“Another book about mission?” you might be thinking. “Surely we don’t need another. We just need to put into practice what we already know!”
We certainly sympathize with these thoughts. And in fact, this book is designed precisely to move God’s people from theological reflection to faithful practice, from wrestling with the idea of mission to participating—faithfully and obediently—in what God is doing in mission. Harvie Conn, who has shaped both of us, says it well when he pleads at the beginning of his book on evangelism and justice, “And now to the streets and not, pray God, to the study.” 
This book is a joint project between Mike Goheen and Jim Mullins. Mike is leading a creative experiment in missional theological education called the Missional Training Center (MTC), among the Phoenix area churches.  He works with many pastors in this role, and Jim is one of them. Jim is the pastor of theological and vocational formation at Redemption Church, Tempe. He is on the board of MTC and plays a key role among the Phoenix area churches to catalyze and unify congregations in mission. He also helps lead the Surge School, a widely ecumenical endeavor that disciples hundreds of people annually in vocational mission. While both of us are deeply engaged both in the mission of the church and in thinking about it in light of Scripture, it is especially Mike’s theological reflection and Jim’s imaginative implementation that come together in this book.
The book itself arises out of three things: our personal stories, how our stories intersect, and the need we discovered in our Surge School for a certain kind of book about mission. So we’ll begin with our stories, each told in our own words.
When (in the late 1970s) I committed myself to follow Christ, it was in a church that stood squarely within the revivalist tradition of the early twentieth century. My assumptions about the nature of mission and what it meant to participate in that mission sprouted from that soil. For me, mission was about evangelism, sharing a certain message that would enable people to go to heaven. In those days the animosity between the evangelical and ecumenical traditions was so bitter you almost had to experience it to believe it. Word and deed were seen to be in tension, and the church I was part of was firmly and unapologetically committed to word over deed.
And so I became a zealous evangelist. I took a personal evangelism course in a local Bible college and memorized many formulas, including the Four Spiritual Laws and the Romans Road. I became involved in the Evangelism Explosion ministry in our church, diligently mastering all the techniques and becoming a trainer. I went into the homes of folks who had visited our church, urging them to believe in Jesus. I took every opportunity to share the gospel—or at least a narrow version of the gospel—with anyone who would listen, and often with those who wouldn’t. In short, I embodied what one book of that time referred to as a “witless witness.”  On the front of that book is a picture of an angry-looking man standing on the chest of another man who is pinned on the ground. The man who is standing has a large Bible raised high in one hand, while with the other hand he is aggressively pulling his helpless victim’s tie. Now you might dismiss this picture as a mere caricature designed to get a laugh and catch the buyer’s eye in a Christian bookstore, but it’s more than that to me. You see, I remember a time on the streets of Miami when I came close to being that bully with the Bible as I badgered a young man with the “gospel” until he finally prayed the sinner’s prayer. He said the words of the prayer, but he did so—I am sure—just to get rid of me. I’m not proud of that memory. But it is a reminder for me of a time when I was genuinely (though ignorantly) wrestling with the nature of mission, how I was to participate in it, and what it should look like in my daily life.
But then another event occurred in my life a short while later that gradually worked loose some of my most deeply held assumptions about mission. A Haitian man appeared on the front steps of my church’s conference center, his feet bleeding from a long walk. He was hungry. He had nowhere to live and no job. I brought him into the foyer of the conference center and seated him there while I set about figuring out what I could do to help. But before I came up with a real plan, I was summoned to the office of the senior pastor, where the whole pastoral staff had assembled to demand I remove this man from the premises. As a relatively new Christian, I was confused because these leaders whom I respected were apparently acting without mercy. “There are government agencies for this kind of thing,” and “You can’t help everyone, Mike,” were some of the words I remember. I stubbornly refused to follow their direction, and a long drama ensued that eventually led me to find lodging and a job for the man on my own. But the whole incident shook me deeply. At that point, I didn’t yet understand the twentieth-century theological history that had produced such a passionate division between word and deed. But I knew something was very wrong with a church that placed such a high priority on evangelism and yet had so little sense of justice and mercy. My views on mission were being challenged and broadened.
