The idea of mission is simple: Do you and those who you lead know what you are ultimately supposed to be doing? While most pastors think they are clear on mission, most church attenders are not. And[...]
The mission of the church is powerful. It guided the everyday ministry of Jesus on planet earth. It guides Jesus as he build his church today, through us. It's recorded variously in all of the gospels but most commonly referenced in Matthew chapter 28:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)
Yet, while the mission of the church was given to every church by Jesus, the culture of every church doesn't always take its cue from our Savior's command. Somehow in the mechanics of ministry the church's mission may unintentionally lose steam.
How does this happen?
Church leaders never willingly or knowingly turn their back on the mission of making disciples and taking the gospel to the four corners of the earth. The big idea of the church is preached and taught over and over again.
In the end, the problem is not that the Savior's intent is found missing; it is found diminished. It is present but but not bright, having been eclipsed by something more important.
What could be more important? How does your church mission lose its power over time?
#1 The church's mission is disabled
Sometimes the mission of the organized church does not transmit to the individual. Rather it stays compartmentalized to the clergy. That is, individual attenders never embrace the mission as their own.
Think of the mission as a steam engine on a train. What happens if the engine decouples from the entirety of the train cars behind it? The train goes nowhere! In the church, the people are the train cars. Every individual is supposed to be empowered by and moving on mission with Jesus. But pastors can easily uncouple their people from the mission—the steam engine— without knowing it.
Do a quick scan of your church's mission again. Does it sound like something the staff does or the big church building does? How accessible is your language to the everyday member? Can they get out of bed each day and "put on" the mission?
Somehow in the mechanics of ministry the church's mission may unintentionally lose steam.
#2 The church's mission is relegated
Sometimes the work of evangelism or missional living or global responsibility is limited to one ministry area. Jesus didn't command the the church to have a missions department, he commanded it to be on mission. He didn't ask us to preach the mission as much as he modeled for us the life-on-life transmission of it. If only one part of your ministry is focused on those outside of the church, the entire church will drift over time and the mission will loose it's power.
How does each leader and ministry area in your church convey the importance of mission in their area? One example is modeled by Pat Conner, when she led the children's ministry at Sagemont Church. She translated the church's mission for the kids. Sagemont's mission is "to be living proof of God's love to watching world." Knowing that kids wouldn't get this poetic phrase, she trained them "to be a real life picture of Jesus love to my family and friends."
#3 The church's mission is depreciated
You have heard it said that what gets rewarded gets repeated. Every church culture rewards some behavior. Stories are told, celebrations are made—formal and informal; planned or unplanned. Everyone on the team has some mental scorecard of success.
In many churches the unspoken script of success is not based on the mission. Staff count "butts in seats in my ministry area." People talk about feeling cared for or not. Pastors are commended for the style of their teaching not the effectiveness of their training.
When is the last time you really celebrated the mission? How would your people know that it was the mission that was celebrated?
JESUS DIDN'T COMMAND THE CHURCH TO HAVE A MISSIONS DEPARTMENT
#4 The church's mission is negated
The church is a group of forgiven people not a collection of perfect ones. In fact, a mission that involves life transformation is going to be messy. There will be plenty of problems, hurts and arguments to go around. Fortunately, Jesus showed the way to forgive, to restore and to heal.
Nevertheless, some church cultures empower divisiveness in a way that cancels the ability of reaching those outside of the church. Scripture reminds us that the unity of brothers and sisters in Christ a powerful part of demonstrating the mission of Jesus. John 13:35 says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
A church that is not continually restoring the unity of the faith will not be reaching new people for the faith. By allowing unresolved conflict to live in the church, spiritual leaders short-circuit the mission without knowing it.
#5 The church's mission is abbreviated
One dramatic irony when handling the sacred text, is that our assent to the words of Scripture can sometimes inhibit a breakthrough of understanding it. To say it another way, sometimes leaders acknowledge the Great Commission without personally experiencing it. When this happens, a leader may continually reinterpret the activity of ministry to fit his or her own paradigm of mission. The idea of the mission itself is abbreviated; that is, it becomes a shorter, smaller version of the real thing.
Pastors are commended for the style of their teaching not the effectiveness of their training.
For example, imagine someone during the worship service professes faith for the first time, because they wandered in after driving by the church. That would be a special moment for sure. However, that would not be an example of a church attender personally investing in disciple-making because the mission has been personally translated to them. Even if the pastor has not personally been investing in the mission of Jesus, he may consider this "freebie" salvation as "the church on mission." The church's ministry continues as a faint shadow of a people of God on mission, without sensing that the mission has been redefined. In essence the church's mission become truncated, it is only partially experienced because it is only partially understood.
How then can a church leader avoid abbreviating the mission?
Vince Lombardi was considered a legendary football coach. He challenged his players to master the basics as he symbolically asserted "Gentlemen, this is a football" at the beginning of every season.
Pastors can do the same. Don't take the basics for granted for yourself or your members. When was the last time you said to your church, "Brothers and sisters, this is the mission Jesus gave us!"