What is the One True Mission of the Church?

by Dale Partridge

In a generation saturated with emotionalism, many churches and ministries have confused mercy with mission. That is, they have elevated humanitarian ministry and, as a result, catered more to the carnal matters of health, economics, and physical well-being than they have to the spiritual necessities of divine forgiveness and reconciliation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some have called this mercy-centric missiology the “social justice gospel” while other, more conservative, proponents may argue it to be a “fully-integrated gospel.” Now, it’s obvious that both Jesus and His Apostles support and even command Christians to care for the temporal needs of others; but how are these commands to be viewed in connection with the mission of the Church? In other words, is the mission of the Church temporal mercy or spiritual mending, philanthropy or freedom, righteous deeds or reconciliation?

The Ditch on Either Side

As with most issues, there are two extremes. The first view the mission of the Church as a command to bring about the physical manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth. That is, the physical healing, emotional and mental recovery, and freedom from economic and political oppression. In a sense, they view the Church as an army of good Samaritans looking to bring the goodness of God’s Kingdom to their local cities. This view is usually supported by folks who disproportionately focus on the ministry accounts of the Gospels over the ministry accounts of the epistles. Furthermore, this group views the description of Jesus’ ministry as the prescription for their own. Namely, that they are both called to and capable of producing the same type of ministerial work and miracles as performed by Jesus. Mike Riccardi, in a paper titled, The Church and Mercy Ministry, clarifies this view by saying, “The mercy-centric view that would have the Church “build the kingdom,” “usher in the kingdom,” or “establish the kingdom” drastically overestimates our ability and responsibility [to do so].”[1] I believe he is right. While we are citizens of a future Kingdom and while we are individually called to be compassionate, benevolent, and loving toward those whom we encounter, to take the character standards of the Christian life or the miraculous works of Jesus and make them the mission of the Church, is to confuse both our place and our purpose.  

On the other hand, we have what I call the “stoic gospel.” This view is typical of fundamentalists groups within the Church. They view the mission of the Church solely as Gospel proclamation and find their efforts void of mercy ministry altogether. This view treats the mission field like a warzone of bullet wounded individuals. It can’t justify putting any time into healing broken fingers and preparing meals when they are surrounded by folks with fatal holes in their bodies. While this view seems to rightly prioritize the Gospel message, it leaves the culture with an incomplete view of the Christian life and lacks an extension of the sympathy and kindness that is to be reflective of members of the Church (see 1 John 4:19; Rom. 12:9-10; Col. 3:12; Eph. 4:32; 2 Pet. 1:5-8).  

Conclusion

So how do we sort out the truth between these two extremes? How do we divide what Scripture calls us to do as individuals with what the Bible delivers as the corporate mission of the Church? Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert in their book What is the Mission of the Church? help clarify the one true mission of God’s people and offer a balanced definition of this position. They write:

“The mission of the Church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.”[2]

Ultimately, the Great Commission is the mission of the Church (Matt. 28:16-20). Now, this does not nullify the great number of commands in Scripture to display the love of Christ toward others. This does not mean that we become “mission-only” Christians who divorce the heart of Christian character from the mission of the Christian church. This simply means that the primary mission of the Church is to (1) go and make disciples through Gospel proclamation, (2) baptize those disciples into church of Jesus Christ, (3) and teach those disciples the biblical commands of their King. Therefore, this work becomes our central reigning priority. However, when we, as a Church, include within proper prioritization, mission, then mercy, we begin to see the fruit of faithful ministry. We see reconciled souls find real needs being met. We find broken people find healing through biblical truth and genuine relationships. But most of all, we see the Great Commission being fulfilled and the people of God being revived and restored to their King.


[1] Mike Riccardi, The Church and Mercy Ministry, (Los Angeles: Grace Community Church), 3.

[2] Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church?, (Wheaton: Crossway), 2011, 241.

Dale Partridge is the Founder and President of Relearn.org. Dale finished his graduate studies at Western Theological Seminary and is now an M.Div candidate at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles, California. He is also the author of several Christians books, the host of the Real Christianity podcast, and an elder and teaching pastor at the local house church in which he serves. He and his wife have three children.

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