How does a church become missional?
This seems to be the question that many churches are asking, wondering how a church moves from inwardly focused to externally focused, moving from simply loving one another to extending the love of Christ to the world.
A predominant response is to swing the pendulum from a consistent focus on community to a consistent focus on mission. It’s logical, but it does not address the problem. The Christian’s difficulty in extending the message and mercy of Christ is not because they haven’t heard the challenge to do so or they haven’t heard it enough. It’s a gospel problem.
The Christian either has a half understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ or the gospel of Jesus Christ is not the most valuable thing in their life. We talk about, proclaim, and bore people to death about the things we think are most valuable and the things we treasure. This is partly because we spend most of our time learning about, thinking about, and growing our affections for what we value. Whether that is your kids, your singleness, your job, your hobby, and your cat; what you value most, you will talk about most. It becomes the thing that shapes your life and becomes a definer of who you are.
Since this is true, the church must focus on Gospel Enjoyment first and foremost. The only way to awaken a Christian and an entire Christian community to extend the love of Christ is for them to know and cherish the gospel of Jesus Christ most. It is most valuable, the best news, and until it becomes the definer of life for the church, evangelism, mercy & justice and any other missional activity will be motivated by duty and lack a natural expression.
In assisting our communities to pursue Prayerful Mission (Prayerfully seeking to renew all things with the message and mercy of Jesus Christ), we bring their attention back to the gospel. To love what is most lovely and to value Christ above all things. From there, we look to Christ to see how He instructed His disciples to be missional.
At the end of Matthew 9, Jesus speaks the famous phrase, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” that has been used to motivate people to go, but Christ quickly follows that with instructions to pray. Not only that, but His motivation to pray came from a compassion after seeing large crowds of people. He loved them so much that He begged His disciples to pray before He then sends them out in Matthew 10.
The church can easily see the mission is great, there are many who do not know the gospel of Jesus Christ. But how often does it motivate us to pray? We must become a praying people if we are ever to be a missional people.
Gospel Explanations come from Gospel Motivations – Evangelism
One of the things the great JR Vassar says often is that a life motivated by the gospel leads to a life explained by the gospel. Gospel explanations stem from gospel motivations. This needs to become our understanding of evangelism.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with handing out tracks and street preaching, the most common form of evangelism is people sharing why they live the life they live.
When this happens, whether you’re a Christian or not, you are evangelizing.
For our communities, we try to help them process how the gospel defines their approach to their home life, their work life, the way they spend time and money, along with other things. This is why an intentional community that counsels with the gospel is so essential.
In equipping our communities, we encourage them to recognize receptive opportunities that are already in their lives. We do this to move mission from a “this happens somewhere else” mentality to a “this happens in the everyday” mentality. When Jesus sends His disciples, he encourages them to spend time with the most receptive, so it becomes helpful for us to evaluate where we live, work, and spend our time to see if God has already provided opportunities for us to share our gospel-motivated lives.
The Gospel through Mercy
A few years ago, I only thought of the gospel as a spiritual reality to extend to people through a message. But in re-reading the gospels and the epistles along with Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller, I was confronted that I had a limited view of the gospel. Christ came not just to heal people spiritually, but to address the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual brokenness in our world.
He is doing this through a community defined by the gospel. We partner with Hope For New York to join non-profits in serving our city, but we also encourage creative compassion to the neighborhoods where our communities exist. This has led to people surprising their local parks through joining clean-up projects and even establishing a non-profit to serve foster children in NYC.
Extending the mercy of Christ to tangible needs coupled with a gospel explanation is a powerful display of who Jesus is through a community that loves Him.
Multiplying Disciples and Communities
This brings us back to the gospel in asking what is the final goal. The final goal that starts with the gospel is to see more disciples and more communities that seek the renewal of all things with the message and mercy of Jesus Christ. We prepare the people at Apostles Church that they won’t be in the same Community Group forever because Jesus and His mission is most valuable.
This frees us from dependence on community – though we never neglect or stop loving those we initially establish community with – to then extend a new creation of a community to those outside the community. For us, we see this as a proclamation that Jesus is even better than our closest friendships.
But none of this happens without the gospel of Jesus Christ becoming primary in our lives. We could explain this and attempt to exhort people to mission all day, but only the gospel provides the freedom and the joy to extend the message and mercy of Jesus Christ to everyone.