Every Member a Missionary
I am not antichurch though I have written vigorously against institutionalism. I recognize the importance and the necessity for the church as an institution through which certain essential aspects of Christianity are carried on. I must confess, however, that I am disturbed by the striking similarity between the Pharisaism of Jesus’ day and the religious life of modern Protestantism.
Too often the church goes through the motions while the spiritual dynamic of the Gospel is missing. At one time, when I was growing up and part of the Jesus’ Movement in Hawaii, I thought it was best to leave the institutionalized church – I and many others who were fed up with the talk the church was doing, with no action. As much as I could, I wanted to find out what God had to say about His church and this led my back to the Scriptures themselves. And God, in His part, began to bring me back into a valid and vital relationship with the local church.
I discovered that God’s basic call was to mission – to engage in a redemptive task in the world. He was calling a people who would give their all – even their lives if necessary – to join with Him in this redemptive task. He said to His church, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests” – men and women who understood who God is and what God is about in the world.
I came to understand that this mission is both personal and social. The priesthood of all believers means that since every believer is a priest, every Christian is called to be a minister and has a ministry. Thus, the call to salvation and the call to ministry are one and the same. Young people who struggle with the question of whether God has “called” them into the “ministry” are asking, it seems to me, the wrong question. For if a person has been called by God to be a Christian, then he has also been called into the ministry.
This is, in fact, how God fulfills His mission in the world. He calls every Christian to mission and the Christian, in turn, fulfills his mission through his ministry. This means that the primary responsibility for carrying out God’s mission in the world is not that of the “clergy” but of the laos – the entire people of God. We cannot, therefore, slough off our “ministry” to others and just pay the salary of the “clergy” or the “missionary.” We all have a responsibility in addition to the giving of our money.
This leads us to a second important aspect of mission, namely its social dimension. If God’s mission in the world is to be accomplished, then his “ministers” – the laos – are to carry out their ministry in the world. To “believe” in Christ means to join Him in what He is seeking to do in the world. It is for this very reason that Christ gave pastor-teachers to the church (Eph. 4:11-12). He calls them to equip the saints – His basic ministers – for their ministry, and in this way the Body of Christ is built up both by the addition of new “cells” to the Body (evangelism) but also by the nourishing of existing “cells” (edification). This equipping ministry of pastor-teachers is of unique importance and must be undertaken with the utmost dedication. If the church is failing to advance the mission of God in the world, it may be because we have been relying upon the wrong people to be His ministers. God has called every believer to be a minister, and His people are to be equipped for this call.
If, then, the ministry of the laos is God’s means of fulfilling His mission in the world, it is necessary that we view what we do on Sunday as merely the beginning, not the climax, of our work. In other words, we need to change the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of the ministry of our churches. The question is not “How many attended on Sunday?” but “What did those who attended on Sunday do during the week to advance God’s mission?” This is what it means to be the People of God. It is a people who understand that the mission of the church is to fulfill God’s redemptive mission. Our calling is to join God’s army and become aggressively involved in His mission in the world.
The point is that God’s call to salvation and His call to mission are one and the same. To follow Christ in this way is not optional for the one who is truly “born again.” It is to this life of mission that he must respond. Not only is this possible and practical in this day of over-professionalization; an emphasis on anything else is a perversion of the Gospel.
May 2, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.