What is the mission of the church? Are we to build the church or advance the kingdom?
I submit that in the West we have focused on building the church and nearly forgotten about advancing the kingdom. We now have every conceivable kind of church to cater to the wants and needs of every conceivable kind of consum—er—Christian. A church focused on building is a church focused on itself. We have a customer-centric model of service. Our aim is to please our members, to equip them with the latest tools, to build them up and make them strong. How are we different from the YMCA? Only in our emphasis on the spiritual instead of the physical.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with building the church. In fact, it is essential to the mission of the church that its members be spiritually fit and strong. But building the church is not the church’s mission. We are like an army that drills and trains but never goes into battle. We tell one another stories about the glory days when friendships forged in battle were resilient and unbreakable. But we ourselves settle for campfire camaraderie: singing songs together, chatting on Facebook, and keeping up a tough-guy pretense. We don’t actually fight; that would be un-Christlike. We admire fighters, the heroes of old who fought and died to secure for us a peaceful and comfortable existence with like-minded acquaintances.
The mission of the church, spelled out for us by our commander, is to make disciples of all nations. The first Christians understood that God had chosen people in every ethnos—nation. There mission was to find those people and recruit them. That’s why Luke writes that “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” The first Christians did not try to persuade everyone; they tried to persuade the chosen. Their message was the same as Jesus’ message: “Repent for the kingdom of God is here.” The proof they offered in support of this wild claim was wilder still. They claimed that someone had risen from the dead. To those who believed them, they offered instruction in becoming a citizen of a new kingdom. They taught followers not to hold grudges, to be generous with their possessions, to put reconciliation with a brother ahead of sacrifice to God, to love unconditionally, to pray for their enemies. Simply put, they transformed the world.