world, but also where we live, work, and play—the Church was and is centrifugally called to reach all, simultaneously.
Note that Acts 1:8 is an outline of the book of Acts, not an order that we follow. In other words, we don’t first reach our Jerusalem, then our Judea, and so on.
We are already, now, at the ends of the earth. The mission is from everywhere and to everywhere.
But there are some things we can still learn about the kind of people we are to reach. Here’s one way to think of it.
- Jerusalem – Any location within the daily sphere of influence of your community of faith.
- Judea – Any location outside of the daily sphere of influence of your community of faith, but shares a common worldview.
- Samaria – Any location outside of the daily sphere of influence of your community of faith that has a slightly differing worldview, are often unappreciated and even disliked, but shares some commonalities with you.
- Ends of the Earth – Any location outside of the daily sphere of influence of your community of faith that has a radically differing worldview with few, if any, commonalities.
Let me sum this up.
God’s mission moves two ways.
First, it moves “attractionally” (magnetically) through the transformed lives of His people. Thus, it’s important for churches to teach and equip believers to live transformed, godly lives that are centered on King Jesus and that demonstrate His kingdom ethics. The mission of attractional living can and does lead to those far from God asking, “What must I do to be saved?”
Second, God’s mission moves “incarnationally” (externally) through God’s people being sent to a lost, dying, and diverse world. Thus, it’s important for churches to teach, equip, exhort, and provide avenues for believers to participate in God’s worldwide mission of reaching those far from God, a movement that begins with neighbors but that moves to the nations.
The mission of incarnational living can and does lead to the ingathering of all nations into one people—a people from every tribe, nation, tongue, and people group (Rev. 5:9; 7:9).
Next time, I will talk about the mark of a missional community.
- An Introduction
- The Message of God’s Mission
- The Movements of God’s Mission
- The Mark of Missional Community
- The Mark of Sentness
- The Mark of Multiplication
- Analogizing and Applying Missional Effectiveness