What is the mission of the church?
Considering my allegiance to the United Methodist Church, I figured the easiest and most logical place to begin would be using the UMC’s mission statement as a starting point. It helps that it is both succinct, but also local to global and present to future perspective.
The UMC mission has two parts the first being “Making disciples of Jesus Christ”. There are other ways to state this mission, good Shepherd in Charlotte, NC puts it: “inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ” or and Assurance UMC in Huntersville states it as: “growing disciples of Jesus Christ”. The different ways of stating it can enhance different ways the mission is understood, but from what I see, fundamentally, all three are essentially the same.
So, part of the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. But what about making disciples of Jesus Christ is significant to the mission of the church?
In one sense you can say, it’s significant because Scripture tells us too. After all that’s the example & command of the New Testament. There is, however, more to it than “because the bible said so”. After all, what is making disciples?
For Christians, making disciples should be the process of shaping persons to be like those who were Jesus’ first followers. Jesus’ followers weren’t just tag-alongs; they were his students, which is the basic premise of mathetai, the word used for disciple. The first disciples followed Jesus so that they could be learners of/from Jesus. The mission of making disciples is making following learners.
If you are making disciples they are learners and are to be learners of Jesus. And if they are to be learners of Jesus, they need to follow Jesus. Or since Jesus is not present now the way he was, disciples should live life in the manner of Jesus. Making disciples is creating people who do two things, a doing thing (following) and a growing thing (learning).
The significance of making disciples is having people become these doers and growers; it is getting people to live in the world differently than they did before they began the process. If following, they should walk different, because Jesus walked differently. He did not interact with the lepers the way others did. He did not interact with women, the sick, other abled, or poor the way others did. He did not interact with the religious leadership or the Roman authorities the way others did.
He did not interact with the world he lived in the way others did. He interacted with it better, with love, mercy and compassion. If a person wasn’t following Jesus and then was following Jesus, that person too should interact with the world differently than others do and the way he used to. That person should seek to interact better, with love, mercy and compassion.
If learning, a disciple should become different, because learning inherently changes a person from the inside out. If learning from Jesus, their whole selves should become rooted in the same love as Jesus’. When learning from Jesus we should begin seeing the reality that, as one pastor friend put it, everything is a God thing, or as Rob Bell puts it, everything is spiritual. We should begin seeing that the love of God is everywhere waiting to be experienced through either giving it or receiving it.
The learning and following is a both/and process, they are two sides of the same coin. One cannot learn, but not follow; nor can one follow and not learn. In learning one becomes different person and so should live life differently. Likewise, when someone follows Jesus – say doing some kind of mission work – they learn from that life experience. You’d be hard pressed to find a true disciple who only learns but does not follow or who only follows, but does not learn. They might do one well and the other poorly, but both are present, because both are necessary and work together in disciple making.
If the mission of the church is to make disciples, then the church is to be involved in not only creating followers or learners, but both. When there is an opportunity for following, an opportunity needs to be created for learning and vice versa. Since the whole person is changed in disciple making, how they interact with the world within and without, the whole person ought to be engaged.
Ultimately, making disciples is the work of making people different, holistically making people new.