Part 14 of series:
The Mission of God and the Missional Church
When Jesus sent his first disciples into the world, he sent them as a community, not as a bunch of isolated individuals. How else would their mutual love prove to the world the genuineness of their discipleship? Even when the early Christians left their home churches to share the gospel elsewhere, they usually chose to do so in teams, not as Lone Ranger evangelists (Mark 6:7; Acts 15:22; 1 Thess 3:1-2). Through visitors, letters, and prayers, they maintained close fellowship with the churches that had sent them out. Christian community was that important to their mission, in addition to their well-being as believers.
Christ has sent you and me into the world, not alone, but as members of his church. We share together in the mission of the church and the church shares in our personal (but not individualistic) aspects of that mission. The same Spirit who empowers us for ministry is the One who immersed us into the church at the moment of our conversion (1 Cor 12:13) so that we might engage in our mission as the sent people of God.
Why is our corporate sending so important? First of all, we get our training, encouragement, and support for mission from our Christian community. Here we learn what it means to have intimate fellowship with God and with each other. Here we learn how to communicate our faith to others. Here we learn how to live in a way that reflects the good news to the world. Here we find hope when we are discouraged and receive prayer when we feel overwhelmed. Inevitably, those who try to fulfill their mission alone will fail. Solitary service is indeed an impossible mission.
Second, many aspects of Christian mission cannot be accomplished by individuals working alone. You can probably tell your neighbors about Christ without help from other believers, but its unlikely that you’ll be able to evangelize a continent, or feed victims of famine, or build a hospital, or help your corporation to make its policies more just all by yourself. Yet, in partnership with other believers, you can do all of these things and more.
Evangelizing a continent, feeding victims of famine, and building hospitals are among the marvelous things Christians have done in community together. But they are grand in scale and might not motivate us in our daily lives to join with other Christians for ministry. Yet there are many things that a handful of Christians can do together, tasks that require a few people and some organization, but not the kind of effort needed to evangelize a continent.
I think, for example, of one of Irvine Presbyterian Church’s best outreach ministries. It was called Pizza Lunch. During my tenure as pastor there, every Friday during the school year, kids from the high school across the street came over to our church to buy a couple of slices of pizza and a drink. Then they hung out during their lunch break, listening to music, chatting with friends, and doing whatever it is that high schoolers do when they’re with their friends. Toward the end of my tenure at the church, we’d get 600 or more students at Pizza Lunch. And it built lots of good will for our church among teenagers. When I’m was Starbucks and introduced myself to a kid as the pastor from Irvine Presbyterian Church, I’d often hear something like, “Oh, the pizza church! You’ve got a cool church!”
Now you might think that Pizza Lunch was the dream of our high school director or of the Senior Pastor or of the board of elders. But, in fact, the idea for Pizza Lunch first came from a couple of moms in our church. They saw all those kids. They paid close attention to the church’s location across the street. And they realized the potential. So they came up with the idea of Pizza Lunch. Once they got the go ahead from church leaders, they organized, bringing more moms on board, communicating with local pizza dealers, etc. etc. Before long, Pizza Lunch was born. It soon became one of the best ministries of the church.
One mom couldn’t do Pizza Lunch. Neither could two. But a dozen moms, with some help from the high school staff, pulled it off. What a great, simple example of mission done in community. I wonder what would happen if all Christians began to look with missional eyes at their world, and gathered a few others to join them in some new ministry.
In my next post I’ll talk about another dimension of our communal mission.