A number of years ago, in my first pastorate, I remember the ongoing sense of confusion and frustration I felt regarding the purpose of The Church. I would often get asked “What are we doing?” and I knew the question was more comprehensive and challenging then our next event, bible study or teaching series. The question had to do with the greater purpose and overall mission of the “exclesia” – the Body of Christ.
I was stumped. Oh sure, I could muster some semblance of a response such as “We’re just gonna love God and love people.” That, by the way, isn’t a bad answer. I, however, was regurgitating something I had heard from yet another leader at yet another pastors breakfast. In no time I would respond to the “what are we doing?” question with a wide-eyed “Um, we’re reaching the world for Jesus” or “We’re making it hard for people to go to hell in our city.” Were we to reach the lost or feed the found? Ahhh…the pressure!
My understanding of the church’s purpose would flip-flop after every compelling book, conference or sudden epiphany.
Until I was about 30 years old and I spent a week with Pastor Jack Hayford.
When he spoke to me, and about 45 other Christian leaders, the lights began to come on, the fog started clearing, and I began to understand, deep in my heart, the fundamental framework for the local church.
And I haven’t looked back since. Like a gymnast, I finally stuck the landing.
By the way, it should be mentioned, that this wasn’t rocket science, a newly fashioned and fanciful theological construct, nor a secret-now-revealed to the best and brightest. It was simple, and it was explicit in the Bible. But, it finally made sense.
So Christ himself gave [the church] the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13
The Church exists to equip people towards maturity in Christ Jesus.
Deep breath. I remember a wave of revelation coming over me like it was yesterday.
The church, and all it’s wonderful gifts, are to be aimed, like a strategic missile, at the mission of equipping (which in Greek is the word “katartizo” meaning “to mend”) the saints for the work of ministry. That’s discipleship. Like we say at West Salem Foursquare Church: we exist to Make More and Maturing Disciples.
That, my friends, can be done in amazingly creative and diverse ways. For example, at our church, we’ve determined that we’re gonna hit our goal by investing in The Big Three: scripture, small groups and serving. Other congregations may achieve the goal differently. More power to ya. Like it’s been said, “There’s more than one way to skin that cat.”
But, let’s at least aim for the goal: equipping people towards maturity (which in Greek is the word “teleios” meaning “brought to it’s finished end”) in Christ Jesus.
Based upon my observations, you may have push-back, or at least curiosity, regarding the value of evangelism. Shouldn’t the mission of the church be reaching and/or returning people to Jesus? Doesn’t the church exist for those yet to be found (ie: lost)? This is precisely what you’ll have to wrestle with, as I did. Here’s a piece of understanding from Pastor Jack Hayford, that helped me immensely: evangelism is the natural overflow of an equipped (mended and maturing) follower of Jesus.
Equipping is the bullseye. Evangelism is the byproduct.