What is the mission of the church?
This is actually a hotly debated question. Is the mission of the church to worship God? Is the mission of the church to reach out to unbelievers? To maintain a faithful and Biblical people of God? What about feeding the poor and helping the needy? Is the mission of the church to transform culture and society? Is it all of these things? Is it none of them?
Who’s answer are we going to believe? Probably not mine. Probably not yours either.
Here’s a novel idea – How about if we look to the head of the church, and see what Jesus Himself told us our mission was to be? Maybe that will help clear things up for us. All authority in heaven and on earth was given to Him, so He should be able to speak with a degree of influence.
The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20)
“Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!”
(Ah, so they were worshiping already. Good. And it is interesting to notice that even when they were standing face to face with the “just raised from the dead” Jesus Christ – some of them doubted. Let’s assume that whatever else we are to do, it is to start with worship, and not everyone who shows up will believe.) …continuing…
“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
So, as we are worshiping (doubts and all) we are to take Jesus at His word that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. Cool, because that just about covers where we are going to be. Then we are to go make disciples from every group of people on earth, making them citizens of heaven. How are we supposed to make disciples? What is the means? Well, this is where it starts to get interesting.
How to Make Disciples
We are to make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them – Word and sacrament. This is the work of the church. And, here’s what’s really interesting about that – We start as worshipers, we go and make more disciples (followers), we baptize them and teach them, so that there will be more worshipers! More worshipers to GO and get more worshipers! And not just worshipers for the here and now, but more worshipers across all time and space, world without end, until the end of forever, AMEN!
This is really clever. A perpetual worship machine.
It’s Not My Job!
But, some people might say Jesus wasn’t talking to us, He was talking to them. The disciples that were in front of Him 2,000 years ago. THEY were the ones who were sent, not us. Well, let’s look at that.
Jesus said that He would be with them until the end of the ___(what?)___. If we fill that blank in with “day,” then fine, Jesus was only talking to them and we can ignore Him. But, Jesus said until the end of the age. We might not be the actual END of the age, but those disciples two thousand years ago were not either. We are certainly included on the timeline somewhere. Jesus was talking to us (and those who will come after us), and says that He is here with us, so we might want to pay attention.
I Like My Church Better!
But, what about all those other things I mentioned in the first paragraph? To preserve a style of worship, to maintain a faithful and Biblical people of God, to feed the poor and help the needy, to transform culture and society? Aren’t those things also the mission of the church? Well, I think that depends on how you look at it.
As I have said, it all starts with worship. The Bible says that the disciples were worshiping the risen Jesus. But, how were they worshiping? Were they singing Chris Tomlin songs or hymns? Were they reading from the Book of Common Prayer or spontaneously praying in the Spirit? Were they working in a soup kitchen?
What is Worship?
The Greek word translated “worship” is proskyneō, which means to bow, kneel, or prostrate oneself. They were bowing before Jesus in an act of worship, showing that He was their KING, LORD and GOD by their actions. This is what we should be doing when we worship, too. Whether we are singing rock songs or classic hymns, praying hundred year old prayers or making something up on the spot, we better be doing it in an act of reverence. We better be worshiping Jesus as our LORD and GOD, and not worshiping ourselves (our musical tastes or preferences in liturgy). It all starts and ends with worship, because worship is everything we do in response to who Jesus is – showing by our actions that He is our LORD and our GOD.
High and Dry
So, should we worship with 500 year old liturgies? Should the preservation of a particular historical setting of worship be a priority? Maybe, but not if it takes your focus off of the actual work of the church. (Worship, make disciples, baptize, teach, worship.) If you are part of a confessional movement, an Anglican communion, or any other “high liturgical” church, please remember this. The liturgies are beautiful and deep, but if we don’t welcome the guest (the nations) to understand and appreciate what we are saying and doing, if we are not careful to contextualize what we are saying and doing for the people that are actually in front of us, then we are nothing (as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.)
Loud and Proud
Should we worship with passion and reckless abandon? Hands raised, eyes blurred with tears, tongues wagging, praise songs rocking the walls? Maybe, but not if it takes our focus off what the LORD we are worshiping has told us to do. It’s great that we are thankful for what He has done in our lives, and it’s wonderful when we connect deeply through the Holy Spirit to our Holy God. But, if our ecstatic praising looks like madness to the nations (guest) and drives them away from Jesus Christ shaking their heads and thinking we are drunk, then we are missing the point. (Worship, make disciples, baptize, teach, worship.)
Soup For The Soul
Should our churches be involved in feeding the poor, helping the needy, the down and out, reaching out with mercy and compassion? Should the church be involved in social justice and humanitarian relief? Yes. But, not at the expense of worship. It should be a part of our true religion to show mercy. And, most of the time we should first help those who are counted among us. Seriously. It sounds wrong, but it isn’t. In Acts the deacons were established to help the orphans and widows that were in the church. II Corinthians is largely about taking up an offering for famine relief – to help the churches who were starving. Churches. It’s just like your family, you take care of them first. Once you make sure that your family is taken care of, then it is very proper to help others. And remember who Jesus said our neighbor is, our neighbor is anyone that God puts in front of us. We must help those who are within our reach. This can be a powerful way to love people, and serve God. But, it must never get in the way of our primary purpose. We worship the LORD (bowing before Him, declaring that He is our God), then we do what He has told us to do. We go into the nations and make disciples. It is perfectly fine to offer hungry people some fish and bread from time to time along the way.
The Other Kingdom
Should the church be involved in transforming culture and society? Absolutely. That is exactly what God is doing through the church. All authority in heaven and on earth was given to our LORD. Jesus HAS all the authority in heaven and on earth. It is all His. We bow before Him (worship) in response to the authority that He has been given. We declare that He is the authority in every area of our lives, too. There are no little nooks or crannys where He is not Lord. We are completely His. So, as we walk out of our churches each week, we continue our worship by living out the truth that we have been taught. Our worship overflows into our communities like the water pouring from Ezekiel’s altar, flooding the desert, and turning it into a living garden. Transforming culture and society? Indeed.
Sometimes people in my circles talk about “two kingdoms,” which is all well and good as long as we remember that there is only One King. His name is Jesus.
So, no matter where our churches are, we all have the same job. We all have the same mission. We are to bow all the way down, and worship the LORD with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then, we are to listen to what He has told us to do. Look around, find some people to teach and baptize, and continue our worship knowing that Jesus is with us, even to the end of the age.
– How do you see your current church community living out the mission?
– Is your church more high and dry, loud and proud, soup for the soul, or culturally relevant?