In wrapping up this book, the authors, DeYoung and Gilbert, write, “This book has been built around a single question: what is the mission of the church? We’ve argued, to put it succinctly, that the Great Commission is the mission of the church. Or a bit longer, the mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.”
What is the mission?
“This may sound like mere semantics, but it’s not in a world of finite resources and limited time the church cannot do everything. We will not be effective in our mission if everything is mission. Likewise, we will not deliver on our mission if we are not sure what it is. If our mission is discipleship, this will set us a different trajectory than if our mission is to make earth more like heaven.”
In recent times, I have heard and read about evangelicals working for social justice, seeking the Shalom of the city, doing Kingdom ministries, ministering to the whole person, showing the love of Christ through acts of mercy, and so forth. All this is commendable and biblical, but some Christ followers have begun to see these ministries as the main thing the Church should be doing.
Biblically, I disagree with these good brothers and sisters in Christ. For that reason I’m very glad for What Is the Mission of the Church? It’s written by two young evangelical pastors who can speak clearly to their own generation. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert have clarified with sound exegesis and without making light of the importance of good deeds, that THE mission of the Church was and still is, according to the Bible, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I resonate with the words of New Testament scholar, D. A. Carlson, “Among the many books that have appeared on mission, this is the best one if you are looking for sensible definitions, clear thinking, readable writing, and the ability to handle the Bible.”
I commend the authors on writing clearly but with depth. They have carefully examined many Scripture passages that speak of the whole gospel, social justice, seeking shalom, the new heaven and earth, etc. Their conclusion is that this is God’s work. Though we are commanded to “do good,” the Bible does NOT teach that by our own efforts we can bring shalom or create the new heaven and the new earth. Nowhere in the Scriptures does it speak of OUR “building the kingdom.”
I especially enjoyed the writers’ analysis of the New Testament term “gospel.” Clearly the term has a broad meaning, such as when Jesus speaks of the “Gospel of the Kingdom,” as well as a narrow meaning, such as when Paul speaks of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Some evangelicals latch on to the former, others to the latter. DeYoung and Gilbert show that both views are biblical. They call the former the “wide-angle lens” of the gospel and the latter the “zoom lens” of the gospel.
However, looking objectively at the primary task given by Jesus to His apostles and the actual ministry of the churches in Acts and the Epistles, they concluded that the most crucial thing we should be doing is bearing witness to Christ and making disciples. Our loving involvement in society is important because it gives credibility to the Gospel, but it’s not the primary thing.
Instead of sharing more great theological insights from this outstanding book, I’d like to conclude with some practical advice from the Epilogue, which is entitled “So You’re Thinking of Starting a New Kind of Church? Advice for the Young, Motivated, and Missional.” I found this final chapter intriguing, partially because it was written in story form, but more importantly because of the relevant counsel it contains for young (and old!) church planters, missionaries, and pastors:
“Deal with people, not stereotypes. … Don’t size up people or groups or demographics until you get to know them. And even then, be prepared to be surprised by how amazing and awful people can be.”
“We need to interpret Scripture with Scripture and not turn Jesus’ hyperboles into Levitical law. So what I’ve learned is: go big and crazy with broad principles – no holds barred, no caveats. But once you start talking specifics – in your sermons, in counseling, in discipleship – we ought to be a little more nuanced and careful.”
“Resist the urge to make the church body do everything you want the body parts to be doing. In other words, there’s a difference between the church gathered and the church scattered. … Don’t make a church program for every good deed Christians might do in Christ’s name.”
“One of the most important jobs of a pastor is to help people feel guilty when they are guilty and help people feel at peace when they are not guilty. Oftentimes, young pastors, especially the passionate ones, are eager for their people to feel guilty about everything.”
“Don’t confuse opportunities and responsibilities. Just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we HAVE to. If you’re thinking that an afterschool program is the way to go, encourage your people that this could be a valuable ministry. Don’t swing for the fences and try to convince them they must do this or else.”
“People are called to different things. Their consciences are pricked in different ways. So don’t expect everyone to be into whatever you’re into or against everything you’re against.”
“We need to be careful the accent of our preaching – the flavor, the emphasis – is on the message of God’s grace, not on the message of radical sacrifice. Radical sacrifice will happen, but only when your people are first caught up in Christ’s radical sacrifice on their behalf. Help your people delight in God, rejoice in their justification, and understand their union with Christ, and they’ll be much more effective in mission for the long haul. They’ll be nicer to be around too.”
“Don’t forget that the justice and community things you’re interested in are just one aspect of godliness. Sexual purity, forgiveness, kindness, joy, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, not getting drunk, not indulging in gossip and slander – these things , and hundred others, are also part of being holy as God is holy.”
“Don’t trade one imbalance for another. Be on the lookout for all sorts of idols, not just the ones twentysomethings can spot.”
“Big plans are only accomplished after many days and years of small things, the ordinary. Don’t try to do too much right away. This is a big city, in a big country, in a big world. Get to know your neighbors. Invest in a few key leaders. Work hard at your sermons and don’t fret about changing the planet.”
“Doing everything is not the antidote for doing nothing.”
“A huge part of the church’s ministry is to take care of its own members. Think of all the ‘one another’ commands. These are commands for life in the church. … When I started out in ministry, I used to say things like, ‘The church is the only institution that doesn’t exist for the benefit of its members.’ I’d often say to my congregation, ‘The church doesn’t exist for you. It’s for the people out there.’ … It took me a long time to see that the way to get people to care about the world outside the church was not to chastise everyone for loving the church too much. We ARE a holy huddle. But we also break huddle and go out in the world.”
“We must be on guard against affluence and asceticism. Both are counterfeit gospels.”
“I believe the mission of the church – your church, my church, the church in Appalachia, the church in Azerbaijan, the church anywhere – is to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God the Father.”
“Discipleship is your priority. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon all your plans for meeting people’s needs. But it means that in the world of finite time, energy, and resources, your church, above all else, should be evangelizing non-Christians, nurturing believers, and establishing healthy churches.”