A new job, in a new town! Family in tow, your mission is to find a church that is true to the mission Jesus gave. You visit five churches and you intentionally ask, “What are we supposed to be doing around here?” Or you can be formal in asking: “What is the mission of your church?”
Be warned! Churches and people in general do what they value. The mission of a group or a church comes from what the group or the church values.
Armed with this question the hunt begins. Visit to church number one. “Typically our church values pastoral care” the pastor says. “My people expect care to be the main role of their pastor.” So you realize that if sickness visits your household you can depend on the pastor to be there. Should you unite with this church whose main mission is to care for people? While caring is part of shepherding it’s not all there is. The shepherd must also lead: The Lord is my shepherd… he leads me… (Psalm 23, John 10:1-6, 27).
You attend another church. There is good Bible teaching going on. Every word is parsed and milked for meaning. “Our church values the Bible. The Bible as our mission,” says the leader. “After all, Martin Luther fought that battle for the Bible for the people. Should we do any less?” A Bible buff yourself, you believe your family deserves to sit under the teachings of a Bible man. Your wife agrees, “I enjoyed it, dear, he seems deep. We’ll be well-fed around here!” The kids aren’t sure. Should you join here? A little voice in the back of your head says, “As hard won of a battle Luther fought, there is more to the mission of the church than teaching the Bible.”
It’s evident from the preaching and the two people who asked you if you and your family are saved on your first visit that the third church values evangelism. “The only thing we’re supposed to do is go and tell people about Jesus and win souls.” And they mean it. But you wonder, “Why did only a couple of people say that evangelism was the church’s mission, while others seemed sour about it? Surely we are supposed to do evangelism. But is this the whole mission of the church?” You decide to keep visiting.
At the fourth church people take worship seriously. It’s obvious that if you asked “what is your mission?” what the answer would be. You notice that they have their preferred style of worship and music. But it’s not your style. You like the people. You think their worship is genuine. But is it enough to join that church’s mission? “While worship is part of the mission of the people of God it’s not the sole mission. Is it?”
The last church you visit obviously values ministering to families. “Did you notice,” you say to the family, “how the pastor and the Sunday school leader and a few teachers made a B-line to where we were sitting? How many invitations did we get to join this class or that? They have Awana, they have movie night, they have Upward. They really care about families. I bet they mean it when they say they’ll minister to families in the good times and the bad.”
Which of these churches has the right mission that Jesus gave and that you should join with your family?
Jesus gave one mission to the disciples, those who would walk with him as their Master (the church): Make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8; see also John 20:21). He commands them to “make disciples, proclaim the arrival and availability of the kingdom of God” (or the Gospel. See Mk 1:14-15). “Don’t retreat,” he said, “but advance, go, and the gates of destruction cannot withstand the power of the Holy Spirit going with you. Go to all nations not just your kinfolk. Go beyond your land. In going about your life, announce the arrival and the availability of the kingdom of God by inviting people to change their minds about the rule of God in their lives and put their confidence in Jesus Christ. Teach them to obey his commandments as you are obeying his commandments.”
Caring for people, teaching the Bible, evangelism, worship, family ministry, fellowship, and service are all wonderful values and ought to result in actions. But we must not water down the mission Jesus gave: make disciples.
The church that does not make disciples will die. I’ll spare you the obituary of churches on the left of the orthodoxy spectrum who have ceased and deceased from discipleship to Jesus. What will happen to those on the right? Time will tell and it depends on whether we can bridge the existing gap of discipleship in our churches.
My audacious prediction: Churches who don’t make discipleship their primary mission will not survive. Jesus saw no other way for the propagation of the Christian species. Churches who are not making disciples are writing their own obituaries.
The burning question for Southern Baptist churches at this juncture in our development as a denomination is not whether we take seriously the planting of more churches, or do more evangelism, or mobilize more churches to help plant churches. It’s not finding more dollars to do ministry. The most pressing issue is whether we are willing to pay the price of making disciples. Churches will change culture, and change lives when they are obedient to Jesus’ command of bridging the gap of discipleship.
We must find Jesus’ ever-fresh answers to questions like these “Who is a disciple? How is a disciple made? What happens when we make disciples? What happens when we don’t? How do we know we are making disciples?
Business as usual is writing obituaries. Business that takes discipleship and disciple making as the primary mission of the church will turn the world upside down. The proof is in the pudding of obedience.
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