Political strategist James Carville coined the phrase “The economy, stupid” to explain Bill Clinton’s central message in the 1992 presidential campaign. There were issues other than the economy that were important that year, but Carville knew that more than anything, his campaign needed to convince voters that Clinton would handle the ailing economy of the day better than George H.W. Bush. As such, Clinton’s campaign became almost single handedly focused of economic issues - it is the issue that mattered the most.
The church has an issue that matters the most. Churches do many things for many people, but in the end, the issue that matters the most is the Gospel.
When you think about the daunting task of defining the mission of your church, there is good news! You are not starting with a blank slate. Defining your mission is a step that requires understanding, not innovation. You don’t have to make something up. You do have to understand that it has already been spelled out for you. Don’t over think it. Jesus clearly told you, down to the word, what the mission of your church should be. In fact, He saved those words for his last minutes on earth with His disciples.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 29:18-20 (NIV)
Christians call this section of scripture the Great Commission for a reason. I received a whisper after reading this verse on a mountain top in Colorado, the church received this imperative command on a mountain top in Galilee.
Let’s dig a bit deeper to make sure that these words in Matthew are really the mission of your church.
First, let’s make it clear as to who gets to decide what the mission of your church should be. Churches operate with various forms of governance. Some are governed directly through their denomination, some by a bishop, some by congregational votes, some by a board of directors, some by elders, some by one person, and some a hybrid of methods. Whatever, your form of governance, God is the owner of your church.
“And he (Christ) is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Colosians 1:18 (NIV)
Jesus Christ is the owner of your church. In matters of mission, your church is not a democracy. Jesus has the final say - sometimes it’s good to be King!
He reminds us of the fact right before He spells out the church’s mission in Matthew: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” It is that authority that enabled Him to tell His disciples what to do once He was no longer with them. Jesus is still king - that authority still matters.
The words of Matthew 28 still matter to your church.
Once we have established that Jesus had the authority to determine the mission of the church, let’s look at the words he spoke. Lucky for us, His words here are clear. The mission of His followers (disciples) is to make other followers! Where are we to go about making other followers? Everywhere! All nations. Jesus continues by saying that His disciples should do this through baptism and by teaching them things that He said. We have both the mission and the method in one message! I don’t think that was an accident.
I think it is significant that these words are the last recorded message that Jesus spoke to His disciples.
For some of them, the first time Jesus told them to do something was recorded earlier in Matthew.
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Matthew 4:19 (NIV)
Jesus called His disciples by telling them that the purpose of a disciple was to make more disciples. He leaves them by telling that disciples should make more disciples.
To understand the mission your church is to understand this:
Followers of Jesus seek to make followers of Jesus.
That’s the purpose of the church.
That is why your church should exist.
The words that your church writes down to communicate that message can and should vary from other churches based on your unique ministry context. I work with churches to do just that.
The words you choose may be different, but should be based on Christ’s clear mission for the church.
It’s the Great Commission, stupid.