The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to refocus on the mission of the church and how you will lead others into focusing upon and living into the mission. As a Christ-centered leader, your primary purpose is to focus on that mission and to equip those whom you lead to do the same. The question is “What is the mission?” 

What is Mission?

Mission is the core purpose of an organization. It tells what an organization focuses upon and does for its customers. It is what sets you apart from other organizations. So, from the perspective of the church, what is the mission? 

To put it simply, the mission of the church is God’s mission. The idea of mission comes from the Latin term, missio Dei, which is a theological term translated “mission of God” or “sending God.” 

Using missio Dei, God’s mission, as a foundation, David Bosch believed that mission was an attribute of God more than an activity of the church. He said God was a sending God. Jurgen Moltmann believed the same. He stated that God’s mission included the church. He wrote, “It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.” 

The Old Testament on Mission

There are numerous scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments, that name and give support to God’s mission. In the Old Testament there are scriptures like Isaiah 6:8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” and Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” 

The New Testament on Mission

In the New Testament there are scriptures like Luke 10:1-11, “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two] others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go…” Mark 16:15, “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” and Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” These scripture references are focused upon God’s mission in the world that includes the church. 

With God’s mission for the church in mind, let’s look at a scripture that is accepted as a definition of God’s mission.    

Read Matthew 28:16-20 

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Reflect 

Matthew’s mission was to let people know that God sent Jesus to teach us how to live a holy life. At times he called it “righteousness,” at other times, “holiness,” and once he called it “perfect,” as in “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). From Matthew’s perspective, God sent Jesus to teach us how to live the life God created us to live. 

Set-Apart Life

For Matthew, being a follower of Jesus means you are “set apart” in your living.  You live differently because you see the world (your families, enemies, communities, etc.) and the people of the world differently. You love differently, relate differently, and interact differently because your orientation is different. As a follower of Jesus, you have been created by God, set apart, to live and love differently. 

So, the scripture for today is Matthew’s way of telling his followers how to live this set-apart life. Jesus is sending his followers out to love others into being his followers.  Now, before looking at this particular scripture, let’s look at the other gospels for similar themes. 

Loving Others

Although the context is different, John talks about the set-apart life, as loving others as God in Jesus has loved. John writes, “God is love.”  Jesus says, “…love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). In other words, the holy life is to love as you have been loved by God. Holiness is to live and love as God has created you to live and love. 

Power to Witness

For Luke, the set-apart life is to receive power to witness beyond the barriers of race, gender, nationality, economic status, etc. In other words, God has provided what is needed to love and include all people in God’s love and community. You are sent out into the world, the community, to live and love as God has created you to live and love, empowered by God’s spirit.    

Love is the Center of a Set-Apart Life

At the very heart of the set-apart life is love, God’s love. The word used for God’s love is “agape.” This love grows out of the will to love. The will to love is not based upon feelings or emotion but upon the conscious and intentional decision to love as you have been loved by God. Love is an action rather than a feeling. So, the set-apart life is seen in your intentional actions of loving others as you have been loved. 

Wesley on Perfection

John Wesley understood this set apart life as Christian perfection. He wrote in his sermon “On Perfection,” “This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, love.” 

So, the mission of the church, according to Matthew, is that wherever you go, love others as you have been loved, invite them into God’s love, immerse them in God’s love, and model God’s love for them.  You make disciples the way Jesus did. You love people into being followers of Jesus. 

In “What is Mission Part 2” we will take a deeper dive into Matthew’s mission for the church. Until then, your mission is to love others, wherever you are and in whatever circumstances, the way you have been loved by God in Jesus. 

Respond 

Even though Matthew does not use the word love, love goes to the heart of God’s mission, which is the very nature and purpose of the church. So, a working definition of mission for the church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its purpose of being an agent of God’s love in the world. 

In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is love. When the church is loving the people in the community, it is the true church. The church itself is not only a product of that love but is obligated and destined to extend that love. The mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith that follows Jesus.

So, today, watch for opportunities to be an instrument of God’s love. Become aware of the people around you and how you might model God’s love in difficult situations and circumstances.

Practice loving others as you have been loved. Keep in mind that you get to work for the well-being of those who might not think or act the way you do, those who are your neighbors as well as your enemies, and your family and friends.  

Practice receiving God’s love as you let others care for you in ways that allow them to be who God created them to be.

As you experience God’s love, you have the responsibility to share God’s love. Remember, love is not a soft, delicate, emotional gift, but the most healthy, transformative gift of all gifts. Love, agape love, is God’s mission for you, me, and all creation.

