The Church has been given a purpose. When Jesus Christ came to this earth one of the things he accomplished was establishing a visible presence He could leave behind when He returned to the Father. After living among us for 33 years Jesus prepared to leave this world and in doing so He was very intentional about what He wanted the first disciples to know, to be and to do.
He often spoke in metaphoric language that painted a picture of the relationship we were called to have with God.
Shepherd and sheep
Vine and branches
Father and children
When speaking to the church the New Testament writers often referred to us as the body of Christ. We are told that he is the Head and we are the body. This implies that we have been left with a purpose to fulfill.
Did Jesus Christ give the church a clear mission or purpose?
Did He anywhere state clearly what we were supposed to be about or be busy doing?
In fact He did and that is what we are examining today. This is a day for some clarification of the ministry and vision Christ not only called the church universal to but our church in particular. I love this phrase: We are the local expression of Christ’s body.
What did He say and when did He say it? What exactly are we supposed to be doing as a church?
It was a few days after His death and resurrection that Jesus clearly left no doubt in the disciples mind as to what they were to be doing.
In Matthew 28:16-20 we read these words:
“ 16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 NLT
In these simple yet profound words Christ clearly lays out the business of the church. He gives what is referred to as the Great Commission to those who follow Him. So today we are going to examine this mission and this evening we will come together to remind you and tell you of our vision for fulfilling this mission.
Christ gave us the mission and each church has to determine through leadership, prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit the vision for how best to complete our mission.
I want to talk to you for a few moments today about the mission. If Christ represents the Father and the Father is God then these words take on an incredible weight of importance. They become for us both personally and as a church the foundation of everything we are to be and do. These words should drive our time, talents and treasure. These words should form the philosophy for how we live out our lives on this earth. Anything less is to stray from God’s will for us as individuals and as a church.
1. Go: We are called to be a people of action
“Therefore go. . .”
Jesus is always about action. He used the little word go on more than one occasion. He told a woman that had been caught up in sin to GO and sin no more. To a rich young ruler who was inquiring about faith He said, “Go, sell all that you have.” When he sent the disciples in a ministry excursion He said, “Go to the lost sheep of Israel.” When John the Baptist inquired as to Christ’s legitimacy regarding being the Messiah He replied, “Go report back to John what you see and hear.” To the two women who saw Jesus first after His resurrection from the dead He said, “Go and tell my brother to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
The point is simply this: There has always been “go” in the lives of those who follow God. As far back as the Old Testament God was telling men and women to go and do this or that. He has always had a design for people. There has always been something for us to do. A purpose to fulfill.
Have you heard and responded to the “go” in your life or maybe I should say with your life?
In this case Jesus was saying this to the church as well as individuals we need to find out what follows this command to go. We are called to be people of action but what exactly is that action?
2. Make Disciples: We are called to purposeful addition
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations. . .”
This is the heart of our calling. The model in the book of Acts which is the record of the early church is clear and straight to our point here. We are told they added to the church daily. There was something going on. There was a momentum and a moving of the Holy Spirit upon them that led them to be effective in seeing lives changed.
Today in America, the environment in which we live is more like the culture of the book of Acts than any time in our history.
North America has moved from being a churched society to being an unchurched society. It is without question the newest and largest mission field. While for decades the church has been ignored for a variety of reasons I believe the emerging world is becoming increasingly anti-Christian and will eventually try to rid itself of Christianity. In his book, Dancing with Dinosaurs, William Eausm states the following:
“The media will increasingly launch attacks against Christian values. Local residents will ask churches to leave their neighborhoods, and government agencies will attempt to tax the church. Television sitcoms will continue to bash the Christian values. The further we journey into the new emerging world the more society will struggle to define what it means by the words religious and spiritual. The new mission field will find the Christian God just one God among many.”
It is into this world that our generation is challenged to make disciples! Do you need a little more reality of today’s world?
We live in a world where moral standards are constantly in a state of change. Children’s values vary depending on the values of their day-care workers and are challenged by the cynical world of MTV and the Comedy channel. Whatever is done behind closed doors is considered acceptable behavior.
We are living in a world where belonging is more important than joining. Trust for institutions is at an all time low. From corporations to churches and from banks to businesses trust is a thing of the past. People are searching for security in small affinity groups that they can trust.
In our world, speed rivals quality. Those organizations that can change rapidly to meet a need by being adaptive and flexible nearly overnight will be the most effective in today’s world. Can you see where most churches and traditional organizations might struggle today?
The point to all of this is simply this. We have a job to do and the environment is not 1950 anymore. It’s not even 1970 or 1980 or the nineties. We are living in a world of change. A world that to be honest is headed for globalization. This is not just a study in biblical prophecy it is the reality in which we live. We are headed for a world economy, a global stock market, a global currency. All of these things are inevitable and the question looms in front of those who will take time to think, How do we make disciple in this world?
It is a question that we should be wrestling with on a daily basis. We have been given a job to do by God Himself. Yes it was easier fifty years ago or a hundred years ago but the good old days aren’t coming back so we have to work with the hand we have been dealt.
There are times when I know my leadership in this church may be perceived to be somewhat caustic and strong and I want to talk to you about that for a moment. As long as God allows me to draw breath I will fight for the church to not lapse into the comfortable position that most church attendees would love. It is a whole lot easier to follow a country club church model where everything is about us instead of a missional church model where everything is about fulfilling the mission Christ gave the church to do.
