What is the mission of the Church today? Has the pandemic caused it to shift? Is our concern over lapsed membership due to the pandemic quickly eclipsing our priority to reach the lost?
I’ve spent the summer reading through the gospels, wanting to understand how Jesus described the Kingdom of God and what his heartbeat was as he ministered across Judea and Galilee. Matthew 9 stopped me in my tracks, inviting me to think carefully about the focus of our mission as his Church.
As the chapter unfolds, we read about Jesus’ call to Matthew to follow him, and the Pharisees’ sharp critique that Jesus was hanging out with the wrong type of people. Jesus’ response to their judgment that he was keeping company with “crooks and riffraff” is cutting. “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” (vs 12-13 MSG)
Look at Jesus’ heart. He’s not after the keeping of religious traditions and practices. He’s after mercy, because his Father is a God of mercy. Jesus didn’t stay in a holy huddle with his disciples and the religious leaders. He chose to hang out with sinners. People with messy lives, whom the religious elite had rejected.
Is Jesus’ top priority the mission of the Church?
Jesus’ priority of reaching all mankind with the gospel, irrespective of their religious pedigree, is an in-the-flesh echo of Israel’s call to be a kingdom of priests and a light to the nations. Thousands of years after Israel received its calling, Peter, in his epistle, refers to all believers as a kingdom of priests, and Jesus instructs his followers to live into our identity as a light to all the world.
So, how are we as the Church doing at living out this calling on our lives? Does the mission of our church reflect the heart of Jesus?
At the end of Matthew 9, we read that Jesus travelled to all the towns and villages of Galilee teaching, healing, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God in their synagogues. There are no pharisees present in this vignette. Just Jesus, his followers, and the crowds. And Jesus’ merciful heart.
“When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. ‘What a huge harvest!’ he said to his disciples. ‘How few workers!’ On your knees and pray for harvest hands!’” (vs 36-38 MSG)
When was the last time we looked out into our churches or Alpha courses and saw rows and rows of “outsiders,” people who were confused and aimless spiritually? If your church is like most, outsiders are the exception rather than the rule. In fact, recent research from Barna reveals that 38% of practicing Christians don’t even have any non-Christian friends. And yet these are exactly the people Jesus draws near to over and over again in the gospels. His heart doesn’t so much break for the religious ones who have grown apathetic and cold-hearted toward him. It breaks for those whose lives are messy and unspiritual, those who have not yet been exposed to the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform them.
He didn’t come to preach to the choir, to “coddle the insiders.”
Jesus came to invite outsiders.
Our great calling
Jesus utters the final words of this great chapter not only to his first century followers, but to all believers across time. Those who have not yet heard the gospel of Jesus Christ are like the vast expanse of a Judean wheat field, stretching as far as the eye can see, swaying in the wind begging to be harvested. Can you see it? The harvest was ripe two thousand years ago, and it still awaits our engagement today. What did Jesus ask us to do? To pray for more workers to bring in the harvest of lost souls. And I believe that begins with us.
What should the mission of the Church be today? First, we need eyes to see the harvest and hearts that break over the great throng of outsiders who don’t know Jesus. Next, we must participate in the harvest as his disciples. And finally, we are to pray for our entire congregation to participate as well.
Imagine if we got serious about inviting outsiders and we began filling our churches with those who were spiritually confused and aimless. Imagine the joy of introducing them to Jesus, their Good Shepherd. There is no greater joy, and no higher calling than that.
This is our mission, Church. Will you accept it?
Come Holy Spirit, open our eyes to see how many are lost, confused, and without a shepherd, and fill us with passion to invite them to come and discover the love you have for them.