The Great Commission
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
As a leader of a local church I often get asked by people checking us out, "What is your vision for the church?" I generally find that question to be both insightful and aggravating all at the same time. It's insightful because it shows a heart to be engaged with what the church is doing and the direction that it's headed in. It takes a person who understands their mission in life with Christ to want to pair with a church that is going in the same direction as that mission. However, it's also aggravating to me because it seems like people are expecting each church to have an individual and unique approach to what they're building. I don't find that uniqueness of approach within Scripture and I tend to give a very anticlimactic and boring answer of what the vision of our church is.
You see, what I do find in Scripture is that each and every church has the same vision. It's the vision that Jesus gave to all of us just before He ascended into heaven. It's a vision of going into the entire world and making disciples.
The vision I have for RockHaven Church is that we would go outside the walls where we meet (or in the case of COVID, where we livestream) and that we would so impact the lives of the people we meet that they would come into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Then, as the family of God together, we would help them to grow in their identity as children of God and in their relationship with Him. As we go and do this, the culture of the Kingdom of God (love, peace, hope, joy, etc) spreads within our communities. That's it. That's the whole vision. Nothing more or less fancy. The real trick is figuring out how to go and do this… how to fulfill what Jesus commanded us to do.
As simple as following this "Great Commission" would seem to be, it nonetheless seems to be rare within my experience of church. I readily admit that putting this into action has been a very weak part of my faith and that I've ignored or messed this up for most of my Christian life. After wrestling this through personally, I think I've identified two mentalities that distract us away from this simple and powerful vision of the church.
First, is the simple command to "go". It's awkward and uncomfortable to go. It brings up a whole lot of personal insecurities. We feel inadequate to speak to strangers. We feel like we don't have all the answers and don't know how to answer the questions they'll have. We doubt whether God will actually do anything through us. So, we settle in our comfort zone and instead wait for people to "come". You see, "going" stretches our faith. Will God actually come through like He does in Scripture? Is He actually going to show up? What do I do when nothing happens or I fail? When we sit back and let people come to us, we get to live in our wheelhouse. It's easier. We can rely on other people's faith and stick with the herd.
When we default to letting people come to us instead of going to them, we end up with introverted, introspective congregations who become socially weird to their communities. You're not being the friendly neighbour who they can have a beer with, you're being a group with different and maybe intolerant beliefs that meet in the compound down the road. Demonstrating the love of God to people only works when you're actually out with the people.
The second wrong mentality in regards to this is a lack of understanding discipleship. I had friend and mentor of mine point this out to me by saying, "Jesus said that He would build the church and told us to go and make disciples. We want to build the church and we ask Jesus to go make disciples." We so don't understand the importance of discipleship or even what it looks like that we instead focus on programs or departments of the church. We get wrapped up in what the church is doing instead of who the church is.
I've had to change my thinking about the church from "What are we going to do?" to "How are we making disciples?" What we do should be subject to the vision of making disciples, not the other way around where we hope we'll get disciples from what we're doing. You see, disciples are open to being taught. They're open to relationship, first to Jesus and then with each other. Disciples grow and get released to grow others. Church programs are just a group getting together to do something. They can be helpful but they are not what defines a church. Christianity is, in essence, based on this discipleship relationship. That relationship is first with God, then with each other. As soon as that relationship is not of primary importance we've changed the church into an institution that looks more like a business instead of the family that God has created.
So what is your vision for the church? Has it gotten embellished with a bunch of superfluous add-ons that miss out on our core directive of going and creating disciples? Are you looking to church to be something other than what Jesus commanded? Making disciples is our magnetic north, the principle that we continually come back and check ourselves against. It's time to get back to it.