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Is the Mission of the Church to Join in the Mission of Jesus?

Since we’ve been talking a great deal about mission over the past week, I thought it would be helpful to get some different views — I plan to present several over the next few weeks. Let me say that differing on the mission must not become a point of division between gospel-preaching pastors and other leaders. We can, and must, recognize that good and godly people can hold different views of what the mission is — particularly how it relates to deeds.

Yes, there are some who depart orthodoxy and lose the disciple-making component and the gospel is not preached. But believers who love the Lord and His Word can and do have differences about whether the mission includes deeds of mercy, societal engagement, etc. This is a conversation about and with fellow believers, but one we believe is helpful so that we do not end up believing there is only one “received” view. Good friends can, and do, differ and go on as friends.

In the Missional Manifesto (more details here), we tackled this issue with the following statement (a bit of a consensus statement by Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, Dan Kimball, Eric Mason, J.D. Greear, Craig Ott, Linda Bergquist, Philip Nation, and Brad Andrews):

We believe the mission and responsibility of the church includes both the proclamation of the Gospel and its demonstration. From Jesus, we learn the truth is to be proclaimed with authority and lived with grace. The church must constantly evangelize, respond lovingly to human needs, as well as “seek the welfare of the city.” (Jeremiah 29:7) By living out the implications of the gospel, the missional church offers a verbal defense and a living example of its power.

Some have said that we do this by joining Jesus in his mission. Russell Moore, the Dean at Southern Seminary, explains:

Some evangelicals talk as though personal evangelism and public justice are contradictory concerns, or, at least, that one is part of the mission of the church and the other isn’t. I think otherwise, and I think the issue is one of the most important facing the church these days.

First of all, the mission of the church is the mission of Jesus…

The content of this mission is not just personal regeneration but disciple-making. (Matt. 28:19) It is not just teaching, but teaching “them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20)…

This mission is summed up in the gospel as a message of reconciliation that is both vertical and horizontal, establishing peace with both God and neighbor. The Scripture tells us to love neighbor “as yourself.” (Lk. 10:27-28)

This is not simply a “spiritual” ministry, as the example Jesus gives us is of a holistic caring for physical and economic needs of a wounded person, not to mention the transcending of steep ethnic hostilities. As theologian Carl F.H. Henry reminded evangelicals a generation ago, one does not love oneself simply in “spiritual ways” but holistically…

[W]e do not react to the persistent “social gospels” (of both Left and Right) by pretending that Jesus does not call his churches to act on behalf of the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless, the vulnerable, the hungry, the sex-trafficked, the unborn.

To be clear, there are things that only Jesus Christ has done and can do in His mission. Only He can serve as the Mediator between God and humanity. (1 Tim. 2:5) Only He can make atonement for our sins through His death on the cross. (Heb. 9:24-25) Only He can give life to all who come to him. (Jn. 10:28) Jesus Christ alone will bring into existence a Kingdom without end in which all are redeemed from their sin, reconciled to their God, and restored in their humanity. (1 Cor. 15:20-28)

And while the Scripture is clear that there is only one Reconciler, it is also clear that we are given the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18) The Father sent the Son to seek and save and serve (Lk. 19:10; Mt. 20:28), and yet Jesus sends us just as He was sent. (Jn. 20:21)

We need to understand the differences between the work of Jesus and the work of the church. They are not the same thing, but they are connected by a divine command with the latter pointing to the former. The lesser shining light on the greater.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.