Changing the culture: What is the mission and purpose of the church?

I’ve begun to share some thoughts about how we change and reform the culture of our churches in order to see churches where the doctrines of grace affect our life together so that there is a culture of grace.

Here are some of the things I’ve suggested already:

  1. We need our church life to be shaped by the teaching that we see in Romans 12 with an emphasis on humility and preferring the needs of others. This means that we need to seek the flourishing of others.
  2. We need to see mutual submission demonstrated in relationships between church leaders and church members. That means that elders need a clear understanding of exactly the nature of the authority they hold (teaching and example) and its purpose (for the welfare of the flock so they are provided for and protected). It means that leaders should love the congregation and the congregation should seek to make leadership a joyful burden.
  3. We need to work harder at thinking in terms of body and family instead of institution and business model.

Now, part of our thinking here is about the purpose and mission of the church. How do we know what that is?  Well, I remember Chris Green, former vice principal of Oak Hill describing the church’s mission statement as “Matthew 28:18-20 with a postcode attached.”  In other words, we are called to go and make disciples in the specific location of our church.

“But doesn’t that mean that the church becomes focused primarily on evangelism at the cost of pastoral care?” Some people ask. It certainly can sound like that. Some have suggested that we would do well to combine the Great Commission with the Great Commandment. “We are to make disciples” AND we are also to “love God and neighbour.”

However, I want you to look again at Matthew 28:18-20. This is what Jesus says:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Please pay attention particularly to the bit I’ve emphasised in bold.  What does it mean to make disciples? Well it certainly involves telling people about Jesus’ death and resurrection, calling them to repentance.  So evangelism is part of it but discipleship also includes teaching and the teaching is specifically concerned with obedience. I want to suggest then that this is something that should immediately be happening as soon as someone puts their faith in Christ. So, what would it have been that Jesus wanted these future disciples to obey? Well, here is Jesus speaking at the Last Supper having just washed his disciples’ feet:

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[1]

Given that Jesus had also emphasised that the two greatest commandments were to love God and love your neighbour, I want to suggest that primarily Jesus had in mind the importance of love. This was going to be the distinctive of the church. This was how the church would point to Christ, his work in them and his lordship over their lives.

The purpose and mission of the local church therefore is to be a place where people are called by the love of God to experience his love poured out in grace and forgiveness so that they are reconciled to him. Then, flowing out from that, the church is to be the place where we learn to love one another.

Does that as an extended mission statement accurately describe your experience of what church is?

[1] John 13:34-35.

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