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Amen

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. With whom did you experience God’s love? In what situations were you able to model God’s love? How did you express God’s love? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? 

Well, we have reached the fifth blog in the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” So, enough is enough. I have been at this work long enough to know that you have been gracious with this old guy. As you might guess, I have more to share. It will come later. You’ll find the previous posts linked at the bottom of this page.

This blog will be in two parts. Part One this week and Part Two, which will conclude the series, will be next week. I am grateful for this opportunity to highlight and emphasize what I have learned to be important for Christ-centered leaders. I hope you have found this helpful and fruitful in leading people to become who God has created them to be.

It Matters Where You Start

One of the major learnings of the past 50 years is “It matters where you start.”  Early in my ministry, I came across a cartoon of a man who is intoxicated. He’s forgotten where he parked his car. He is leaning against a lamppost on a city street. His only hope is to call his wife and to ask her to come and get him.

When he calls, she is disappointed but sympathetic. She asks, “Where are you? I’ll come and pick you up if you can tell me where you are.”

The man looked to find the street name and replied, “I am at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk.”

If you don’t know where you are when you start, the chances of giving misinformation or moving in the wrong direction are highly possible. It is difficult to get to where you are going if you don’t know and understand your starting place.      

How are you making decisions?

When you, as the leader, make decisions based on reliable information, communication, self-awareness, and examination, you are effective and courageous. When you make decisions based upon incorrect assumptions without research and communication, not understanding why you think and act the way you do, the consequences can be disturbing for you and for the people entrusted to your care.

Where you start makes a difference. All of us have internalized thoughts, behaviors, theologies, and practices that need to be examined and refined, if not transformed. If you start with your assumptions, values, and point of view, you will work to help people see your point and come over to your way of thinking.  If you start from a particular political position like progressive or evangelical, conservative or liberal, traditional or postmodern, you will spend your time and energy trying to get people to see things your way.

Faith or Politics?

Please hear me, I am not questioning your values or your point of view. But in a time when people are confusing Christian faith with political positions, our politics is informing our faith more than our faith in Jesus is informing our politics.   

It shows up in why people attend worship and participate in the life of the church. When you start with how the church can contribute to your professional life and financial success, you spend your time working on your preferences, trying to get what you want to your advantage. 

When you start with your personal preferences, whether theological, political, or social, your preferences are informing your faith more than your faith in Jesus is informing your preferences. 

Start with Jesus 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, your values, point of view, and preferences are shaped by his influence in your living. When you start with Jesus, your values, point of view, and preferences can be transformed. May I say it this way? Your view is not as important as God’s view. Your preferences are not always God’s preferences. As a Christ-centered leader, as a Jesus follower, you start with Jesus. 

To start with Jesus means that Jesus informs who you are, what you say, and how you act. I am sure you are with me at this point.  But, over the years I have learned that people misunderstand what it means to believe, to have faith, or to live their lives in response to God’s love and acceptance.

Dynamic Faith

I have learned that people have replaced dynamic faith with a passive belief in beliefs. They have shifted their starting place from faith in Jesus to a list of what they believe about Jesus. Although the shift seems subtle, it reveals itself in the way people relate to one another. In reality, because of that shift, we are experiencing some painful consequences today. It matters where and in whom you place your faith.

As a child, when I did something to hurt one of my brothers, be disrespectful to my parents, or misbehave in some way, it would upset my mother. She would discipline me and tell me how disappointed she was. After a little time passed, I would apologize and say, “I love you, Mom.” And she would say, “I love you too. But, if you really love me, show me in the way you behave.”

Live What You Believe

Here is the key to believing. You show what you believe in the way you live your life. Think of it this way, when you say, “I believe in Jesus,” you are saying that you not only believe in the existence of Jesus, but that you trust and obey Jesus to be the leader of your life and living.

What you believe is important and reciting and remembering what you believe with creeds like the Apostle’s Creed, or the Nicene Creed are helpful in keeping you focused. But believing in Jesus is more than a belief system or adopting a creed. There is a danger of allowing what you believe to become passive. Passiveness creeps in when believing becomes intellectual acceptance. Again, hear me. I am not questioning your intentions, but when you take believing and make it a static list of propositions you are no longer talking about faith in Jesus. Your list of beliefs becomes your object of faith.

In the scripture, the word for believe and the word for faith come from the same word. To believe is to have faith. To believe Jesus, to have faith in Jesus, is to trust and obey Jesus. 

John Hendrick, in his book, Opening The Door Of Faith, defines Christian faith as a personal, relational, centered, response involving trust and obedience.

