Jesus made it plain that God’s primary mission has to do with building and extending his kingdom. The church is not his major agenda. Nor does the church own the kingdom or the mission of God. God’s mission involves the redemptive restoration of everything that sin has tarnished and broken.
God created the church to be a people partnering with him in his redemptive mission in the world. Let’s break that down.
The people of God.Genesis 12:1–2 records God’s cre- ation of a special people who are to live in covenant with him. The call of Abraham begins a metanarrative that runs throughout the whole Bible. The church entered this story when believers were made heirs to the covenant through the sacriﬁ- cial work of Jesus on the cross. This covenantal relationship was memorialized by Jesus at the Last Supper and is celebrated every time the Lord’s Supper is observed by his followers. The church is a people; it’s not an institution or organization, though it has institutional and orga- nizational features and functions. Said another way, the church is a who, not a what. It is a relationship between God and a chosen people.
Partnering with God.The point of being chosen is not so we can focus on being chosen. Belonging to him is not the point of being chosen either. During the Exodus experi- ence, God reminded Israel of the point of being chosen: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:5–6, emphasis added). The specialness of being the people of God resides solely in the covenant: “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant” (v. 5). The covenant means we have a role to perform, a special assignment. This assignment is to partner with God in his mission. That’s the point of what it means to be chosen.
When God called Abraham, his mission had been under way for centuries. But God gave Abraham a spe- cial assignment. This assignment, now belonging to the church, spells out our speciﬁc partnership role in the mis- sion. Our job is to bless the world. When we do, people are turned toward God. Being the people of God means being people of blessing. No one else on earth has this privilege. No one else on earth has this responsibility. When we act as people of blessing, when you and I get off our donkeys and help people, we are keeping the covenant of what it means to be the people of God.
In his redemptive mission. God is redeeming everything damaged and tainted by the entrance of sin into the world. Sin’s devastation resulted in the alienation of people from God, from each other, from the rest of God’s creation, even from themselves. Salvation is the reversal of this dilemma and the restoration of God’s creation to its intended design. This mission is God’s, not ours, because he is the only one with the power and ability to pull it off. Part of his strategy was the creation of the church. His mission gave birth to the church, not the other way around. Said an- other way, the church doesn’t have a mission; the mission has a church.
Kingdom enterprise is not a subset of church activity. Church activity is a subset of God’s kingdom efforts. Anything the church does that does not contribute to the kingdom is off mission. The Good Samaritan story highlights this distortion. A wrong focus by the priest and Levite caused them to pass by on the other side of the road instead of helping a needy person. It was the wrong side of the road!
In the world. The world is where the mission of God plays out. “All the world’s a stage” (to borrow a line from an “obscure” English author). It is the stage where God shows up and shows off. In his meeting with Nicodemus, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16, emphasis added). Notice he did not say, “For God so loved the church.” The church is not God’s main focus; the world is. The world is on God’s heart. This means that our spiritual journey as Jesus-followers should not lead us into more and more isolation from the world, cloistered away from its con- cerns. Being followers of Jesus means that we follow Jesus! When we do so, he leads us out into the streets. He expects to see us tracking with him as he engages people in the world to deliver life and hope.
Excerpted from Get Off Your Donkey: Help Somebody and Help Yourself.
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Reggie McNeal enjoys helping people enjoy more intentional lives. He is a bestselling author, teacher, and popular speaker for groups who are engaged in community service, including faith-based groups and other not-for-profit organizations, such as the Salvation Army, the U.S. military, and businesses like the Gallup Organization.
Reggie has contributed to numerous denominational publications and church leadership journals, including Leadership and Net Results. His books include Revolution in Leadership (Abingdon Press, 1998), A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders (Jossey-Bass, 2000), The Present Future (Jossey-Bass, 2003), Practicing Greatness (Jossey-Bass, 2006), Missional Renaissance (Jossey-Bass, 2009), and Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church (Jossey Bass, 2011).