Last week on #theologytuesday, I talked about why I believe the church matters.
I discussed the importance of the Church to Jesus, what a church that honours God should look like, and why I believe all generations should work and worship alongside one another for a church to be healthy and vibrant.
There was one question I didn’t answer last week though because I believe it needs a post all its own.
That question is this –
Does the Church have a mission? What is it? What is my part in it?
You see, while I believe that a healthy church has to care for its community – by loving one another and building relationships – and it has to keep Jesus central – through worship, preaching and making space for the Holy Spirit to be at work – I also believe a healthy church must have a mission and a purpose that goes beyond its four walls.
In case you think this is some crazy idea I came up with on my own, you’ll find that it’s actually rooted in the words of Jesus. After He was resurrected, and shortly before He returned to heaven, He spoke these words to His followers in Matthew 28 (CEB):
Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 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, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Did you catch that?
That short little word at the beginning of this statement should shape the mission of the church.
Jesus commanded His followers to go into the world around them and share the Good News. In case you think this is a just one-time statement from Jesus, here are a few more examples:
- “He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:2-3, NIV)
- “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8, NIV)
- “Then he said, “Go into the world. Go everywhere and announce the Message of God’s good news to one and all. ” (Mark 10:15, MSG)
- “How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.” (Romans 10:14-15, CEB)
I could go on, but I think you get the point. The New Testament is filled with instructions – from Jesus and His followers – to go and share the Good News of Jesus with the world. There are examples all throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts of His followers doing exactly that.
In today’s world, the church (not the building, but the people of course) are tasked with that “Great Commission” Jesus gave thousands of years ago. We are told to go into the world – both right within our communities and all around the globe – and share the Good News of who Jesus is and what He came to do.
I am convinced that this is the mission of the church. In order to honour God and fulfill His purpose for his followers in the world today, we must be going out and sharing the Gospel.
That means the church cannot simply exist for itself.
We cannot be a group of people concerned with mere comfort, community or church life.
We need to be consumed by reaching those who aren’t part of our community already, and bringing the message of Good News to where they are.
Of course, the question is – how?
How do we do this?
Jesus doesn’t give us a clear outline of how exactly we should do this. The way that this happened in the first century will of course, look different than it does today. With advances in things like technology & transportation and changes in the way we live, the way we share the Good News and reach outside our church communities will be unique to our time.
While this isn’t mandated by the Bible, I do believe that there are some basics for the “how” of fulfilling God’ mission:
1. Meet people’s needs.
All throughout the Bible, we can see Jesus meeting the needs of people who came to Him. When crowds came to listen to him preach, he miraculously fed them. When the sick came to him, he didn’t just preach, he also healed them. A grieving mother wasn’t just comforted, but he also raised her son from the dead. The early church also tasked themselves with meeting the needs of people around them – in fact, they formed a team of “Spirit-filled men” just to feed the widows in their area.
We cannot expect people to listen to the Good News of Jesus if we don’t first meet their needs. The Church has been gifted with Good News – and that news should be good for body, mind and soul. If we want to be fulfilling God’s mission, sharing the Good News & furthering His Kingdom, we must be willing to meet needs.
If you are a church leader, or even if you’re just a part of a church family, start asking yourself – How can I meet the needs of people in my community?
2. Meet people where they are.
Have you ever walked into a large group for the first time on your own? It is terrifying. When I was a new mom, I started attending a group for moms at our local clinic. The first time I went, I was absolutely terrified. Would anyone talk to me? What was it going to be like? How would I feel going there? I cannot tell you how relieved I was when by some twist of fate (okay, an exaggeration) someone started to talk to me, and soon, I was ushered into a group of moms who have become go-to sources of advice and friendship in these days.
I’ve thought about this experience many times when I’ve been thinking about sharing the Good News with people, or inviting them to church. Can you imagine how intimidating it must be for people to walk into a church for the first time – even if they were interested in God? Even if you’ve met a need, walking into a new building filled with people singing songs you don’t know and following rituals you don’t understand must be scary!
This is why I believe Jesus told us to go. Jesus didn’t tell us to wait for people to come to us, but to go to where they are. This is going to require some creativity – but I think we need to figure out ways to get outside the walls of a church and go to where people are. How will this look in your context? Start brainstorming!
3. Meet people with Jesus.
I do think it’s incredibly important though – as we meet needs and meet people where they are – we must meet people with Jesus. His light needs to be shining through us, in the words we speak, the actions we take, and the way we choose to interact with them. Jesus consistently loved people right where they are, but maintained His integrity and godliness. He exemplified love, grace, patience, wisdom, and holiness while visiting with and eating with people that may make you or me cringe.
We cannot do whatever we want or go wherever we desire under the guise of “meeting people where they are.”
If we are going to where they are, we need to be bringing Jesus with us.
We need to be sure, when as individuals and as churches, we are going into spaces, we are going like Jesus would – exemplifying His love and character.
Andy Stanley, in his book Deep and Wide, wrote some of my favourite words on this topic:
Marry the mission. Date the model.
Jesus doesn’t lay out the how for us, but He absolutely lays out the what. The what is going into the world and sharing God’s good news. How we do that – as long as it is with Christlike character and not outside the principles of Scripture – is going to depend on our context, our communities and our church families.
One thing is for sure though, the mission is why we exist.
It is essential to being a part of a church that glorifies God.
So whether you’re a church leader, a pastor or someone who attends each week,
we all have a part to play in this mission.
Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and creativity, and do what Jesus commands us.
It’s simple – go.
For Further Reading:
“What is The Mission of the Church?” – ChurchLeaders.com
“Is the Great Commission for Me, My Pastor or the Disciples?” – Jesus Film Project
“Missio Dei & the Mission of the Church” – Eddie Arthur (This read is a little more academic)
PS: I’m going to be taking a break from #theologytuesday for a few weeks. I have some other exciting posts planned on the more practical side of things, so stay tuned!