Christian faith is: 

Centered

Centered because it has a particular object. According to the scriptures, the object of Christian faith is the living God revealed in Jesus, whom we call the Christ, Messiah, Son of the living God.  This means that Christian faith is not faith in general. It is not a philosophy of life about which we speculate. It is not a system of ethical ideals about which we may argue. It is not the object of a set of doctrinal beliefs to which we might agree.   

Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The implication is, if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. Jesus is the way to understand the way, the truth, and life of God. 

Personal

Personal first because it is centered in a person, a living person, Jesus. The resurrection is true. It is not merely an event that happened over two thousand years ago. It means that Jesus is alive right now Second because it requires a personal response. Each person must own faith in Jesus for themselves. 

Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The implication is, in Jesus you and I can see who God is and what God is like. 

Relational

Relational first because it makes possible a right relationship with God. Second, because it properly relates you to your neighbor. You cannot be properly related to God and improperly related to your neighbor. And third because it establishes a right relationship with yourself.    

Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The implication is, you and I love others as God has loved us.

Trust and Obedience

A response involving trust and obedience.  Life is transformed by God’s love in and through Jesus. Your response to God’s love is a response of faith seen in your trust of God and in your relationship with the people you encounter each day.

The Foundation of Faith   

The foundation of faith is not based upon your feelings toward God or upon what you have done for others as much as it is upon what God feels toward you and what God has done on your behalf.  The foundation of faith is not about your promise to God as much as God’s promises to you. Your commitment is a response to God’s commitment. It is a response that involves your whole being: heart, soul, mind, strength, and will.   

So, it matters where you start. The question is this: do you start with a list of beliefs of what you are supposed to believe, or do you start with Jesus, the presence of the living God? Let me say it again, starting with Jesus means there is a dynamic transformation that shows up in your relationships in the places you live, work, and play. Starting with Jesus means life changes as you trust and obey.

I want to love Jesus, but…

One of the writers who has influenced my ministry over the years is Henri Nouwen. In his reflection on the story of Nicodemus and the words “you must be born from above” (John 3:7), he wrote,

“I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus. I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own independence even when that independence brings me no real freedom. I love Jesus but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues, even though I know that their respect does not make me grow spiritually. I love Jesus but do not want to give up my writing plans, travel plans, and speaking plans, even when these plans are often more to my glory than to the glory of God.”

Nouwen realized that he wasn’t all that different from Nicodemus. He wrote, “So I am like Nicodemus, who came by night, and said safe things about Jesus to his colleagues.”

It matters where you start. And if you start with keeping Jesus at a distance and controlling your beliefs, whether focused upon him or not, there will be little or no transformation and little or no quality leadership.

Sharing the Love of God

It matters where you start. Tom Long, while teaching homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary, attended a nearby Presbyterian church that prided itself on being an academic, intellectual church. He said early on he went to a family night supper and sat down next to a man, introduced himself, told the man he was new, and asked, “Have you been here long?”

The man replied, “Oh yes. In fact, I was here before this became such a scholarly church. I am probably the only non-intellectual left. I haven’t understood a sermon in over 25 years.”

Tom asked, “Then why do you keep coming?”

“Because every Monday night a group of us get in the church van and drive over to the youth correctional center. Sometimes we play basketball or play other games with the kids. Usually, we share a Bible story. But mostly we just get to know these kids and listen to them.

“I started going because Christians are supposed to do those kinds of things. But now I could never stop. Sharing the love of God at that youth center has changed my life.”

Then the man said, “You cannot prove the promises of God in advance, but if you live them, they’re true, every one of them.”

Over my 50 years of ministry, I have learned that it matters where you start. So, when you say you believe in Jesus is it intellectual acceptance or a response of trust and obedience?  Only you know. 

Part Two of “It matters where you start” comes next week. Until then, know that I am praying that you always start with Jesus and, as a Christ centered leader, who you are is how you lead.

Other Posts in the Series, Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry:

It is interesting that Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus at all. It’s even more interesting that he wrote what we know as Ephesians 4:25-5:2.  If he had to say it, does it mean that there were problems with the way people spoke to one another?

In every generation there are those who say, “We have never been this way before.”   But at no time in recent history have we faced the enormity of change we are facing today.  When the ground starts moving under our feet, and when we feel we do not have a firm foundation upon which to […]

Read Part 1 God Sent Jesus to Teach Us How to Live the Holy Life Holiness is a major part of Matthew’s gospel.  Matthew calls it “righteousness” or “holiness.”  The word “holiness” comes from a Greek word which means “set apart” or “different.”  For Matthew, being a Christ follower means that you and I are “set […]