A dear friend of mine recently suffered a tragic loss in his life and, after all of the chips had fallen, wondered to himself, “What the hell is the point?” This vulnerable question seemed to get at this nagging question related to faith — what’s the point of following Jesus if we still suffer such challenging experiences?
As a pastor, when I watch people walk through grief, loss, and tragedy, I can’t help but wonder about the Church’s role in such situations. What’s the point of the Church? This question leads me to then wonder a bit more about what the Church actually is. Historically questions like this were addressed by the Protestant Reformers when they discussed the “Marks of the True Church.” What things must the Church do in order to be the Church? Many of these Reformers were quick to point out Word & Sacrament. While these two qualifying markers certainly could help flesh out ecclesiological identity, I think there are more helpful identifying markers for those of us in the Vineyard.
Kingdom & Church, Church & Kingdom
For the Vineyard, our identity is grounded in the Kingdom of God. Jesus was all about preaching and showing the Kingdom and we are all about proclaiming and demonstrating the Kingdom. It’s who we are. Unfortunately, I think a lot of churches have thought about the Church and Kingdom in a somewhat backwards order… or at least in an upside down sense. This is why I’ve found Howard Snyder’s reminder that the Church is the community of the Kingdom as a very helpful and corrective way to think about the Church and her relationship to the Kingdom of God. In other words, the Church isn’t the Kingdom of God. The Church serves the values of the Kingdom and proclaims and demonstrates the Kingdom. She points to the Kingdom. She is not the Kingdom.
And this brings me to God’s Kingdom Mission. The Church should be primarily focused on the mission of God, the mission of God’s Kingdom. So what is that?
I like to think that the mission of God is obviously about spreading the Gospel and discipleship, but that enterprise is connected to certain activities. So the mission of the Kingdom of God is to actively engage in, for example, a number of “kingdom activities”:
- Proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom of God.
- Heal the sick.
- Free the oppressed.
- Serve the poor.
- Pursue God’s justice.
- Reconciling all of creation.
- Make disciples.
- Bless the nations.
I’m sure there are other activities that you and I could add to this list, but you get my point. All of these activities attach themselves to the kingdom of God and pointing people to God! And I think it’s VERY important to point people to the fact that the mission of God existed LONG before the Church. Or, as Christopher Wright states:
“Fundamentally, our mission (if it is biblically informed and validated) means our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation… It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission – God’s mission.” (The Mission of God, 63)The Mission of God
Therefore, figuring out the mission of God, which I think should be the same as the mission of the Church, seems fairly important.
So what do you think? How would you define the mission of God and the mission of the Church? What activities would you add? And how does discipleship connect with your church’s commitment to God’s mission?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.