By Micah Colbert. Reposted from Rooted Thinking.
What is the church’s mission? How does the mission of the church relate to the mission of God? Are they the same, or different?
Mission is one of those buzzwords that Christians frequently use but struggle to define. It seems like everything from preaching the gospel to digging wells in Africa is considered mission. Over the past few years, churches, small groups, and even clothing have suddenly become “missional.” But is mission really that broad or generic? In their clarifying book, What is the Mission of the Church?, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert wisely point out that “mission… is not everything we do in Jesus’s name, nor everything we do in obedience to Christ. Mission is the task we are given to fulfill.”1
Mission is the church’s specific, God-given assignment. The church’s task, according to God’s Word, is to make Christlike disciples by the Word of God for the glory of God.2 This is what God has called us to do. Gilbert and DeYoung state, “The Mission of the church is it to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.”3
Churches can and should, of course, bless their communities through acts of service. Service is good. We should be “zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:14). God is glorified through good works (Matt. 5:16-17). Service activities like feeding the poor or helping underprivileged communities are good things to do. But good works in-and-of themselves are not the mission. They help facilitate it, but apart from gospel proclamation, they fall short of our God-given task.
The Foundation of the Church’s Mission
To understand our mission, we must first understand God’s mission. After all, His mission is the foundation for ours. Keith Whitefield notes, “Because the Trinity is the ground of all reality, the mission of the triune God is the mission for everything. The church is redeemed for this purpose, and the church’s mission it to participate in this God-glorifying mission.”4 What then is the mission of God? The prophet Habakuk states that God’s mission is “to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). His mission is both revelatory and redemptive. He reveals His glory by redeeming and transforming a people who glorify Him for all eternity. That’s what the story of the Bible is all about!
Making God’s Glory Known
How then does the church participate with God in His mission? The church “fills the earth with God’s glory” by making Christlike disciples of all nations.5 Making disciples encompasses both evangelism and the ongoing formation of a Christlike people who faithfully bear God’s image in obedience to Gods’ Word for God’s glory.
The most well-known passage that articulates the church’s mission is Matthew 28:18-20. Some dismiss this command as something that was binding for Jesus’ apostles but not necessarily for the church today. Jesus’ command to make disciples, however, was not merely intended for the apostles. D.A. Carson notes, “The injunction is given… to the Eleven in their role as disciples (Matthew 28:16). Therefore, they are paradigms for all disciples… It is binding on all Jesus’ disciples to make others what they themselves are – disciples of Jesus Christ.”6 The Great Commission “makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple”7
The Church: God’s Disciple-Making Agenda
God has ordained the church to be His primary disciple-making agent in the world today. Through the ministry of the local church, God is glorified as the gospel is advanced and believers are built up in the faith (see Eph 4:11-16; Col 1:28-29). God calls each church to labor with Him in His gospel-advancing, disciple-making, God-revealing mission. This point is especially important in a time when many Christians look outside the context of the local church for their spiritual formation. J.T. English states, “Discipleship outside the local church is exploding because discipleship inside the local church is neglected, but… Jesus has commissioned the local church specifically to teach, form, and develop maturing followers of Christ.”8 English goes on to note, “Someone should be able to come to faith, grow in the faith, and walk in Christian maturity solely from being formed by a local church.”9
Healthy churches shape their ministry practices around God’s disciple-making mission so that God may be glorified. We will discuss ways churches can practically carry out their mission in our next article.
A Brief Exhortation
Mission is not a trendy label or extracurricular activity. It’s our God-given task. It shapes who we are and how we live. We were created by God’s mission for God’s mission. Our lives and churches therefore are not insignificant. We are a part of something that is bigger, greater, and infinitely more glorious than ourselves. God calls and gifts us to labor with Him in His eternal, unstoppable plan. We labor with other believers in the local church to be and make Christlike disciples who reveal God’s glory. Let us then by God’s grace embrace our mission so that God’s name might be glorified!
Note: This article is an adaptation of a recent D.Min research paper I wrote entitled, “A Disciple-Making Philosophy of Ministry for Church Planting.” You can download that article by clicking here.
1 Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 29.
2 See Matt 28:18-20; Eph 4:11-16; Col 1:28-29; 2 Tim 2:2; etc.
3 DeYoung and Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? 62.
4 Bruce Riley Ashford, ed., Theology and Practice of Mission: God, The Church, and the Nations (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 27.
5 Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 3:8-11; 4:11-16; and Rev. 7:9-12
6 D.A. Carson, Matthew, ed. Frank Gaebelein, vol. 8, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 596.
7 Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything. (Matthias Media, 2009), 13.
8 J.T. English, Deep Discipleship: How the Church Can Make Whole Disciples of Jesus (Nashville: B&H Publishers, 2020), Kindle Ed. 49, 727.
9 English, Deep Discipleship. Kindle Ed. 50, 740-741.
Micah is the discipleship and outreach pastor at Community of Grace Church in Buffalo, NY. He is also the author of two outreach books: Good News for All Nations and Discovering Hope. Micah enjoys reading, coffee, hearty conversations, and time spent with his wife and four children.