The tradition in which I grew up was also committed to cross-cultural missions. Accordingly, I decided that if my life was to count for anything, I needed to become a foreign missionary. With that in mind I decided to head to Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, to get the biblical training I would need for the task. I have no doubt that many ideas and convictions shifted during my three years there, but two such shifts in particular would play a huge role in my later life. First, I learned in the tradition of Herman Ridderbos and Geerhardus Vos to read the Bible as one story. Second, I was exposed to Harvie Conn’s classes on mission. His views of holistic mission, his redemptive-historical approach to every issue, and his urging to read and absorb J. H. Bavinck’s work combined to shape my views on mission profoundly.
When it came time to graduate, I was met by a group from eastern Ontario who challenged my commitment to go overseas. They argued that Canada was a far more needy mission field than any of the African countries I was considering. And, of course, they were right. I ended up church planting and then pastoring on the edge of Toronto. I’m afraid I did many—perhaps most—things wrong. Yet I learned a lot and continued to wrestle with the nature of mission, especially in relation to the church. My views of mission had been highly individualistic; now I had to find the right connections between my missional and pastoral activities. What, I began to ask, does the church have to do with mission?
A number of events in my life at that time were working together to reshape my understanding. First, I was invited to teach an introductory course on mission at the university level.  I didn’t know where to begin, so I turned to Bavinck’s The Science of Missions (since that is where Harvie Conn had told me to go). After reading that book again, I became convinced that one must begin by reading the Bible as one story in order to understand mission.  I also began to read David Bosch and especially Lesslie Newbigin. Newbigin offered a way of viewing mission that helped resolve a number of tensions I had experienced in my theology and ministry, especially the tensions between church and mission and between word and deed. Moreover, Newbigin challenged me to understand mission in terms of the church’s role in the biblical story, and this resonated with what I had already learned from reading Bavinck.
This experience in the late 1980s led me to do a doctorate on the missionary ecclesiology of Lesslie Newbigin and eventually to move from the pastorate into the academic life. I developed and taught mission courses in a number of universities, wrestling with the nature and practice of mission with hundreds of students. But I also taught worldview; I had come to see the worldview emphasis that flowed from Kuyper, Bavinck, and others in the Dutch neo-Calvinist tradition as very helpful in my attempts to understand mission as holistic, including not only word and deed but also vocation and witness in the public square. This understanding was reinforced by my ongoing study of Newbigin. My classes in worldview were attempts to help my students take up their vocations, first as students and then as future professionals, as part of God’s mission.
During this time I did not forget the church. Too much teaching about mission, including some versions of “vocation in the public square” in the Reformed tradition, neglects the local congregation. My continuing studies in Newbigin would not allow me to do that. I worked in two congregations as a preaching pastor with other pastors and leaders, and we did our best to enable the church to be missional. Questions about the fundamental nature of mission, about how the various members of the church should find their place in God’s mission, and about what mission should look like as it is worked out in their lives continued to press on me.
One observation that troubled me at that point in my life and work was that most pastors had been theologically trained in institutions where mission was not a central concern. When they graduated and took up their pastoral roles, they were not prepared to preach and teach, or exercise pastoral care and discipleship, for the purpose of leading and forming missional congregations. And then the opportunity to do something to change this picture came my way unexpectedly. I was invited by some leaders in Phoenix to come and carry out some new experiments in theological education, and for the past eight years I have had the privilege of working in theological education with pastors and leaders from many confessional traditions by wrestling with the questions I have been asking all along: What is mission? How do we find our place—and how do we help people under our pastoral care find their place—in God’s mission? What does “finding our place” look like in daily life?