In my view it is too important to indulge the wishes and whims of people who want to live in the past. You know what’s ironic about that? I love the past. I love history. As I wrote this sermon I was sitting in my home office which has relics from history all round the walls and floor. There is a pump organ, old guns, an oil lamp, a radio from the 1940’s, an antique rocking chair and an old trunk with things my grandfather thought were valuable. (he even saved little pictures given to him by his school teachers in 1904 for good work) While I love history I don’t try to live in the past. While I appreciate history and believe that we can learn from it I want to know and understand today and what it will take to fulfill Christ mission today.
3. Baptize them: We are called to practice adoption
“baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism is a sign that men and women are denouncing this world and its values and moving into a relationship with Christ. One of the relationships offered by Christ is that of adoption. We are adopted into the family of God you might say. We become God’s children and He is our Heavenly Father.
As a church, we are reviewing this process and want to make sure that people who are being baptized realize that it is a testimony of an ongoing work of God in their lives not the act of God’s transformation of their lives.
The bottom line is this. We are called to make disciples and we get the privilege of leading people into a growing relationship with Christ that includes adoption into God’s family!
Teach them: We are called to pay attention to people
“Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you”
This may or may not come as a shock to you but according to Philip Jenkins the author of 11 Innovations in the Local Church North America is the only continent in the world where Christianity isn’t growing.
1. Which country has the Christian church with the largest attendance in the world? (Korea)
2. What’s the dominant historic religion in that country? (Buddhism)
3. Which county ash the Christian church with the largest seating capacity in the world? (Nigeria)
4. What’s the dominant religion in that country? (Islam)
5. In which country is the world’s largest Buddhist university located? (U.S. Boulder CO)
6. Where is the world’s largest Muslim training center? (U.S. New York City)
7. Which country has the world’s largest Jewish population? (United States)
8. Which country has the world’s largest Hindu population? (India with 810 million, Nepal with 19 million, Bangladesh 17 million, Indonesia 8 million, Sri Lanka, 2 million, Pakistan, 2 million, Malaysia 2 million and the U.S. 1 million)
9. Where is the world’s largest training center for Transcendental Meditation? (U.S. Fairfield Iowa)
10. In the U.S. which age group is most responsive to the gospel message? (Children and teenagers. Nearly 75 percent of people who come to Christ do so by the age of 19)
In our own denomination which by and large is very traditional here in America we are closing as many churches as we are starting and due to budget cuts the future of church planting looks fairly bleak. The most amazing stat to come out in the last few years is that the membership of the Church of the Nazarene is now 75 percent outside the United States and Canada. Outside our borders the church is vibrant and growing in New Testament like numbers. In this affluent country with all of our toys, bells and whistles and resources the church is floundering and in fact dying in many places and you know what the consensus is in many places? If we have to change the way we do church let it die!
Why does all this matter? We are not called to do church but to be the church or Christ’s body in a world that is desperate for the life changing message that we possess. We have a lot to overcome because in America due to the arrogance and attitudes of church people and the bickering that goes on about things that don’t matter people hate Christians but want often want to know about Jesus.
The question is what are we doing to reach those who are inquiring and trying to connect through this church?
What kind of time and resources are we willing to commit to fulfill this mission that Christ gave the church to do?
We are to expect and experience Christ’s presence always!
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
I want to pray for you today personally and for us corporately as a church that we will be the light in a dark world.
Jesus added a wonderful and comforting promise to this mandate of going and making disciples. He promised to be with us always even to the end of the age. That means as He was with Martin Luther in the reformation, and as He was with those in the age of revivals in the 18th and 19th centuries or as He is with Christians in every culture and every country, He will be with us in the challenging days in which we are called to serve.
Before I pray, I want to tell you a story. I picked this story on purpose because using Rick Warren in a story is significant for church people. He is a leader and pastor that has done more for Christ than whole denominations or a hundred churches that would be critical of his ministry. Frankly I get weary of it and want you to know that I stay away from people that are destructive to churches that are actually making a difference in our world.
Rick Warren shares in his book “The Purpose Driven Life” about his dad who was a pastor for over fifty years serving mostly small rural churches. His dad was not simply a preacher but was a man with a mission. He loved taking teams of volunteers overseas to build church buildings for small congregations. In his lifetime he built over 150 churches around the world. In 1999 his dad died of Cancer. In the final week of his life the disease kept him awake in a semi-conscious state nearly twenty-four hours a day. As he dreamed, he’d talk out loud about what he was dreaming. Sitting by his bedside, Rick Warren shares that he learned a lot about his dad just listening to his dreams. He relived one building project after another. One night near the end while Rick and his wife and niece were by his side, his dad suddenly became very active and tried to get out of the bed. Of course he was too weak and Rick’s wife insisted he lay back down. But he persisted in trying to get out of the bed so Rick’s wife asked, “Jimmy what are you trying to do?” He replied “Got to save one more for Jesus”, Got to save one more for Jesus, Got to save one more for Jesus. He repeated that phrase over and over again. During the next hour he said that phrase over a hundred times. Got to save one more for Jesus. As Rick sat beside his dad’s bed tears roll down his cheeks, he bowed his head and thanked God for His dad’s faith. AT that moment his dad reached out and placed his frail hand on his head and said, as if commissioning him. “Save one more for Jesus.” Save one more for Jesus.”