30 Nov 2020
The mission of the church is clearly spelt out by the Lord Jesus:
“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 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 28:18-20)
At the outset, it is important to crystallise the mission of the church – the church is sent into the world to witness to Jesus by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations. This is the central calling of the church and if we do not see this clearly we might be side-tracked into doing many ‘good works’ which are at the periphery and missing our central calling in the process.
Kelvin Deyoung and Greg Gilbert wrote “What is the mission of the church?” and there is much in this book that provides clear ‘sensible’ definition and understanding of the church’s mission. I find it helpful to quote some passages from this book:-
“if the mission of the church is proclamation and disciple-making, then what is the theological motivation for good deeds?…We want to say again that we strongly support churches undertaking mercy ministries in their communities. Both of our churches have programs and support missionaries that aim to meet physical needs while also hoping to share the gospel whenever possible. Though we do not believe that the mission of the church is to build the kingdom or to partner with God in remaking the world, this does not mean we are against cultural engagement. Our point is simply that we must understand these endeavors in the right theological categories and embrace them without sacrificing more explicit priorities. We should not cheapen good deeds by making them only a means to some other end (evangelism), but neither do we want to exaggerate our responsibility by thinking it is our duty to build the kingdom through our good deeds. Similarly, we should not overspiritualize social action by making it equivalent to God’s shalom. As the church loves the world loved by God, we will work to relieve suffering wherever we can, but especially eternal suffering”.
The book of Acts shows the mission being fulfilled as the Word of God increases and multiplies. The Apostle Paul not only preaches the gospel; he also strengthens and encourages the disciples in the faith and appoints elders. He not only evangelises; he concentrates on deepening discipleship, planting churches, building up congregations and teaching the Word of God.
The gospel of John records that Jesus’s ambition was not simply to heal the sick and meet the needs of the poor although He cared for them. He was sent into the world to save people from condemnation (John 3:17), that He might be lifted up so believers could have eternal life (3:14-15). A focus on human service and on physical needs was not, at least in John, a primary purpose of either Jesus’s mission or the disciples’ mission. The mission comprises preaching, teaching, testifying, making disciples and bearing witness. It focuses on the declaration of the gospel, the announcement of Christ’s death and resurrection and the life found in Him when we repent and believe. It is essentially winning people to Christ and building them up in Christ; it is ‘Making disciples’!
Another quotation from the book noted above:-
“The ‘whole story’ is not, as one author suggests, about us becoming “conduits for him to bring healing to earth and its residents.” It’s not about our call “to partner in a restorative work so that the torch of hope is carried until Christ returns.” The story is not about us working with God to make the world right again. It’s about God’s work to make us right so we can live with him again…Those early Christians understood, as should we, that their commission from their King was to spread far and wide the good news of the kingdom and that the way into it was by coming to the King in repentance and faith. That was the only thing that would usher people into the kingdom and into a life of service to the King….If we improve our schools, get people off welfare, clean up the park, and plant trees in the neighbourhood,but aren’t seeking to make disciples, we may ‘bless’ our communities, but we’re not accomplishing the church’s mission”.
We must note that we are not saying that doing good deeds are irrelevant in the lives of believers or that social responsibility is not to be undertaken; what we are saying is that the mission and responsibility of the church is not to right every wrong or to meet every need although the bible does indicate that we are not to ignore these areas. It is the church’s responsibility and unique mission however to ensure that the gospel be proclaimed and told, that neighbours and nations may know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, they may have life in His name.
Making disciples is essentially helping people to grow in an ongoing, intimate relationship with the triune God. Discipleship implies a definite commitment to God, which endures throughout the ups and downs as well as the changing and challenging circumstances of life. It involves helping believers to be transformed by the thorough and comprehensive teachings of Christ and being transformed into the image of the Master through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is a long-term life-long process. It embraces community life, relationship with God and with other people, the shaping of attitudes, values, character and deeds for the whole of life and beyond. It includes not just teaching by word, but teaching lived out and demonstrated personally and in the context of churchlife and the community It implies that the ones who disciple and teach must themselves be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Discipleship and spiritual transformation is primarily God’s initiative and action; salvation originates in the Father’s amazing and redeeming love; it is in Christ, brought about by His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection; and it is effected in the life of the believer by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. There can be no mistaken idea that we have the ability to seek God apart from God’s initial movement of grace in our lives. Divine action takes priority over human action and it is God’s gift that makes possible the task of disciple-making. All of God’s work in our lives is a work of grace. However, divine grace is not opposed to moral effort empowered by God and cooperation with Him. Instead, it is opposed to earning divine favour and establishing our own merit in the outworking of faith.
The late John Stott, when asked how he would describe the Christian scene in the last century replied, “growth without depth”. It is true that the church has grown numerically in many countries; but it is also true that there is superficiality of discipleship everywhere, and many Christian leaders are concerned. The view of many Christian leaders confirmed the truth that there is growth without depth in many cases. There is statistical growth with no corresponding discipleship development.
If the church just concentrates on collecting statistics on ‘conversions’ and numerical growth, and pursuing many activities, even apparently spiritual activities, without building christians in their faith and relationships with God, she has certainly missed the mark in her mission. If believers are not willing to spend time in nurturing their walk with God, studying and appreciating Scripture and growing in spiritual formation and transformation, the church has failed to make disciples and fulfil the commission given by the Lord Jesus.