One of the exceptionally gifted pastors I met in Phoenix was Jim Mullins. Jim had been grappling with these same questions for some time, and he had found the theological traditions that had nurtured me, and their expression in my writings, helpful. Jim was bursting with creativity, imagination, and energy and had been given a platform to do something with these gifts. He began to put into practice much of what we were discussing. He had stories to tell and concrete illustrations to stimulate the imagination. He was developing metaphors and exercises to help people take up their place in God’s mission. So when the occasion arose to write a book with him that would enable us to express together what mission might look like when put into action, I was delighted to take the opportunity.
But before we speak more about the book, we need to hear Jim’s story.
What is God’s mission?
What is my role within God’s mission?
What does mission look like in daily life?
I have been wrestling with these questions for over fifteen years, but one day in particular stands out in my memory as a time when it seemed more important than ever to find the answers. I wish I could say that it was a day when my answers to those questions led me to glorify God and love my neighbor. It wasn’t. In fact, it marked the beginning of what was to be my biggest failure in attempting to participate in God’s work. The day was September 11, 2001.
I had been a follower of Christ for about two years and a college student for two weeks. With crusty eyes and disheveled hair, I stumbled half asleep into my Sociology 101 class at Mesa Community College. There was a commotion in the hallway—it sounded like someone was crying—and we trailed out after our professor to see what all the noise was about. A mix of students and faculty huddled around an old portable television on wheels that had been pushed into the hallway. They were watching the towers fall. Half of us stared at the television in shock; half of us scrambled to find an available telephone. We knew the shrapnel from this one day would affect the rest of our lives.
With each passing week after September 11, I became more of a disciple of television and talk radio. As I was exposed to images of angry Muslims with guns, my heart began to simmer with anger. That simmer became a boiling rage as I began to equate all Muslims with terrorists. Even though I had never met a Muslim in person, I said some of the most slanderous and ethnocentric things about Muslims that you could imagine.
Eventually I was called out by a few Christian friends who gave me a choice: I needed either to repent of my idolatrous and unloving heart or to disassociate from Jesus altogether, because I was running his name through the mud. I took several days to pray and reflect on Scripture, which led to a season of God exposing my sinful motives and leading me into repentance. The Spirit began to renew my mind and give me a different understanding of mission as I began to see God’s heart for all nations. As I read the Gospels, I was gripped by Jesus’s call to love our neighbors and enemies alike. He didn’t just talk about peace and loving enemies but actually modeled it when he died for his enemies, including a vengeful sinner like me, on the cross.
My season of repentance led to the conviction that I should make a few Muslim friends. Eventually I moved into a predominantly international neighborhood near Arizona State University to extend hospitality and friendship to international students. This was an important time for me of reimagining the nature of God’s mission. After living there for several months, I began to imagine what it would look like for a whole community of people to move into that neighborhood, live life together, and extend hospitality to the international students that God was bringing from all over the world—places like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China.
Sitting at a coffee shop in that neighborhood, I wrote a vision paper and started sharing it with my friends, inviting them to move in, extend hospitality, and proclaim the good news. We called ourselves the “Moravian Community,” because a number of us had been reading about an eighteenth-century community of refugees in Germany called the Moravians, a group of ordinary people who believed in an extraordinary God. They were used by him to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. We were captured by their story and prayed that God would use ordinary knuckleheads like us too.
About eighty people initially responded and joined the Moravian Community; about a third of them moved into the international student neighborhood. We organized ourselves around a weekly prayer meeting, six different home groups, and daily interactions with international students. Our goal was to reflect God’s hospitality by breaking bread, drinking tea, and helping these newcomers navigate the complexities of life in America. Hundreds of international students heard the gospel and saw it displayed by this peculiar community of ordinary people. We also had a vision of sending people to unreached countries. Eventually over twenty of the members of our community moved overseas to bear witness to Jesus. Even my wife and I led a team to Turkey and lived there for three years.
Our time with the Moravian Community and our three years in Turkey created a perfect opportunity to ask important questions about God’s mission and how normal people like us should participate. Whether it was eating bagels on Sunday mornings in Tempe, Arizona, or snacking on Turkish simit on the streets of Ankara, my community of young, zealous followers of Christ kept returning to the same few questions:
What is God’s mission?
