To him be glory in the church…
Church historian Stephen Neill once wrote, “If everything is mission, nothing is mission.” There is a tendency of which we must be aware to define the church’s mission in ever broadening terms. It is not unusual to hear the mission of the church described as something along the lines of “joining God in his work of renewing all things.” While such statements may sound grand, the problem is that there is often a difference between what God is doing in his world and what the church is called to in this present age. The church’s mission is not to do everything that God does. The church is not called to do everything that Jesus did. God has done and is doing a vast array of things to which the church is neither called nor equipped to do.
Another pitfall we must avoid is confusing the mission of the church with the many good and, indeed, biblical things that Christians ought to be doing in the course of our daily lives. For instance, you may have the opportunity to help alleviate the suffering of someone who needs transportation to the hospital. For some Christians, helping impoverished people gain access to clean drinking water is a proper place to direct their energies. The same can be said about helping to wipe out the scourges of human trafficking, abortion, drug abuse, and the advance of the sexual revolution in our schools. These and many other noble causes are appropriate places for Christians to give witness to the love and righteousness of Christ. But they do not necessarily constitute the mission of the church.
The mission of the church is rather specific. The church is not called simply to do good things. Like the rest of creation, the church is ultimately called to glorify God. As Paul prays in Ephesians, “To him be glory in the church” (3:21). From that one ultimate calling flows a specific mission. It is a mission of which the chief message is the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). It is a mission characterized above all by the virtue of love (John 13:35). And it is a mission, the chief activity of which is the making of disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16-20).
There will never be a shortage of good things ready to distract the church from her mission. How easy it is to miss what is best and essential in a preoccupation with good things. And certainly, we must joyfully labor to do good. But while we go about the good work of alleviating suffering where we can and pushing back against wickedness whenever possible, we must not be distracted from that which makes up the true substance of our mission: to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus Christ.