Being On Mission
by John Gallagher
Some people treat church like a Hollywood gala we see on the news. The mission of those in attendance is to impress and get attention. Some treat church like a concert. Their mission is to attend, enjoy it and go home. Is that all the church is meant to be? I think church should be like my dog treats me or other guests who come into our home. I am the most important thing to my dog, and he has no greater joy than to be with me; to have my attention, and for me to love his attention…
Sometimes we lose sight of the real mission of the church. In Matthew 4:23 we have a snapshot of Jesus’ ministry; to share the gospel, and to help people become whole. His mission is ours. In Acts 2:42-47 we have a snapshot of the early church. Church was not about attendance but devotion. I believe the church is healthy as it focuses on mission (not missions as in “foreign missions”). So, what does this look like? What does it take for a church to be on mission like Jesus and the church in Acts?
I have always been a bit uncomfortable with vision statements for the church. I just balk at a CEO model of doing church. Even the “Purpose Driven Church”, while again helpful, can miss something I believe is crucial to the church (gasp). Every church needs a vision statement or purpose, but quite frankly the purpose and vision of the church isn’t rocket science. Matthew 28:19-20 is quite plain – “make disciples.” Any statement a church creates is just a variation of this truth. However, while caught up in the church health mantra of “make disciples”, perhaps we have not pressed deep enough.
In Matthew 22:37-38, Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment. His answer is simple and not so simple. Everything hangs on loving God and loving others. The mission of the church is relationship driven. When a church pursues purpose or vision at the sacrifice of relationship, trouble will follow. The vertical and horizontal relationships are the bedrock to making disciples.
Zach is a great friend of mine, more like family. I had the privilege of baptizing Zach. When we first met (through another college student who is also like family) Zach wasn’t too sure. He had plenty of reasons to be angry with God. Yet he hung in there, and as we spent time together, slowly but surely God worked in his heart and mind. Relationship made the difference. Every one of us who comes to believe in Jesus comes into something more than just faith. We enter into relationship. People connect and stay in a local church because of the vertical and horizontal relationships. Our mission as a local church is a relational mission; both relationships need to be attended to for the church to be healthy. Mission is relationship driven.
One of my hobbies is working with reclaimed wood to make furniture. Each time I complete a piece, I find a way to do It better the next time. Each piece pulls me to study the grains in the wood to determine where it should be placed. It has surprisingly drawn out a passion in what I do when working with wood. Jesus’ words about loving God with all your heart, mind and soul hint at another aspect of mission. Mission includes passion. The church is about something more than the number of baptisms. The church wants and needs passionate, devoted, followers of Jesus.
When my mom was in the early stages of Alzheimer's, she fixed a lasagna one night. During the meal we all recognized something was wrong. It didn’t taste quite right. She had forgotten the sauce. Passionless churches and passionless believers are like lasagna without sauce. The church must be passionate about loving God. The church must be passionate about loving others for the gospel to take root. Mission must be passionately applied.
Our church has a Sunday night kids ministry. The kids are divided into various age groups for ministry, recreation, etc. At the close of every meeting, we have the kids recite the following prayer: “That all children and youth around the world will come to know, love, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” I am so thankful for the people who get it and eagerly serve Jesus in the church and beyond. Our task as church leaders is to move people through all of these. It is not enough to know or love the Lord. Serving is a must. Jesus in Mark 10:45 says he came to serve. If Jesus came to serve, then so must those who follow him. 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul encourages all believers to “give themselves fully to the work of the Lord” (notice again the passion implied here). The mission of the church is more than information, Bible studies, worship experiences, and certainly committee meetings. The church is not just a religious form of Wikipedia! The effectiveness of our discipling and loving is measured by people serving and living for Jesus. The mission of the church is service oriented.
Have you noticed the varying levels of road construction? Some repairs are patched. At times another layer of asphalt is put down on top of the existing road. If the damage is more serious a layer of the pavement is removed and prepared to resurface. But, if the damage is systemic the repairs go below the road to the base requiring new gravel, stone, dirt, and compacting. If this is not done the road will not last. The base matters.
Historically, Advent Christians were known as students of the Bible. I grew up in a church where adults knew the Bible. They would quote it when sharing their testimonies. They studied and their example taught me basic principles of how to study the Bible. Today that assumption can no longer be made. There are people in our churches who read and study, but many know about the Bible more than they know the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 emphasizes that the Scriptures are useful, beneficial for all aspects of living. A church on mission is Bible based. A church on mission seeks to inspire and instill a passion for the Word of God and its application to daily life. Knowing and living the Word lends credibility to our witness. It lays a foundation upon which to build healthy relationships with the Lord and each other.
Working with reclaimed wood requires planning. There are power tools for that, but some work requires a hand planer. Did you know that the direction of the grain in the wood determines the direction you should hand plane it? If you hand plane in the wrong direction it will leave gouges in the wood. And, some types of wood (like mahagony) are even more sensitive to this issue. Plane in the right direction and you create a flat and smooth surface that will require less sanding. A piece of wood planed in the wrong direction is pitted and hides the beauty of the wood and grain. It is less desirable for use in a project because of the amount of work to correct the problem may require too much. A piece planed properly highlights the beauty within and is useful.
The church is like a piece of wood. When the wrong tool is used, or in the wrong direction, it is damaged. What is the right tool and direction for the church? Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15). The church needs the power of Jesus to be what He intends. Jesus’ means of accomplishing this is through the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5 goes into greater detail. We are called to “walk by the Spirit” (v. 16); be “led by the Spirit” (v. 18); be filled with the “the fruit of the Spirit” (v. 22-23); and to “live by the Spirit” (v. 25).
The church is about something more than gathering crowds, having services, programs, ministries, outreach event, etc. The church seeks a move of God. People come and are a part of the church to encounter the Lord. The mission of the church is to be Spirit empowered. The mission of loving Jesus and others requires the work of the Spirit in us. Making disciples is a consequence of the Spirit at work in and through us.
In his book “The Gospel According To Starbucks”, Leonard Sweet refers to the need for the church to be EPIC. The church is to be: Experiential, Participatory, Image rich, and Connective. A church on mission is image rich. It understands that we live in a visual world. Ideas and truth need to be conveyed in words that are adorned with images. It emphasizes its call and purpose in images that can be “owned.” It attends to the image that the facilities create; from the landscaping to the pictures and words on the walls inside. Do our images point to Jesus, and moving forward in the cause of Christ or do they look back? What about the image we present on the web? And F.Y.I. – no presence creates an image too! Mission is image rich.
The church on mission is changing lives. I know because I am one that was changed by a church on mission. Dying churches no longer transform lives. The image they are conveying is not even on their radar.The Spirit is a truth on a page but not experienced. The Word of God may be central, but never gets beyond the walls of the church building. Passion has been substituted with a longing for people to be “more dedicated.” Relationships are unhealthy.The church on mission is all about loving God and others with a passion from the Spirit and informed by the Word of God. The church on mission encourages a Spirit inspired passion that leads to people eagerly serving Jesus Christ both in the church and in the community. The church on mission communicates in ways that are rich in images people easily understand and embrace. And, as a result lives are changed, transformed, and disciples are made who know love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.