It is a Latin Christian theological term that literally means “the mission of God” or “the sending of God.”
It is a term first coined by German theologian Karl Hartenstein in 1934, but had a resurgence in the late 20th century with the rise of the missional church movement. Popular modern theologians Timothy Keller and Ed Stetzer have been instrumental in increasing its use and visibility in Christian circles.
At the heart of the missio Dei is the concept that mission is not just something the church itself does, but something that is the result of God’s initiative and his desire to restore and heal creation. The church serves as a tool in the larger purpose of God to reach all nations with the message of the Gospel and to bring glory to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In other words, the church is not the mission of God, the spreading of the Gospel to the world through the church is the ultimate mission.
In the missional movement the church is defined as a community of God that organizes itself around the purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In the missional movement, when the church is in mission, it is the true church.
The missional movement itself may not be as pervasive as it once was, but its principles remain strong in the language of the missio Dei we hear in our churches. There is more emphasis overall on the church being a sending place for God’s purposes—a launching point for the people of God going out into the community on servant events and going on mission trips to locations near and far. There is more emphasis on purpose. There is more talk of outreach. There is an expansion of forward-movement expression.
There is a good distinction embedded in the missio Dei that the mission is not from the church, but from God. And the mission is not just the church; it is beyond the church. We as members of the church are not the end result of God’s plan; we are part of the plan that God is enacting through us to bring more people to him.
St. Paul explains this overall missio Dei well in 1 Timothy 2:1-4: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
God wants all people to be saved, and he is using us through the power of the Holy Spirit to make the saving message known to them. Have a missio Dei kind of day today.