What is my role within God’s mission?
What does mission look like in daily life?
Over the past ten years as a pastor, I’ve found that most people who know and love God are asking the same things.
What is God’s mission? Within the Moravian Community this question was framed in a number of different ways. Sometimes it came in the form of debating which needs were the most urgent in the world. Should we focus on poverty alleviation, church planting, eradicating sex trafficking? Should we just focus on evangelism? Does God’s mission include things like job creation, environmental stewardship, and peacemaking? Eventually we came to agree that all these things play a role in God’s mission—but what should we prioritize? Some of us argued for unreached people groups in distant lands, others for the most vulnerable in our own area, and others for culturally influential cities.
We tried to figure out an answer by going to missions conferences and reaching out to nonprofits. Each one of them seemed to have a different sense of God’s mission, or at least of what God cared about most. Each offered compelling biblical arguments, tearjerker videos, and some well-selected statistics. We walked away from each meeting and conference feeling that if we didn’t sign up for their particular cause, we would be wasting our lives.
This constant exposure to missions marketing, combined with my lack of wisdom in my early twenties, gave me a serious case of Missional Attention Deficit Disorder. Not wanting to waste my life, I bounced from cause to cause and idea to idea, trying to drag the rest of the Moravian Community along with me.
For a while I thought, “Mission is about unreached people groups.” I was deeply moved by the appeal of various missions agencies that told me about whole people groups without a single known Christian. They challenged me to leave my own country—where there was a church on every corner—and instead plant churches among the nations. They made a powerful appeal to young, zealous, single men like myself to live a “radical” life in the most dangerous places on earth. For a while I was captivated by this vision and challenged the Moravian Community to make it our highest aspiration to “get our heads chopped off in the name of Jesus.” This sort of cause really seemed to attract zealous young men like me; unfortunately, it also seemed to deter wise young women from joining me on a date. But one courageous woman named Jenny gave me a chance. We were eventually married and decided that our young team should move to Turkey because it was 99 percent unreached.
Then for a while I thought, “Mission is about church planting.” With the growth of the Acts 29 Network, many people were making the case that church planting is the most important approach to mission, because the church is sustainable and the church is the bride of Christ. Therefore, we decided not just to go to Turkey but to focus on church planting while we were there.
Then I thought, “Mission is about campus ministry.” Months prior to moving to Turkey, I began meeting with leaders of large campus ministries who emphasized the importance of doing evangelism on college campuses because college is a crucial life stage. Having just graduated from college, many of the Moravians resonated with this idea, so we decided to try to connect with universities in Turkey.
Then I thought, “Mission is about urban mission.” This next shift came when I started reading about the importance of mission to the cities. These books argued that Paul’s strategy was to focus on major urban centers because they were the centers of cultural influence. So the Moravians decided that we needed to do more than merely move to Turkey, do campus ministry, and try to plant a church. We needed to be in a large, influential urban center, like Ankara, the capital of Turkey.
Then I decided, “Mission is about our daily work and vocations.” During my first few months in Turkey, I read several books about business as mission, the importance of providing jobs, and the opportunities to make disciples within the rhythms of everyday life, so the Moravians decided that we needed to dream up ways to start some businesses.
Then I thought, “Mission is about living among the poor.” After being in Turkey for about a year, I began listening to sermons and lectures about God’s heart for the poor and became convinced that we needed to move to an economically distressed neighborhood and live in solidarity with the poor, or even move to an altogether more economically distressed country.
Inevitably, about this time, my wife and teammates had had enough of me. I was wearing them out with a dizzying barrage of conflicting visions. Trying to figure out the most important aspect of God’s mission, we hedged our bets by moving to an influential city in a country that was 99 percent Muslim to start businesses and do campus ministry and plant churches while I started looking for apartments in the poorest neighborhoods.
