Working off of my definition of the church’s mission as participating in the mission of Christ to proclaim the gospel in word and deed by making disciples who make disciples, teaching and obeying God’s word, and loving and serving others (especially the needy) as a witness to God’s reign, here are some important implications that should shape what local churches do.
None of these are likely to be new and earth-shattering revelations for many of you (at least I should hope they aren’t!), but they are still important, and it’s good to be reminded of them regularly. Especially in this challenging season of isolation, the time is ripe for getting back to the basics and reevaluating how we’re doing at this.
Also, this list is far from comprehensive. These are just the five that stick out most to me right now. Feel free to add more that you see in the comments.
- The church’s practices should be geared toward equipping people for mission, not just offering them a polished product every Sunday. Our goal is to make missional disciples, not American consumers. This means that we need to carefully consider whether our preaching, teaching, programs, and activities are actually “equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry” (Eph 4:12) for themselves, or merely making them dependent on everything their pastors/leaders say and the “products” their churches offer.
- It should be evident to all people, inside and outside the church, that a concern for the needy and marginalized is part of the gospel and part of the church’s DNA. God’s people should reflect his heart for the poor and downtrodden. Even (or rather, especially) when we have heated disagreements on how we can best help the needy, we still need to be clearly communicating that helping them is a priority. And we need to be taking action. “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him—how does God’s love reside in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18).
- Since each member of the church is a part of Christ’s body, with a unique function to fulfill, we ought to be making sure every member of our churches is aware that they are part of the team. They have a role to play, just as everyone in a family has responsibilities that are expected of them. Joining the church shouldn’t feel like joining a country club; it should feel like enlisting for duty. Not that there aren’t benefits or joyfulness to be had in becoming part of a church — it should also feel like being adopted into a family, and space should be given for “baby Christians” to mature in their faith. But we have a job to do. And this is worth remembering, too: the biblical term “fellowship” didn’t originally mean “getting together and hanging out”; it meant partnering together in a mutual enterprise. It meant co-laboring. It meant pursuing the mission.
- Since we represent Christ on the earth, our character matters. Virtue matters. How we respond to people who disagree with us matters. How we comment on the Internet matters. If you bear Christ’s name — and as Christians, we do — then how you speak and act reflects on him. Do not bear the Lord’s name in vain (Exo 20:7). When people listen to you or see what you post, do they see a witness to the radical love, grace, and truth of Jesus Christ, who loved his enemies enough to die for them? Or do they see slanderers and revilers/insulters, whom Paul says “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Rom 1:30; 1 Cor 6:10)?
- Our participation in Christ’s mission is only possible because, as the body of Christ, believers are “in Christ” (Rom 6:3-11; Eph 1:3-14; Col 2:6; 1 Thes 2:14; 1 Pet 3:16; 5:14). We are enabled to participate through our spiritual union with him and by the power of his Spirit dwelling in us. Apart from that intimate and genuine relationship with Jesus, we cannot accomplish anything of eternal value. As Jesus himself says, “Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me” (John 15:6). Everything we do must flow from our connection to God. We must follow the leading of the Holy Spirit (Zech 4:6; Rom 8:5-14; Gal 3:3; 5:16-25; Eph 5:18; Phil 3:3). We must be on guard against trying to do things by our own strength — pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps — or by relying on secular methods and strategies. That’s not the gospel; it’s the false gospel of the “American dream.” Everything the church does should be driven by prayerful dependence on God. Apart from that, even what looks like success (in the world’s eyes) could actually be nothing more than a massive distraction at best, or even a setback to the mission at worst.
What do you think? (Courteous) feedback is welcomed.