What is the mission of the church?
A common answer is that the mission of the church is to save souls. Another answer is that the mission of the church is to make disciples.
These two answers are far different from each other and have practical implications.
If the mission of the church is to save souls, then it would make sense for people to be concerned with making sure people believe the right things, that they are following the rules, that there is a clear interpretation of the bible, and that there is a focus on what people do and how they live their life. If saving souls is of utmost importance, then it makes sense that people would stop at nothing to ensure that people are saved from damnation. The focus seems to be on how many people are lost.
If on the other hand the mission of the church is to make disciples, then it would make sense for people to focus on following the teachings of Jesus and inviting people into discovering Jesus, focusing on creating an environment where encounters with Jesus happen on a regular basis, where there is a sharing of the Good News of Jesus, where people are invited to participate in service for those that are outcast, poor, homeless, widowed, imprisoned, and more. If making disciples is of utmost importance, then it makes sense that the invitation into relationship takes a high priority while recognizing that not all will embrace this. Some will fall aside. And you’ll let them go hoping that they will encounter Jesus some other way. The focus seems to be on how many people start to follow and realizing that it’s a miracle – a pleasant one that is life-giving.
These two world views for the church matter. The first world view is more confrontational than the other by nature of what is deemed important. The second is more a live and let live approach. Those are generalizations, of course, but pretty close to the reality of how they are lived out.
I prefer the second course of action and I believe that this is what Jesus calls us to be as a church. I don’t believe that the mission of the church is to save souls. That may sound heretical on the surface, but I don’t see the evidence to support that as the primary mission of the church for a few reasons. 1. We aren’t capable of saving ourselves, how are we supposed to save someone else? Only God can save someone. God’s salvation is a gift, we can’t earn it. We can’t earn it for ourselves or for someone else. 2. Jesus commands us to go and make disciples and baptize people and teach them to follow all that he commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). 3. In each case in which Jesus calls someone, it is with a simple command – “Follow me.” There is no theological exposition on right belief. Jesus doesn’t say, “follow me, but only when you have the right beliefs about me,” or “follow me when you have your act together,” or “follow me when you have changed your life and stopped sinning.” It’s just “Follow me.” Jesus calls people to follow him as they are. Jesus is inviting people to be followers of him, to establish a relationship with them, to learn from him, to follow his example, to spend time with him. And in the process of following him, their lives change. They have to. Encounters with Jesus always change people’s lives. But it doesn’t come because they study their way to right beliefs. It comes because of what Jesus is doing in a person’s life.