Dustin Willis and Aaron Coe. Life on Mission: Joining the Everyday Mission of God. Chicago: Moody, 2014. 192 pp. $13.99.
Church and Ministry
The American church is in crisis as the great evangelical recession continues. If you are skeptical of this exaggerated doomsday statement, then you might browse through these two books: The American Church in Crisis (2009) by David Olson and The Great Evangelical Recession (2013) by John Dickerson.
Are these assessments of the evangelical climate accurate? If so, what do we do?
Dustin Willis and Aaron Coe serve in leadership with the North American Mission Board. They’re both experienced church planters, conversant and engaged in the air and on the ground, who know what’s going on in evangelicalism broadly and the Southern Baptist Church specifically.
Together they’ve teamed up to write Life on Mission, a three part book that presents the big picture of domestic missions (chapters 1-4), a way forward through developing hearty gospel foundations (chapters 5-8), which connect to an everyday missional mindset (chapters 9-12).
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Regardless of what you think about the present evangelical landscape – though Willis and Coe agree with other assessments and provide persuasive corroborating research – the need for everyday American believers to live on mission in their community is not just urgent but an essential aspect of lovingly and joyfully responding to the Great Commission.
Therefore, Christians need to hear a persuasive argument for the pressing call to live on mission. This is precisely what the authors provide with Life on Mission. Thoughtfully presented statistics (cf. chpt. 1, footnotes 1-8; chpt. 2, pp. 33-35), along with real life testimony of the dilemma in specific ministry contexts (cf. Aaron Coe, p. 21; Dustin Willis, 35; Adam Miller, pp. 35-36), present a compelling case that welcomes our response.
But Life on Mission isn’t just another cultural study of the evangelical predicament. Coe and Willis somehow wed it all together – providing the diagnosis and prescription in a digestible, accessible, and applicable manner – which is something I haven’t seen elsewhere. Hence, this book should not be overlooked.
Life on Mission is this year’s best book-study for equipping small groups to rehearse the gospel and act it out in mission. Life on Mission’s built in study guide – look for the red for reflection, introspection, and review – provides a tool for groups to process. In the appendix small group leaders find a 6-week study guide to assist preparation. The succinct nature of each chapter, most are 5-10 pages, removes any reading barriers for participants.
Life on Mission’s gospel-centered and gospel-applied focus is its distinguishing attribute. The authors kick off Part Two on Gospel Foundations reminding us that the gospel is the proverbial good life. “Living out the gospel mission is not a guilt- or fear-driven task – it is the good life” (59). In fact, it’s the secret to our joy: “We realize the good life as we see Jesus for all He is and follow Him without hesitation” (emphasis mine, 59).
Life on Mission is the trail guide for doing this. As a trail guide, we see the majestic beauty of God, we pick the best route forward, and we anticipate the pitfalls ahead.
In seeing the majestic beauty of God, we encounter God’s holiness and greatness. This is critical because: “As created beings, we are measured and defined by comparison to our Creator” (63). We also discover a practical theology proper on the basics of who God is: supreme, sovereign, and loving; these basics cultivate the groundwork for spiritual maturity (76-79).
We pick the best route forward through the memorable missional process of identify, invest, invite, and increase (Part Three). This part is where the gospel is applied towards the aim of reproducibility. Just as Willis and Coe remark: “The most effective thing you can do for the mission is to reproduce yourself as many times as possible” (141). So, readers think through biblically reaching neighbors, co-workers, and everyday acquaintances with the gospel. Practical advice like looking to the margins (113), identifying prayer needs (114), or the 5-step process of discipleship (145) are threaded throughout this part along with gospel threads – serving as trail markers throughout Part Three – to reinforce that we’re on the trail.
Finally, we anticipate five pitfalls on the missional trail: misplaced priorities, refusing to rest, weight-of-the-world mentality, lone-ranger mentality, and ministry idolatry (Chapter 13). This closing chapter is replete with vulnerability from both authors, which winsomely reminds us that we are not impervious and gently niggles us to recognize into what pit(s) we’ve already fallen.
This closing chapter effectively pressed on tender areas and caused reflection with this reader, leading me to this musing. When it comes to misplaced priorities, is our reaction to sacrificing our family on the altar of mission merely erecting another altar of family (cf. 152-53)? I wonder about this. I have seen this rhetorical motif in many publications during the past decade. How do we manage the tension between family and mission? Are we falsely dichotomizing them and pitting them against one another? How do we submit them both under God’s tutelage?
Though the authors raise the issue of this pitfall, not much treatment is placed on managing the tension, just stark warning to avoid the fall. This is no critique of the book, for this is not the main premise of Life on Mission nor can it command full treatment. This is merely a longing for more exploration on another pressing issue in the Church.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Life on Mission will cause you to raze your kingdom and realign your life for the mission of Christ’s kingdom.