The Only Mission Of The ChurchJan 01, 2022
In 2013 I wrapped up almost 5 years of military service and 4 combat deployments, having helped with over 400 direct action night raids. Looking back on this season, one of the things it taught me, was how to differentiate between the mission and the means to accomplish the mission.
The missions were simple. Go in, get so and so, interrogate, determine if they’re a terrorist and if so, take them with us, and in the process prevent anyone from dying or getting injured. Both US troops and local.
The means to accomplish these night raids, however, changed from season to season, or context to context. Was it urban or rural? Were we using CH-47’s (Chinook helicopters) or driving in on Strykers? Do we blow the door with an explosive charge or did we use a Remington shotgun to breach?
I could go on and on. Hopefully, you’re beginning to see what I mean. There is a way you approach accomplishing the mission, and then there’s the mission. ‘The Mission’ and ‘The Means’.
In the Church in the West - Western Evangelical Christianity to be specific - we have really mixed these two ideas up.
The mission of the church is really quite clear. But before we dive into that, let’s talk about Jesus and his disciples for a moment.
In Jewish culture at the time of Jesus, the idea of rabbis (teachers) was quite normal. Each Rabbit had a “yoke” or teaching. A yoke was either a way of approaching the scriptures or a specific message from scriptures that a Rabbi was known for emphasizing. When rabbis chose their disciples, it was an honor because they were inviting the disciples to follow them around (hence the old Jewish saying of “being covered in the dust of your Rabbi” - you literally followed them everywhere).
The whole purpose across this culture when it came to the rabbi/disciple relationship was that disciples would:
Be with their rabbi. Follow them everywhere. Watch them closely. Walk with them through all of life.
Become like their rabbi. Begin to think like him, see the world through the same lens, take on his perspectives and teachings, to become as passionate about the ‘yoke’ as he is.
Do what your rabbi does. Ultimately, disciples become like their rabbi and end up doing life the way they did. They end up becoming rabbis themselves and taking on disciples to teach.
This brings me to Jesus, who picks 12 disciples, walks with them for 3 years. Showing them, teaching them, helping them practice what he’s teaching them so they can obey it, etc.
Then just before Jesus ascends to the right hand of the Father, leaving his disciples behind to continue on without him, he gives them the most important command he’s ever given:
“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 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 28:18-20
You see, Jesus commanded them to make disciples and teach them to obey EVERYTHING he has commanded, including this very command, to go and make more disciples and teach them to obey as well. You see, a true disciple is one who learns to obey the commands of Jesus (not just know them), and seeks to teach others how to do the same, and so on. It’s a continuous multiplication process. This is called the Great Com(mission) in the global community of believers for a reason. It is the mission of the disciples of Jesus.
Again, this is the mission of the Church.
I’ve heard lots of folks say things like “the mission is to glorify God”. Well, sort of.
God asks us to glorify Him in everything, but He commissioned us to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples. In obeying His commands we glorify Him most.
Put another way, we should always be glorifying God through what we do, and we do that when we obey Him. Glorifying God is overlapping with the mission he commissioned us on, but glory is not the mission itself.
So what about the means?
The challenge I see folks encounter the most is when the means become their mission. When a church service, program, ministry, etc, and the success of that thing becomes the main priority.
Since teaching disciples both to obey and also how to multiply and reproduce, is the mission, then if the means aren’t producing this outcome, we need to change them. Similar in Afghanistan, if when we went out on missions and weren’t accomplishing them we knew we had to change how we approached the missions. The mission is critical, the means are only as critical as their ability to help accomplish the mission.
I’ll leave us with this idea/question: In the evangelical, western, consumer-driven Church, is every (or even most?) “disciple” obeying all of the commands of Jesus? Is every disciple effectively making disciples who obey, who make disciples who obey?
There’s only one mission of the Church, and the means should always be determined by how effective they are at helping us accomplish it.