Friday, November 11, 2011

Thinking About The Mission of the Church Along with Trevin, Kevin, and Greg

Kevin DeYoung has a good post that seeks to clarify some responses to his new book about the mission of the church that he co-wrote with Greg Gilbert.  This is the essence of his post today:
The question we’re asking is whether our mission, as the church, is to do good deeds to the end of making the world a better place, to the end of making neighborhoods and cities and the world more livable. Is it our mission as the church—is it the thing Jesus sends us, as the church, into the world to accomplish—to eradicate social problems? This is an important questions because many Christians see the church’s mission in just these terms. Pastors and movements and denominations are planting and leading churches with the explicit understanding that their mission—their marching order from King Jesus—is to partner with civic leaders, school teachers, police officers, and firefighters to make their cities more livable, to provide housing and tutoring and sanitation and support services and immigrant orientation and art galleries and photography studios. And they speak as if they think that by doing those things, they’ll be building the Kingdom of God or wrapping their cities in God’s shalom.
I would encourage you to click over and give it a full read.

My comments here are not a disagreement per se, but rather a continuation of the conversation.  Perhaps a clarification of my own thoughts.

Imagine a scenario from 60 years ago. If the church's job is explicitly NOT to "eradicate" social problems what would you do if you were a Danish Lutheran pastor in the 1940 and Hitler was on the march for complete European domination? That was a huge social problem!  Do we "officially", as a church, hide Jews? Do we "officially" stand up against this impending doom?  As a leader of Christians who are called to pursue justice wouldn't I feel the obligation to help my people think through and act upon this crisis? Should we not "officially"and collectively pursue the rescue of these people?

Or consider a pastor in Rwanda in 1994.  People are slaughtering each other with machetes by the thousands. Do we have anything to say about this huge "social problem"? As a pastor, could I lead our people in an effort to speak about and eradicate this glaring and horrifying genocide? Or, do I simply say "that's not my job" with nothing "official" to say about the tsunami of evil that is crashing in around us?

Now, one might say that it's not the job of the church to deal with those things in an official sense but it is the job of the individual members of the church to live in light of the implications of the Gospel and we should seek to rescue those from harms way because Jesus rescued us when we were in harms way.

If that is the response, I am in total agreement, but I just don't buy the distinction between the role of  individuals and role of the church as a whole. If all our people are to live out this calling and the church is collection of individuals then doesn't that mean, in some sense at least, that addressing the social ills of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide IS, at least part of, how we talk about the mission of the church?

So the big question here is: What fuels my motivation for seeking to "eradicate social problems"?  I think this is the crux of the issue.  In some sense, it is unmistakeable that Christians have something to say about solving the problems in our culture.  But why?  I would say that it flows as an implication of the Gospel to pursue justice and as we do we declare the one who has ultimately justified us in God's sight.  We pursue justice because we serve a God who is all about justice.  He calls his people to be like him and that is what we seek to do.  Word and deed.  Deed and word.  

The job of God's people (The Church) is to be in the world and to fulfill the Great Commission.  I can't think of a better way than to serve where there are needs.  Serving people builds relationships and when we are filled with the Holy Spirit the love of Jesus will be spoken of in those relationships with unbelievers.

This is how our small group at The Vine serves at the local crisis pregnancy center.  The goal here is discipleship.  It is about rescuing babies and it is about single moms, but we don't ever, for a second, lead our people to believe that this service is The Gospel.  It is an implication of the Gospel and the Gospel is being proclaimed to all those that serve when we are there.

So is it my job to start a crisis pregnancy center that is officially overseen by me through The Vine?  Probably not.

But, as a Christian and a leader, is it my job to demonstrate to my people in word and deed that this Gospel that we believe has implications that might flow into time being spent alongside the poor and the needy for the sake of Gospel declaration and demonstration?  Absolutely.

Does that make it an "official" ministry of the church?  Does that make it part of the "mission" of the church? I guess.  Because the church is comprised of individuals and when we get together to do something like this it feels pretty "official".  But we don't believe the lie that us serving the poor (or any other social justice pursuit) IS the Gospel.  We declare the Gospel as we live out it's implications.  We speak words about sin, wrath, substitution, and real history as we serve those in need.   We certainly don't believe that we are creating shalom until the Gospel message is declared and the message is believed through repentance and faith.

So what is the "mission" and what is "official" can be a bit confusing.  But I know that we are called to be churches filled with people who actively exist to declare the news of the Gospel and live in light of those implications.  We do it individually and we do it together and that is the mission of the church.

So to answer Kevin's question:  Is it our mission to "eradicate social problems"?  I would say, in a sense, "no".  Our mission is to believe the Gospel and seek to glorify God by collectively making more and more disciples who believe this historical message of good news.  But if that is true, then in another indirect sense, the answer has to be"yes".  If the church is the gathering of individuals who collectively believe and speak the message of the Gospel and also live in light of it's implications then we'll together have much to say and do to address the social problems that we see around us.  How could we not?


"Cricket" Renner said...

I think you make some good points, but you're slightly confused when you say, "I just don't buy the distinction between the role of individuals and role of the church as a whole." Jesus gave the church (the institution) the keys to heaven, meaning it would be through the church the gospel will be proclaimed. Also, Christ set up the government of the church, by appointing apostles first, then they transferred the power to elders. So, the church leadership (elders) have a role of discipline that individual Christians do not have. Elders are held to higher account than the average church member, for they are entrusted as undershepherds with the sheep.

So, essentially, the role of the church is different than the role of the individual believer.

Finally, for some of the questions you ask (during Hitler's times or in Rwanda), while they are definitely not easy situations, let me ask this:
1. Can a church save Jews or Rwandans, yet fail in its primary purpose of preaching the gospel and making disciples?
2. Can a church still be a church (evidenced by faithful preaching of the gospel) and yet choose to not get involved in saving Jews or Rwandans?

I think the answer to both is yes, showing my thought that the church's primary purpose is preaching, and individual believers are better suited to getting involved in justice.

In His service,

Vitamin Z said...

Cricket... Thanks for your thoughts. In reference to your questions:

Again, it gets fuzzy... What do you mean by church? Do you mean the leadership and how they spend their time? Do you mean the content of the church calendar and what is reflected there by priorities? Does it mean the church budget? Do you mean all the things that individual members choose to do with their time? Do you mean how we spend our time on Sunday morning in a corporate gathering? Do you mean our small groups? Do you mean the content of my preaching as a pastor?

To your point on #2, can a church be a church and not respond to those things? How do you think the book of James would answer that question?

I guess you would have the "right" to not want to get involved but in the face of such atrocities, but how could you not get involved?

You might say that is the job of the individuals of the church to do "on their own" but what is the church, other than a collection of individual believers? So I think either way you slice it, "the church" (as a collection of individual believers) is going to get involved one way or another.