In last week’s post, I shared that the mission of the Church is wrapped into two primary statements from Jesus. These statements are to love God and love others (The Great Commandment, Mark 12.30-21) and to make disciples (The Great Commission, Matthew 28.19-20). These concepts must be included because it was Jesus who said that He would build His Church and these are two key elements of how that will be done.
What is true for the universal church is true for the local church as well; however, each local church can adapt those elements to make it specific to the context of that church. For instance, a church in a urban area with a large number of homeless individuals may have a mission that is drastically different than another church which is in a town with a major university and different still from a church in a rural setting.
One thing I have learned over the years is that people in each of these (and other) settings can have a deep love of Jesus. Many times people in the city may look down on people living in a farming community and vice-versa, but each person, if truly a follower of Christ, is part of the Body of Christ and thus, should be trying to heed Jesus’ words to love God, love others, and to make disciples wherever s/he is located.
But again context matters. For a church to be actively engaged in ministry, the people need to know the ultimate goal (vision, as I describe it) and how it will be achieved (mission, as I describe it). So, for the urban church with many homeless people in the area, loving God and therefore loving others will require meeting the needs of the people in a manner that might best relate to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 about the sheep who cared for the least of these (vv 31-40). The goal should not just be about meeting physical needs, but building a bridge so that spiritual needs can be met as well (i.e. discipleship can happen).
For a church near a large university, the context may be quite different. Certainly, homeless individuals may be very nearby as well, and some church may indeed focus on that group of individuals while also trying to get the school’s faculty, staff, and students involved. Another church near the school may have a specific purpose to engage the students in any number of ways. Still another might focus on strengthening the staff of a particular school. With the stress of academic work, such a church could choose a mission focused on Micah 6.8 (do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God) to help students and faculty be reminded of a greater purpose for their lives other than simply filling their head with information. (I think a mission should go beyond learning to love God will all of one’s mind, but helping people to know how to do that could be a part of the mission as well.) Of course, a single church may be actively involved in ministering to each of the groups (and, perhaps others) in this paragraph, if enough people are involved. But again, that is the beauty of the imagery of the Body of Christ – we all have a purpose and function – as individuals, and thus, as churches as well.
The third type of church mentioned above might be a rural church far removed from any significant number of homeless individuals and nowhere near a college or university. The context of this church’s mission might be to provide a more broad-based care for the town and the people of the town because many of the people will have known each other for decades (which is very unlike the other two settings mentioned. Thus, the mission could take a very different form and use a metaphor that might appeal to an agrarian culture. Such a verse could include Jesus’ parable about the sower (Matthew 13), but in an effort to use the Old Testament, the words of Jesus, and another part of the New Testament in this post, something like Colossians 2.6-7 which talk about learning to walk in Christ after having been rooted in Him (i.e planted and growing) might make sense.
The point of these examples is to share that each church can have a mission statement that is unique, yet fulfills the overall purpose of Jesus’ mission for His Church. Serving the least of these requires loving others and expresses love for God while doing so as all people are made in His image (Genesis 1.26-27). Doing justice and loving kindness are specifically meant to be an expression of love toward others while walking humbly with God is to acknowledge Him as first, in part, because of our love for Him. And learning to walk in Christ will mean loving others because that is what He did by coming, living, and dying for humanity. Furthermore, allowing ourselves to be built up in Him will require a submission to God which is also an expression of love.
Thus, each of these ideas expressed in this post fit the idea of loving God, and loving others. But the goal in loving is to become more like God and to help others to do the same. Thus, each of the ideas expressed also have a goal of discipleship at the heart of the matter. That is, it is not enough simply to love someone if we leave them where they are. God does not do that for us, and He does not want us to do that for others as well. We must understand that a part of loving God and others is to make sure we are not trying to control others, but rather are serving them in order that God may do the transforming work that only He can do.
Therefore, although each of these ideas above do not specifically state a mission statement for any of the churches mentioned, a generic premise has been established. The entirety of this post can be summarized then in three points.
- The mission of a local church must incorporate Jesus’ mission for the universal church (Love God, Love Others, Make Disciples)
- The context of the local church will help to define the mission for that church.
- Scripture should guide the mission of the local church just as Scripture is the guide for the mission of the universal church.
Once a church has engaged in the process of defining her mission, the next goal is to communicate it and live it. Unfortunately, the reality is that defining the mission well can be a challenge, but getting the mission communicated well (that is, understood by most in the church) and incorporated into all aspects of the church’s ministry are far more difficult.
In next week’s post, I will begin to share some ideas on how we can begin to incorporate the mission into the life of a church.