My disoriented team began to suggest that something must be wrong with the way I was viewing mission. In part, I was guilty of chasing the idol of significance rather than pursuing the heart of God. But mostly, I was bouncing around because I had confused the various missional strategies with the scope of God’s mission. I thought then that God’s mission must be about primarily one of these activities. I would eventually learn that God’s mission is as broad as creation itself. And one of the ways I learned this was through Mike’s writings.
During those three years in Turkey, I would often walk to my favorite café, open up my Bible, and try to find a verse with the answer to my questions about mission. One day I received an email from Chris Gonzalez, a pastor of Missio Dei Communities in Tempe, Arizona, and my good friend. Knowing the questions I was wrestling with, he recommended I read The Drama of Scripture by Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew. This book has had a profound influence on my view of mission (even though that isn’t the primary aim of the book), because it so radically reshaped my understanding of the Bible itself.
I realized that I had treated the Bible as a collection of disconnected verses rather than as a unified story that gives meaning to all of life. This new way of reading the Scriptures created a massive shift in my understanding. I stopped looking for a few verses about mission and came to see the whole Bible as a story of a missional God whose goal is to restore a broken world. I came to see that God called a people—the church—to participate in his broad mission of restoration.
When I moved back to Arizona, I was delighted and surprised to learn that Mike had built a strong relationship with several churches there. He was instrumental in helping shape the Surge School structure, a discipleship program that I now help to lead. Eventually, he and his wife, Marnie, moved to Phoenix for part of the year to launch MTC to equip pastors and leaders for missional leadership in the local church. As I’ve participated in the work of MTC and been involved on the board of directors, I have come to know Mike as a friend and mentor. He’s greatly influenced my understanding of theology and mission. Many of the stories I tell in this book are the results of what I’ve learned about mission from him. It’s truly a privilege to write this book with someone who has had such a profound influence on my life.
To understand the origins of this book it is important to understand the Surge School, which arose among a network of churches in the Phoenix area. Surge School is the brainchild of Tyler Johnson and Chris Gonzalez, who were looking for a way to lead their churches into a broader understanding and practice of mission. In 2008 it began with a handful of people from several churches. Today over three hundred people from more than forty churches participate each year. It is designed as an ecumenical discipleship program rooted in the local congregation. 
The curriculum is divided into four quarters. In the first quarter, participants learn to read the Bible as one story. In the second quarter, they consider how to root themselves in the gospel and live in that story. In the third quarter, they deal with the nature and breadth of the church’s mission. And finally, in the fourth quarter, participants are challenged to discover how their particular callings fit into the mission of God. Many concrete questions arise from participants during the last two quarters as to what it looks like to participate in God’s mission, especially in their vocations. Jim is one of the leaders of Surge School and has also led Surge tables for many years.  This book comes, in part, from his attempts to answer the many questions that arise and to offer stories to spark the imagination of what their participation might look like. Many of the stories told in this book are the fruit of Surge School and our mutual friends in the Phoenix area. Other stories come from Jim’s or Mike’s personal experiences.
In this book we deal with the three big questions we both have wrestled with.
What is mission? We hope to show just how big mission is. As the church participates in God’s campaign to heal the world, mission includes all the approaches we mentioned above. They should harmonize, not compete with one another.
What is my role within God’s mission? While most people don’t suffer from the level of Missional Attention Deficit Disorder that Jim suffered from, many of us struggle to figure out where we fit within God’s work. Even when we know that its scope embraces all of life, we are still left with the questions of our calling and where we should focus our energies. We wonder how our particular gifts, burdens, and experiences have equipped us to participate in God’s mission. In this book, we provide opportunities to reflect on these issues.
What does mission look like in daily life? The question of how is not the most important question, but it might be the most overlooked. It’s important to understand what God’s mission is and how the particular good works we were created to do fit in, but we still need to address one more question: What does it look like to participate in God’s mission through the daily rhythms of life? Rather than prescribing a script, examples of tangible practices are provided to help our readers creatively and prayerfully dream up ways to participate in God’s mission that will be meaningful in their own life contexts.
