The difficulties of defining closure

“Finishing the task” is a phrase that is widely used in some of the mission circles that I travel in. I’ve used it myself. The technical/missiological term sometimes equated to “finishing the task” is “closure.” Both of these phrases are more or less missiological terms with eschatological underpinnings. In our culture, however, most of the people who talk about “closure” aren’t using the word in this sense. When people speak of “closure,” they might mean:

  • abandoning personal baggage – a sense of freedom
  • a sense of achievement that gives validation of purpose and meaning
  • a cessation of work
  • a necessary transition step between “chapters”
  • the feeling something bad has ended, and normality may now resume
  • a comforting sense of finality
  • or perhaps a less comforting sense that something has ended forever
  • a sense of completion, solution of a problem, or resolution of an issue
  • a sense of evaluation, lessons learned, understanding gained
  • revisiting something that feels ‘unfinished’ in order to ‘gain closure’ or ‘permission to move on’

To seek “closure” in anything might, for any given individual, be colored more by these emotional meanings than by any textbook definition of the phrase. When we use the term missiologically with people who aren’t familiar with this technical definition, we have to remember it carries a lot of implied cultural and emotional meanings.

If “finishing the task” or “closure” carries these meanings with it, how might that affect the strategy we use? If we say we are setting out to “finish the task” or “seek closure” – what might we be implying to those who hear the phrase?

And, moreover, in what sense can the Great Commission be “finished” – and in what sense might it be “unfinishable”?

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