Using the UMC’s mission statement to assess the mission of the church, I continue from Part 1, “Making disciples of Jesus Christ”. The second part of the UMC mission statement is “for the transformation of the world”.
Whenever I have heard this mission statement chastised, it’s never the making disciples part, it’s always the transformation of the world part. By and large everyone agrees that the church’s job is to make disciples, Scripture’s pretty blunt that we should be doing it and it’s logical, don’t make disciples and the faith dies when everyone else does. It’s the attaching of an endgame where people start disagreeing and I can see two reasons as to why the statement’s goal of the world’s transformation is mocked.
First, is that really our job? Or perhaps a better way to state it, is that really our burden to bear? The transformation of the world is a huge burden and I’m not sure we’re qualified to even bring it to bear. When the enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, the servants asked their master whether or not they should go out and tear the weeds up. The master replied that they shouldn’t as they would rip up the wheat along with the weeds and to instead separate everything out at the harvest.
Likewise, I’m quite certain that we would do more harm than good in trying to transform the world into the new creation. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the hope of the New Jerusalem isn’t built from the ground up.
Second, such a goal will ultimately work against the efforts of disciples making. Let’s say the new creation was our burden to bear. How would we go about doing that? Aside from the necessary guidance of the Spirit, we’d also need to depend on some type of organizing system and structure, either joining or creating one, in order to organize disciples in the transforming work.
This need for organization would both distract us and refocus our resources from disciple making to system tending. Not to mention compel us to align with some type of power system or structure, thereby politicizing the church in the process. We can already see the effect of politicization in the Moral Majority and Religious Right from recent history, the “Christian” governments in Europe from history past and the present bureaucratic & political quagmires of present denominations.
And in spite of the intended goal, the systems and structures work against works it, seen in the gridlock and schism talk of the UMC, the “nones” and “dones” tired of the religion and as de Tocqueville saw in Europe in the mid-1800s:
“Unbelievers in Europe attack Christians more as political enemies than as religious opponents; they detest faith more as a part opinion than as a mistaken doctrine; when they reject the priest, it is less a representative of god than as a friend of authority.”
Maybe I’m a cynical millennial, but I do not see another way to get everyone working together toward the great transformation and I simply have no hope in any systems or powers created by humanity, even if they are created with the best of intentions like churches or denominations. We’re still a corrupted species, some more than others and by putting ourselves to work bringing about the new creation, we’ll tear up the wheat with the weeds hindering our ability to make new disciples as we do.
The only reason the endgame part of the mission statement even exists is because it was perceived that one was needed, but do we need one? Can we just be about making disciples – learners and followers of Jesus or should we clarify beyond that?
Jesus’ disciples are involved in a grander narrative. The way of the world, the people and our created systems and structures are not rooted in justice, mercy and love. The weak are oppressed because of that and the lives of the strong are built on the weaks back. That’s a problem and it’s a problem that God is concerned with, a problem the Scriptures address and a problem that will be solved in the resurrection. Thus, it is a problem disciples of Jesus are involved in and it’s a reality that needs to be stated.
We need to state that purpose.
As disciples of Jesus and worshipers of God, we are called to life that is oriented a specific way, oriented toward the reality of the new creation: love, justice and mercy. And if our following and learning is oriented to that, so should our efforts. And the efforts of love, justice and mercy work against the broken and corrupted powers at be, for either their transformation or destruction.
The mission of the church has something to do with the transforming hope of the new creation and has something to do with our efforts within that hope. The UMC mission statement make an attempt at that, but comes off a bit strong, as if disciple making is what transforms the world. The work of God will do the transforming, but, making disciples of Jesus puts the body of Christ, the bearers and workers of the hope of that transformation, in the world.
The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ and those disciples are to bear the hope and the efforts of the new creation in the world.