Why does your church exist? Think long and hard before you answer!
I have been reading Michael Goheen's work, A Light To The Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story. The title is a mouthful, but that is understandable. This book is no spiritual appetizer. It is a full-course meal.
Goheen is helping me to evaluate my role as a pastor and our focus as a church. In A Light To The Nations, he argues persuasively that the church in the West has lost its missional focus. By mission, he is not talking about a specific activity of the church, "but the very essence and identity of the church as it takes up its role in God's story."
Since the Bible illumens the church's role almost entirely through metaphors (example: "family of God," "body of Christ," "bride," "flock"), Goheen considers a few of the metaphors that may reflect the legacy of the church in our day:
- Church as mall or food court. The church provides lots of programs to meet a variety of religious needs.
- Church as community center. The church becomes a hub around which likeminded people gather to meet their social needs.
- Church as corporation. The church is structured and organized for efficient marketing of their product.
- Church as theater. The church is a place where people sit back and "take in" the worship service, much like a football game or some other entertainment event.
- Church as classroom. The church is an educational institution that offers teaching and insight for living.
- Church as hospital. The church is a rejuvenating healing spa for those beat up in a stressful world.
- Church as a motivational seminar. The church dispenses self-help advice to improve various dimensions of our lives.
- Church as social-service office. The compassionate church gathers to care for the poor and needy in its neighborhood.
- Church as campaign headquarters or social-advocacy group. The church assumes the role of advocating for a particular brand of political, economic, or ecological justice.
Goheen is quick to point out that the church should be teaching, caring, making social connections, etc. "The problem arises when the biblical story and the nature of the church are forgotten."
What then is the biblical story?
I like how Christopher J.H. Wright puts it: "The whole Bible renders to us the story of God's mission through God's people in their engagement with God's world for the sake of God's whole creation."
When Jesus stepped onto the public stage of history, his opening line is the good news: The kingdom of God has arrived (Mark 1:15). "His message was and is about cosmic renewal, the restoration of all creation and all human life and society" through the gospel of Jesus Christ." This is both why we do church and who we are as the church.
When Jesus was ready to step off the stage and ascend to the Father, he said,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8 ESV
Our mission is His mission. As we "go to church" this weekend, we remember:
- It is to worship . . . the God who is on a rescue mission for his people.
- It is to be fed . . . so that we are better prepared to fully engage in God's mission.
- It is to enter into community . . . with the community that is on mission with Jesus for the world.
The church exists for the world. That is what it is all about. This weekend please pray for your church and the larger family of God, that we might be a people fully engaged in God's mission.
 Michael Goheen, A Light To The Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2011. Page 4.
 Goheen, A Light To The Nations. Pages15-16.
 Goheen, A Light To The Nations. Page 16.
 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006. Page 51. Wright is quoted by Goheen, A Light To The Nations on page 20.
 Goheen, page 17.