The primary metaphor for this book is the symphony. Ironically, neither of us is musically gifted. Mike may have a slight advantage because his wife and all four of his children and their spouses are very musical. Because he loves them, he has developed some appreciation for classical music. However, Mike is the outlier, the one nonmusical person in a very musical family. And until recently, Jim had only limited exposure to classical music. Nevertheless, the metaphor came to him one day as he listened to Mike teach about mission while classical music quietly played in the background, making a sort of soundtrack for his teaching. Because Jim is a highly distractible but also imaginative man, his mind began to wander. Symphony, he thought, is actually a stellar metaphor for mission.
God’s mission is like a symphony. He is restoring the harmony of creation to a world broken by sin. Just as a symphony brings together the string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments to make a beautiful sound, God’s mission is to bring the various aspects of creation together in perfect harmony through the work of Christ “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:10).
God is the great composer of the plan to redeem, reconcile, and restore all of creation. This plan is the beautiful music of blessing that God plays for the nations, welcoming them to take their part in producing its harmony. God is also the great conductor: the Spirit guides the church in a wide array of activities that contribute to his mission, distributing various gifts and callings to his people. Just as flutes, drums, and trombones have distinct sounds to contribute to a symphony, things like poverty alleviation, personal evangelism, discovery Bible studies, and entrepreneurship all play complementary melodies and harmonies in the symphony of mission. To devalue any one of them is to diminish the overall work and distort the music of the gospel.
God invites us to join him, to participate in his symphony. In the first chapter, we provide a brief overview of the biblical story that describes the goal of God’s mission, which is simply (and profoundly) to restore his good creation. Just as we can discern the heart of a composer by continually listening to his or her music, we can discern God’s purpose and plan for the world by immersing ourselves in the biblical story.
When someone picks up a new instrument, they learn how to play basic notes arranged in a simple melody before moving on to complex pieces. For people called to participate in God’s mission, the basic notes of simple faithfulness form the foundation on which all intentional and creative mission is built. Therefore, in chapter 2, we reflect on the simple attitudes and actions suited to the mission to which we are called. These attitudes and actions include being motivated by love, being empowered by the Spirit, understanding the comprehensive scope of mission, living in community, and being committed to incarnational presence. These are the basic, foundational notes in the symphony of mission.
We then turn to the issue of cultivating missional intentionality. We describe three major ways to participate in God’s mission: stewardship, service, and spoken word. Chapter 3 provides an overview of all three of these “movements” in the symphony of mission. Each movement is important in itself and complements the others. When we lack stewardship or service or the spoken word, our participation in God’s mission is incomplete.
Each of the next three chapters is devoted to one of those movements of mission. In chapter 4 we reflect on the stewardship movement and how we are called to display the glory of the Father through the work of our hands. In chapter 5 we focus on the service movement and how we display the love of Christ by washing the feet of the world. In chapter 6 we attend to the verbal proclamation of the gospel—what we call the spoken word movement—and how we’re called to participate in the work of the Spirit by opening our mouths.
The next section of the book focuses on important practices for participating in God’s mission. We start in chapter 7 with a reflection on calling—finding our place within God’s mission—providing several practices, exercises, and insights to help discern what kind of instrument God has made each of us to be within his mission. Chapter 8 focuses on our specific contexts, defines specific areas of mission focus, and reflects on specific ways to perform the symphony of mission. Finally, the last chapter concludes with three practices—subversive Sabbath, praying like a human, and lament—to help the reader persevere through the challenges of participating in God’s mission.
Ultimately, our aim in writing this book is to help God’s people participate in the symphony of mission through all aspects of life. John Calvin once said, “The whole world is a theatre for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra.”  Along with Calvin we issue an invitation to see every aspect of life—from life at home to daily work, from private conversations to public discourse—as practice rooms, recital chambers, and concert halls in which to perform the symphony of mission. In sharing the following chapters, we hope we will all be able to discern our places in God’s mission and together perform the music of God’s glory, love, and power for a listening and watching world.