In many ways, separating the mission of the church and the individual is a false dichotomy. The church only exists due to the presence of individuals. The church only functions due to the actions of individuals. The church only speaks due to the words of individuals. So is it possible for the church and individuals to have separate missions?
I believe it’s at least possible for the church and individual Christians to have different emphases to our mission. I 100% believe that we all share the basic mission of “physically and tangibly representing the resurrected Christ to the world.” In doing this the church shares with Christ a primary mission task of “seeking and saving the lost” (Lk 19:10). It’s important to realise that the “saving” in this statement is not a one-time event. It includes a moment of salvation, but also encompasses the vital responsibility of preserving the saints. The church fails in its mission if it seeks the lost, saves the lost, and then loses them again. (Consider the parable of the soils in Lk 8:1-15.)
When I consider the primary mission focus of the individual Christian, it seems to me that first and foremost we have the goal of remaining in relationship with God. However, that’s a minimum level goal. To word it more positively I would say that our basic mission as a disciple of Christ is to grow in our relationship with God. (2 Peter 3:17-18) This sounds like a fairly selfish goal, because it is. Every other possible mission falls apart if we stop growing, or worse yet, lose our relationship with God.
This brings me to an interesting contradiction. The church represents Christ by seeking and saving the lost. Yet, the individuals who make up the church represent Christ by (selfishly) growing in their relationship with Christ. I reconcile this contradiction in my mind by recognising that all Christians are at different stages of maturity. In each progressive stage of maturity the definition, or description, of “growing closer to Christ” increasingly turns outward until our personal faith in God is sufficiently strong that we can say our personal mission is to “seek and save the lost”. However, if our faith regresses, our mission once again turns more “selfish”.
I’m not suggesting that every mature Christian must become a full-time evangelist. According to an individual’s spiritual gifts, some will concentrate on seeking, while others will focus on saving. Some individuals will also come to regard their primary mission as shepherding, teaching and preserving the faith of those who’ve decided to commit their lives and eternity to Christ. (The apostle Paul describes this diversity of gifts and ministries well in the passage from Ephesians 4 I reference at the opening of this post.)
Even the mission emphasis on seeking resists a one size fits all approach. In my previous post I mentioned how the ministry of Christ could be summarised as “preaching, teaching, and healing”. Recognising the uniqueness of each individual, some mature Christians will also represent Christ by finding their niche in the ministry of healing: emotional; physical; relational; and ultimately spiritual. The mission of seeking and saving has many different looks to it.
- Do you agree that it’s possible for the church and individual Christians to have divergent mission emphases? Or is that logic fatally flawed?
- Do you agree that the individual Christian has a primary spiritual responsibility to “grow their relationship with Christ”?
- The “how” of growing in our relationship with Christ is a huge topic. Help me out by sharing some critical steps or stages in your faith journey.