The Essence of the Church is Mission
Go and make disciples of all nations…teach them to obey me (Mt 28:19-20)
The Great Commission from Jesus was actually not to plant churches, but rather to go into the world and make disciples (Mt 28:18-20). The early apostles quickly found that whilst an evangelistic preach could draw many people to the point of repentance (Acts 2:38-41), they needed a local church to (a) convert the initial converts into disciples, and (b) to continue the work of making converts and disciples, in a sustainable fashion. And so, the Glorious Church, ordained from before time, came into being.
But here’s the thing: ‘doing mission’ shaped ‘doing church’. Local churches were literally Mission Organisations with every member considering himself or herself a missionary, a vital cog in the local church mission machine that existed to take Joe Bloggs from unbelief to belief in Jesus, and then to disciple him into a mature disciple.
Tragically, as the centuries rolled by, the missional essence was lost and the roles were reversed and ‘doing church’ began to shape ‘doing mission’. The tail began to wag the dog. Missional activities are now considered disruptive to normal church life. Mission is compartmentalised to a specific department… Better still, let’s do mission by sending one of our members off to a foreign land then we don’t even need a Missions Department. Aarrgh.
Missiology must shape our ecclesiology, and not the other way around. This affects every area of church life: the way we speak, the things that we emphasise, our willingness to expand and multiply, and most importantly, it makes us prioritise leadership development, because the biggest hindrance to mission is lack of leaders.
The biggest hindrance to mission is lack of leaders
When Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion on them, for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. (Mt 9:35-38)
When Jesus saw the crowds he felt compassion. Crowds are everywhere. In big city living you see them daily: on the roads, the malls, at work if you work for a large company, at political rallies, at sporting events, at rock concerts. Here’s the question: when you see the crowd what do you think? What do you see? Jesus teaches us to view all of life, including crowds, through a gospel lens: we are to look at crowds and feel compassion. We are not to say, ‘Wow, this big crowd is in my way…it could turn nasty…I’d better watch out for pick pockets’. We should say, ‘Here’s a span of people who are harassed, helpless, and on the highway to hell.’ The great danger of fast-paced modern living is looking but not seeing. How we see is so important. The eyes are the lamp of the body (Lk 11:34) so if your eyes are closed then your heart will be closed.
There came a moment in every biblical hero’s life when the ‘lights went on’, and they saw it. Abraham saw the stars. Moses saw the burning bush. Gideon saw the angel. Isaiah saw God. Paul saw a blinding light. And you, today, stopped seeing crowds and started seeing a harvest of precious people in critical need of the gospel.
"The Harvest is plentiful but the workers are few." This is fascinating: the harvest stays unharvested, the unsaved remain unsaved, until workers are sent into the harvest field. The order is: prepare leaders and God will give you the converts to disciple. If you are thinking to yourself, ‘we don’t really need many more leaders, I mean we have a fairly good ratio of leaders to followers, and to be honest the church isn’t really growing’ then you are looking at things the wrong way round. You think: Until we gain more followers we don’t need more leaders. God thinks: Other way around. Prepare the leaders and I will give you the followers. You think: No need to train more fishermen because we aren’t catching many fish. God thinks: As soon as you train more fishermen I will give you lots of fish.
Raising leaders rapidly is critical for mission
Let’s toggle briefly to a prophetic word that I was given years ago that encouraged me to be expansive in terms of leadership development:
Elisha said, "Go around and ask all your neighbours for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. Then pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side." Her son brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one." But he replied, "There is not a jar left." Then the oil stopped flowing. (2 Kings 4:3-6)
The oil of harvest, the oil of growth, always stops when you run out of leadership jars. God’s order is prepare the people and then you will see the power.
So, raising leaders rapidly is critical for mission. It is even more important than winning the lost in the sense that winning the lost hinges on raising leaders (Mk 9:35-38). Being a great leader yourself and helping draw others into leadership in any capacity and role in the church might be the most truly missional thing you can do.