Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Mission of the Church

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The mission of the church is not…

The church’s mission is not to live holy lives. It is not to fight for justice. It is not to evangelize and make converts. It is not to influence the culture, propagate orthodoxy, solve social problems, or change the world. It is not to end abortion or human trafficking. It’s not even missions.

The mission of the church, quite simply, is to make disciples of Jesus. This obviously involves evangelizing people, but then it means that after people believe that they are taught to obey everything Jesus commanded us. It means that we train people up in the redeemed life, to do what redeemed people do in obedience to Jesus. Disciples of Jesus evangelize. They live holy lives. They walk justly and love mercy and speak up for the poor and oppressed and work to see them restored. They influence the culture by a myriad of activities, not least of which is the very way they live. They do missions – spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth, which starts with our “Jerusalem”, goes to those who are our “Samaritans”, and never stops. They teach and proclaim and live out sound doctrine and stand on revealed truth. They believe God for great things and accomplish great things, and they change the world. And, of course, and most importantly, they make more disciples to join them in the mission.

Mark Noll said something profound in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. He said that “Christian thought presupposes Christians”. In other words, if we are to have Christian thought we must have Christians, which means we must have evangelism, or there will be no more Christians to think. In the same way, Christian justice presupposes Christians. Christian missions presupposes Christians. Anything distinctly Christian presupposes people continually becoming disciples of Jesus to carry on the mission, including the various subsidiaries of the mission.

As people are supernaturally united to the body of Christ (“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free…” 1 Cor. 12:13), they discover their various spiritual gifts. Some are gifted with evangelism, some with teaching, some with mercy, some with generosity, etc. If we were to function the way the body was meant to, we might see less diffusion of the mission.

How do we know this is the mission?

There are a lot of Bible passages that command a lot of things. How can we single out Matthew 28:18 as THE mission? Why not Micah 6:8 for example, which exhorts us that the LORD requires us to act justly and love mercy. Why not 1 Thessalonians 4:3, which says it is God’s will that we should be holy? Why not John 13:34: “Love one another”?

The simplest answer is that from Acts on, the New Testament is an inspired record of the early church’s understanding of its mission. While God expects a certain morality to be exhibited in the lives of His people, that is not the same thing as the mission they are to endeavor on. The New Testament displays a church that made disciples, and in doing so turned the world upside down. There were no competing agendas. We would be wise to pay attention.

What about purpose? (The church exists to…)

Rick Warren says the church has 5 purposes, perhaps the primary one being to glorify God. As much as he disappoints me in many ways, he is onto something there. But purpose and mission are not the same thing. Purpose is the reason something exists, while mission is the job it has to do. I know… lots of overlap there. I believe that being faithful to our mission is perhaps the greatest way to fulfill our purpose.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Jacob Mau said...

Good thoughts, Steve. Lots of people, especially 20-somethings who've grown up attending church, are trying to figure out what's the church's purpose (I'm sure you're aware), and we find many different voices telling us different things and pointing different directions.

I agree that the purpose of the church is to make disciples. But I don't think this can be done well unless we are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ. That is, unless we are resting in the truth of his love and therefor able to show Christ-like love to those around us. We do this by extending ourselves in friendship and service, as Christ called his disciples his friends and served them and told them to follow his example.

This is important when it comes to practice, because I think a lot of times the way conventional church ministry is done actually prevents deep and meaningful friendships from forming between believers. (Yes, I am one of those people who has a lot of questions about, and maybe a little beef with, conventional church ministry...) In short, relationship is necessary for disciple making. There is no other way to do it. Teaching the Scriptures is vital, but even that can only go so far unless there are people within the body who say, “Follow me as I follow Christ,” and invite others into their lives. I know a handful of fellow Moody grads who know the Bible backwards and forwards, who've sat through hundreds of hours of lecture and teaching, but now their lives are a train wreck. The world would look at them and see nothing different from anybody else. This is, in part, because no older and more mature person ever befriended them and said, “I love you and will walk with you through the painful places in your life where the truth of Christ's redemption has not yet shown.” For discipleship to happen, this is what people need to do. It boils down to living a life of self-emptying that would seem fresh and out of place even among people who think they are doing the most radical and new expression of church.

Hopefully this is not turning into a rant. I agree with you full force that people trying to figure out how to be the church, especially people in my generation, cannot afford to get swept up in movements or reactions. The church is not defined by what it does in relation to the culture or the world's problems but by the One who its people follow. My main hope is that believers across the church spectrum (conventional church or house church or intentional community or whatever) can get better at being and making disciples who are rooted in Christ's unwavering love.

August 3, 2010 at 8:46 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Good word, Jacob

It would have been helpful I suppose to unpack what I meant by "making disciples", since even that word is loaded with baggage.

I do not have any patience with "discipleship programs" per se. Making disciples starts with evangelism and ends with spiritual maturity and reproduction, which requires the pouring of one life into another.

August 4, 2010 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

You should leave these thoughts over on my Facebook version, where the bigger conversation has been taking place.

August 4, 2010 at 2:46 PM  

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