This is the first installment of a four part series looking at the Church from a missional perspective.
What is the Mission of the Church?
After his resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples, "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" (Matthew 28:19–20). But this "commission" has been understood in many different ways.
Some like to emphasize "go" and use it as a mandate for world missions. Others interpret "make disciples" as evangelism or getting people signed up for heaven. Some see "baptizing" and "teaching" as representing evangelism and discipleship respectively.
But the first problem here is the assumption that this is our project.
It is somewhat misleading to talk about the mission of the Church. It is God's mission that he has invited us to participate in. This distinction is crucial.
Mission, then, is not essentially a human activity undertaken by the church and its leaders out of obligation to the Great Commission, gratitude for what God has done for us, and the desperate plight of the world. It is God's own mission in which we are invited to participate.
Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God, p. 161
This doesn't mean that this mission begins as God's mission which he then eventually turns over to the Church.
It is of the greatest importance to recognize that it remains his mission. One of the dangers of emphasizing the concept of mission as a mandate given to the Church is that it tempts us to do what we are always tempted to do, namely to see the work of mission as a good work and to seek to justify ourselves by our works. On this view, it is we who must save the unbelievers from perishing.
Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 117
We can't save people or convert them. We can't even convince people that they should allow God to save them. All we can do is demonstrate the life of discipleship and create an environment where individuals can hear and recognize the call of God.
The Church's job is not to save people but to shape the space in which God calls them to Himself.
Earl Creps, Off-Road Disciplines, p. 145
The mission of the Church is more about being than it is about doing. The Church is the embodiment of God on earth. This is what the Bible means when it calls the Church the Body of Christ.
And Jesus didn't charge his disciples with making converts. He called them to make disciples.
The primary function of the church is not evangelism, but to be a place for the dwelling of God on the earth. This requires that people grow and receive God and occupy their place with God. That would have a natural effect of evangelism. What we want is not just evangelism that makes converts. We want disciples... and if you are intent on making disciples and keep on that track, evangelism will take care of itself.
Dallas Willard, "Rethinking Evangelism" www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=53
The Church is a "place" where the reign of Christ is a present reality. The Church is God's agency for announcing the claim of the risen Lord to a world filled with imposters. The Church is one of the instruments used by God to extend his kingdom and to assert his authority over the forces of evil.
The Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.
Leslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 17
This requires deep knowledge of God and more than a passing familiarity with the culture in which a particular congregation finds itself.
The business of the church is to tell and to embody a story, the story of God's mighty acts in creation and redemption and of God's promises concerning what will be in the end. The church affirms the truth of this story by celebrating it, interpreting it, and enacting it in the life of the contemporary world.
Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence, p. 76
When the mission of the Church is reduced to a particular activity, the focus shifts to the means and methods used to perform that activity. Pragmatism quickly becomes the primary concern.
Overemphasis on technique can undermine solid missiological thinking. There is a lack of theological depth in much of the contemporary church planting and church growth movements because these are movements of techniques, paradigms, and methodologies without genuine biblical and missiological convictions.
Ed Stetzer & David Putman, Breaking the Missional Code, p. 184
The mission of the Church is about being. There is much that can and should be done, but that always grows out of who the Church is and especially out of who Jesus is.
A local congregation is a subversive community that lives in submission to the true Lord and refuses to bow down to the pretenders to the throne. It lives with courage, confidence and compassion. It embodies love, joy and peace in a world where people live without God and without hope.
"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"