In What is the Mission of the Church? Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert examine the biblical data to develop this mission statement for the church: “The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples 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.” While other activities like putting in wells for water in Africa, serving at a local food bank, or creating a ministry for those in a nearby jail are good and helpful works that Christians could consider, they should be seen as helpful support to the main mission of the church not as the main mission of the church.
The authors’ focus is on the church’s mission to make disciples. While relieving suffering in this life is an important goal for Christian ministries, they believe that concentrating on eternal salvation is a critical mission. Good works done by believers are markers of that discipleship not the central role of disciples.
Believers should feel more obligation for the needy in closer “moral proximity.” In other words, believers have more responsibility to those who are geographically or relationally near to them than those who are far away. The authors try to encourage believers to avoid feeling guilty or compelled to meet any need around the world that is presented to them. They claim that the thrust of the passage in Matthew 25 about caring for the “least of these” is often misinterpreted today. The authors believe that the passage does not mean that our main way of showing that we are believers is to find the least of these and meet their needs. It is not that our main mission is to meet the needs of the least of these. Rather the authors believe that the thrust of the passage teaches us that as believers if we can’t care for other believers near us, especially itinerant Christian teachers dependent on hospitality from their family of faith, we become like unbelievers.
The authors also include a long section on the kingdom of God language found in the New Testament. While it’s Ok to “live in the kingdom”, DeYoung and Gilbert think it inappropriate to for the church to strive to “build the kingdom of God”. If their point was to simply point out that God is the source of kingdom growth, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” I would agree with them. However, they claim that the kingdom does not grow. They say that we shouldn’t expect any progress in society from gospel ministry and church starting. I wonder if they thought that believers who worked to abolish slavery or widow burning or opened hospitals around the world should have instead worked on making disciples. I don’t know what the authors’ beef is with believers striving to see God’s reign expand on earth as it is in heaven. As lives are transformed by the Gospel we should expect there to be impact on neighborhoods, businesses, cities, and nations. The authors seemed Ok with some individual believers working to help people, but want to make sure that they do not expect to see corporate impact. I think they are overstating their case here.
For those who are working to define the basic mission of the church or those who are trying to find the balance between gospel ministry and social ministry, “What is the Mission of the Church?” is worth reading. The authors are careful in handling the Bible, defining the terms, and analyzing the issues involved.