What would mission look like in a simple church?
The Gospel is a Word:
Let me nail my colours to the mast, I believe that the gospel is primarily a Word about God and his Kingdom. About His Saviour, Jesus and His great Story of restoration for all of Creation. It is a Word that must be proclaimed, explained and shared. The primary means by which we do this is by teaching the Bible, God’s Word to us. Coupled with that the primary way in which the Spirit works is through the Word of God. Our mandate as His people is to open the Word daily to encourage one another, to remind one another and to explain to others the good news of the gospel.
Social justice issues are integral to the gospel life and inseparable implications of the gospel among us. They are, however, not the gospel message. It is the gospel message at work in us that both compels and makes possible work for restoration and reconciliation in our communities.
Without a prior and continual proclamation (and explanation) of the Gospel Word these actions while good in and of themselves will become badges of pride by which we measure our own goodness, rather than an overflow of God’s gospel work among us and in-breaking of God’s Kingdom life now among us. It is the understanding of the gospel Word which must change the passion and desires of our heart. With renewed mind and changed heart-desires we are now free to live as people of God’s Kingdom of justice, restoration, reconciliation and generosity.
The Gospel is a Working Word
But the gospel is not simply a word that must be proclaimed, studied and taught. The Gospel is not simply information that must be heard, agreed with or understood. It is God’s working Word to his world. The Gospel is a word about God’s plan to restore humanity. As that word is proclaimed and people follow Jesus as King, so the gospel work of restoration begins. Now broken-in imperfectly in hiddenness and weakness – one day in fullness of revelation and glory.
The community of God’s people is the demonstration that through the gospel message the Kingdom of God has now broken in. Thus the Christian community is central to the mission of God. It is not only as we proclaim the Gospel Word that people understand the Gospel but also as we demonstrate it through the new life of restored humanity of the gospel community. It is in the life of the Christian community where people may “taste” the effectiveness and goodness of the Gospel. The Christian community now is a weak and imperfect “taste” of the future life of God’s Kingdom come in all it’s fullness.
As a result when we think of mission, we ought not to think only of proclamation of the Word but also demonstration of the life of the God’s new community. We do not simply “preach at” people but rather we invite them in to come experience the life of God’s new community. To taste a piece of restored humanity.
Mission is the organising principle of church life
Most of what I have said I do not think is particularly radical or new. I would hope that most church leaders, pastors and other garden variety Christians can agree with what is written above. However where I think we most often undermine ourselves is that the organising principle is not mission. Whatever our creeds, constitutions or strategy documents may say the functional reality (as opposed to the desired reality) is most often that singing, fellowship, comfort, small groups, preaching, Sunday services, denominational loyalties or existing programmes are the organising principles of church life.
Now none of these are wrong in and of themselves, but my contention is that when these become the organising principle of a church community then mission suffers or is sidelined behind our own preferences, programmes, comforts or traditions. However when mission is the organising principle then each of these other aspects of church life are enhanced, deepened and seen as expressions of the in-breaking life of the Kingdom