We believe that the church has a double identity. On the one hand we are called out of the world to belong to God, and on the other we are sent back into the world to witness and to serve. Moreover, the mission of the church is modeled on the mission of Christ. He himself said so. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). His mission meant for him the incarnation. He did not stay in the safe immunity of his heaven. Instead, he emptied himself of his glory and humbled himself to serve. He actually entered our world. He took our nature, lived our life, and died our death. He could not have identified with us more closely than he did. It was total identifacation, though without any loss of identity, for he became one of us without ceasing to be himself. He became human without ceasing to be God.
And now he calls us to enter other people’s worlds, as he entered ours. All authentic mission is incarnational mission. We are called to enter other people’s social and cultural realit: into their thought-world, struggling to understand their misunderstandings of the gospel, and into the pain of their alienation, weeping with those who weep. And all this without compromising our Christian beliefs, values and standards.
Most American churches are doing lots of addition, subtraction and division. Few are doing multiplication.
+ It’s easy to settle for addition. At least it is positive growth. Addition is safe. Addition is comfortable. But addition is often the result of a lack of mission and vision. Church leaders get bogged down in caring for the urgent and the existing members are happy because the attention is all on them. Sometimes people move into the area and just naturally look for a church. Put out a sign and we can probably grow through addition.
– However, addition is just a step away from subtraction. People start to withdraw from the church when the church has no purpose. I bet more people leave the church out of boredom than from being asked to step up and pursue the Great Commission.
What does it cost to follow Jesus? Even more important: What will it cost to not follow Jesus? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” If we are going to follow Jesus on the same path that He walked, it will cost us everything. If we want to pursue the mission He has given us, we can’t look back.
Every year (especially around Easter) I hear of another church doing something crazy to get people in the door of their building:
◊ One church gave away a car.
◊ One church surprised random attenders with a shopping spree.
◊ One church dropped Easter eggs on top of people’s heads from a helicopter.
Somehow I don’t think that Easter eggs or Oprah-like bribery is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He told us to make disciples of all nations. Jesus has given the church a specific mission and He has also given us the means to pursue that mission.
In order for the local church to bring glory to God and be obedient to Jesus’ commands we must use Jesus’ means to pursue Jesus’ mission.
The Spirit of God
Jesus told His disciples that He would send them the Holy Spirit as a Helper. Just before He ascends into heaven, Jesus says to His followers, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Because the Spirit of God indwells us, the local church has received supernatural power, spiritual gifts, encouragement, guidance, wisdom, comfort, and strength. These are all gifts that do not come from human abilities, innovation, or training (though by God’s grace He has given us those things too). In other words, anyone can have leadership skills or marketing skills but only the church has the Spirit of God dwelling among them and empowering them to pursue the mission.
Do I really need to write about the mission of the local church? Is it even conceivable that there is confusion as to what the mission of the church ought to be?
Yet, from where I am sipping my coffee there are dozens of churches within walking distance that are not pursuing the mission to which they have been called. To make matters worse, many of the churches that are pursuing a God-given mission are doing so in ways that do not give glory to God. These churches use programs and plans to manufacture “success”.
Probably the clearest articulation of our mission is found in Matthew 28:18-20:
Then Jesus came near and said to them, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ ~ Jesus
This isn’t the only commissioning statement made by Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark He tells us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” In the Gospel of Luke He tells us that we are “witnesses of these things.” In the Gospel of John Jesus says, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Jesus placed a lot of emphasis on mobilizing his followers to fulfill the mission.