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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?