The Mission of the Church

Posted on 02/16/2007


            There is much talk about the mission of the church and why it exists.  There are probably few pastors that could not name Rick Warren’s 5 purposes of the church.[1]  Churches and its leaders struggle to hammer out mission, vision, and purpose statements.  In all of the effort and desire to formulate nice, neat statements that describe the mission and strategy of the local church, I think that many have lost sight of and may have obscured the clear preeminent mission that every church has already been given.  That mission is what I call the “gospel-mission.”  There are many activities, ministries, functions and purposes that a church may have, but the number one mission of every church is the gospel-mission: to carry out the redemptive plan of God on earth.   

            There is a tremendous need in the typical church for a fuller understanding of the mission that has been given to it by its founder, Christ Jesus.  When one looks at the book of Acts, you cannot help but to sense the excitement and the passion the early church had in sharing the gospel with the world.  Christ had risen from the dead and they went with power to make this truth known.  Amberson is correct in his assessment that, “We, today, need to recapture the note of spontaneity which existed in the New Testament and, therefore, produced churches as the believers witnessed to the Lord Jesus Christ.”[2]  As you read the pages of Acts, you come to understand that the spread of the gospel was the natural, powerful product of Christians living out Christ’s gospel-mission in the world.  The early Christians understood and embraced the gospel-mission that Christ had given them.

            There is no doubt that Christ’s desire was for His church to see itself as being a “sent” people.  Christ was sent by the Father on a mission, and Christ has clearly sent His followers to continue the fulfillment of that gospel-mission.[3]  Christ’s plan was to leave a community of people who would carry out His mission to the ends of the earth.  The three years of Christ’s earthly ministry was in part filled with the training and mentoring of disciples that would one day be left with the task of perpetually proclaiming the gospel to the world.  Christ prepared and trained His followers for the eventuality of His departure and their inheritance of this gospel-mission. 

            Matthew chapter 10 records Christ’s instructions to the 12 in correlation to their being sent to proclaim the “kingdom of heaven.”  This mission was preparatory training for the day that they would eventually be left by Christ, and empowered by the Spirit to take the gospel to the world.  Immediately before the disciples were given this mission, the Lord told them that “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest,” (Matthew 9.37-38).  Interestingly the word for “send out” is ekballo which could be translated as “thrust out.”  It could refer to workers who are already in the field but need to have a fire lit under them to thrust them out.”[4]  What a fitting description for the church that already resides in the “field” but need to rediscover their biblical mission. 

We know that this gospel-mission was not to be confined to just the twelve because the gospel of Luke tells us that at another time Jesus sent 72 disciples on a similar mission:

After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He himself was about to go.  Then He said to them. “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Luke 10.1-2)

            A significant lesson to be taken from this passage is that mission and ministry is not confined to a select few.  Jesus expanded the ministry beyond the 12.[5]  The mission of the church is to be shared by all the members of the fellowship.  Sharing the gospel can and should be the ministry of everybody.  The problem of too few “laborers” is once again the message given in Luke.  The mission must be carried out by more and more disciples.  Of this passage Bock perceptively points out that:

Part of the mission’s goal then is to expand the number of disciples, so that the number of those who can engage in the missionary task can grow.  In other words, if people receive the message, they will help deliver it…Luke is saying that one of the results of the mission is that more take responsibility for it.[6]

Christ Jesus was on a mission to redeem the world through His sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection and also to prepare a people to continue His mission by proclaiming the gospel to the world.   This mission was not intended to be just for the twelve. 

[1] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995).. 

[2] Talmadge R. Amberson, “The Foundations for Church Planting,” in The Birth of Churches, ed. Talmadge R. Amberson (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1979), 45.

[3] Joe Aldrich, Lifestyle Evangelism, (Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 1993), 30-31.

[4] Craig L. Blomberg, The New American Commentary: Matthew, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 167. 

[5] Darrell L. Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Luke 9:51-24:53, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 994.  

[6] Ibid., 995.