What is the Mission of the Church?

[Editor’s note: I originally wrote this in 2012. Based on many current discussions, I decided it would be good to revisit it.]

What is the mission of the church? What is shalom? What is the church’s role in the pursuit of social justice? Pastors Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert address these and other related questions in their book, What is the Mission of the Church: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission.

There have been many books and articles written and many sermons given on the topics of mission, social justice, shalom, flourishing, and the great commission. Some say that the mission of the church is to continue the work of reconciliation that Jesus started, especially in the realm of unjust social structures. Others say that the mission of the church is to proclaim the good news that Jesus has saved us from our sins. Some say that the gospel message isn’t complete unless the church is pursuing the peace and prosperity of the city. Others say that the gospel message is simply that Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification.

Given the diversity of opinions on these issues, it isn’t surprising that Pastors DeYoung and Gilbert felt called to write a book that addresses the topic of mission from a solidly Reformed perspective. The book is not a heavy theological treatise. Rather, it is aimed for the average person or pastor who is interested in understanding the current discussion on mission. The biblical exegesis is clear and easy to follow.

Early in the book, the authors explain that the book was written to answer the question: What is the mission of the church? Particularly, they write that part of their purpose is to correct “an overexpansive definition that understands mission to be just about every good thing Christians could do as a partner with God in his mission to redeem the whole world” (20). Their concern is that this “overexpansive definition” runs the risk of marginalizing the mission of making disciples, which they argue is what “makes Christian mission Christian mission” (22) and also places considerable guilt on Christians who feel “the church is either responsible for most problems in the world or responsible to fix these problems” (23). The authors are careful, though, to point out that their book is not a critique of their brothers in Christ in the Acts 29 and Redeemer networks (20).

So what is the mission of the church? According to DeYoung and Gilbert it is:

The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father. (62)

Seems pretty simple, but very profound.

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The Next Big Thing

Carl Trueman has a thoughtful column about the debate over Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s book, What is the Mission of the Church? He thinks it’s a premonition of battles to come in the “gospel-centered” movement. Here’s an excerpt from his post:

The gospel-centred world seems divided over whether the gospel is primarily about transforming culture or individual forgiveness for sins. Of course, there is a spectrum of opinion on this matter and not everyone is at one end of it or the other. Yet the passions generated by DeYoung and Gilbert highlight the problem and indicate that it cannot be ignored. Indeed, it seems likely that the gospel-centred world is set to become more, not less, polarized on this issue. After all, how one answers the question of the mission of the church reflects how one understands the gospel and shapes everything that the church does. Thus, for example, some can talk confidently about ‘arts ministries’ while others of us scratch our heads as to why our churches would ever contemplate prioritizing painting or poetry over toilet cleaning and providing after-service coffee and cakes. The latter are surely of more immediate and universal importance to the church but would rarely if ever be dignified with the title of `ministry.’
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More on What is the Mission of the Church?

Last week, I wrote a review of Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s book What is the Mission of the Church?. On his blog at The Gospel Coalition today, Pastor DeYoung addresses some of the criticism the book has received. Here is a brief excerpt:

The question we are addressing in the book is whether the mission of the church—the thing it is organized and sent into the world to do—is to do those good deeds to the end of making the world a better place. Is it the church’s mission to do city renewal, to do neighborhood revitalization, to eradicate poverty, to eliminate hunger, to raise the global standard of living? Of course, we all want to see this happen. But should we always expect to see this happen? Is this why God gathers weak and weary sinners into churches? Is the presence of social problems in a community a sign that the church has been unfaithful to its mission? That’s the direction this discussion of mission often runs. We’ve seen well-meaning evangelical Christians explain church planting initiatives with the language of pulling “the whole community together [to] make a measurable difference.” The expressed desire is to be “agents in improving graduation rates, increasing literacy or lowering unemployment.” They ask, “What if together we could provide tutoring in every school, support services for every fire station, or orientation for every immigrant?” (We’re not making up these quotes.) Obviously, these are fine causes, ones Christians may pursue—and some will be called to pursue—out of love for others. But then again, is this the sort of work we see Jesus engaged in during his ministry? Is it the ministry we see pursued in the book of Acts? It sounds good to say mission is “both-and,” that the church should do these things while still making the gospel central. But churches do not have infinite resources, people, or time. The church cannot do every good thing that could be done. There must be priorities. We argue that the church’s priority—and the grid through which mission endeavors should be evaluated—is teaching others about Christ to the end that they may worship him now and forever. Continue reading