Where Are We Headed?
Last Sunday, I completed a four month sermon series on the Great Commission. For thirteen weeks, we considered, in detail, the mission God has called us to so we will have clear sense of direction for our church. Every church needs a clear sense of direction. Without it, our churches will be confused and ineffective. Even worse, if our churches have a clear understanding, but it's a clear understanding of the wrong direction, we will be like the Pharisees who Jesus described in Matthew 23:15,
You travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
In other words, the Pharisees claimed to be God's people, taught God's Word (see Matthew 23:1-3), and even went on mission trips, but they were leading people to death and hell rather than truth and life.
Mission? What Mission?
Some churches might identify with the famous explorer Daniel Boone who reportedly said, "I never have been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks." Unfortunately, however, many churches have been confused for several years or decades! It can happen to any church--most churches start out pursuing the Great Commission with a clear sense of vision and purpose, but as time marches on, the excitement gives way to the mundane, and a desperate search for a new course ensues. Some of the most common substitute missions are:
The growth mission--these churches exist to grow, and success and significance are measured by attendance. The gospel is often compromised because it can be offensive to new-comers and thereby inhibit the mission.
The anti-change mission--these churches exist to fight against change and protect their identity; success and significance are measured by keeping a few long-term members in power to protect against unwanted change. The gospel can often be heard in these churches, but the Great Commission is neglected or abandoned because reaching new people requires change. These churches are willing to welcome anyone who will adapt to their preferences.
The members only mission--these churches exist to meet the physical and emotional needs of their members; success and significance are measured by the happiness of select members, who are not necessarily in places of influence but feel entitled to speak into the life of the church with a louder voice than others. The gospel is choked out because it is not important. The church will accept bad doctrine or gospel-lite sermons as long as the pastor visits the right people on a regular basis.
The social mission--these churches exist to meet the physical and emotional needs of their communities and the world; success and significance are measured by how many people are served through the church. The gospel is intentionally hidden because some people who have needs might not want to hear about it.
The political mission--these churches exist to change society by electing the right candidates and supporting political action; success and significance are measured by the causes and candidates they are connected to. The gospel is silenced by the louder voice of political parties, candidates, and platforms.
The truth is, the church only has one mission. We can only rightly head in one direction. We can only properly give our lives for one cause--making disciples.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Matthew 28:18-19
Every church experiences mission drift. As leaders and faithful members, it is our job to identify mission drift and call our people back to the mission of making disciples. I pray the Lord will give wisdom and strength to our church and her leaders as we point our people back to the disciple-making mission.
The discipleship mission--A church with a disciple-making mission exists to glorify God by making disciples. Success and significance are measured by names--the names of people who have repented of their sins, placed their faith in Jesus, and are growing in obedience to the commands of Christ.
If you are a church leader, consider these two exercises that will help you determine what your church sees as it's mission and how well you are doing at accomplishing the mission of making disciples.
Exercise One: Consider using five minutes during a Sunday worship gathering to ask those attending to respond to three simple questions anonymously and in writing, 1) Which best describes your relationship to our church: guest, regular attender or member, leader? 2) In two sentences or less, why does our church exist? and 3) How can we measure the success and significance of our church's work?
Exercise Two: In a staff or leadership meeting, "Who can we point to that has recently become a follower of Christ or has grown significantly in faith and obedience to Christ?"
If you are a faithful member of a local church, have a conversation with your pastor about the mission of your church and how you can help promote a disciple-making mission.