In my last blog, “The Mission of the Church” I discussed how the mission of the universal church is to make disciples. Now every church has its own unique identity and DNA in which it goes about this mission, which is informed by its theology, philosophy of ministry, and cultural landscape. At the Hill Church, we believe that an incarnational and missional model is the best way to reach the lost and build disciples, both because of the Biblical example that Christ left us, and the increasingly post-Christian culture here in the west.
The focal point of the missio Dei is the Incarnation of Christ. Without God the Son putting on flesh and entering into our world there would be no salvation. If Christ did not die on the cross there would be no restoration of shalom and this world would be left in its brokenness and decay. The Incarnation was the love of God for fallen humanity on full display as Christ entered into our neighborhood, lived among us, so that he could save us. Naturally the theological necessity and implications of the Incarnation is too vast for us to deal with adequately in this blog. However, it is beneficial to discuss how the incarnation has influenced The Hill Church to become incarnational in our communities.
First, the church has always been intrinsically incarnational. Peter warns believers that they are “elect exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1) and “aliens and strangers” in the land (1 Pet. 2:11). This imagery illustrates that Christian culture is not and cannot be identical with the culture of the world. Just like how foreigners bring different customs and traditions with them to another land, we do not have similar conducts and behaviors as our host culture. So if the church is to engage the lost around us, we naturally have to live incarnationally, engaging with them where they live and in their surroundings. The goal of an incarnational church is not to create a Christian culture inside a secular one, but it’s to live our Christian identity within the culture. This is why “relevance models” can cause so much damage because we strip ourselves of our cultural distinctiveness in order to look like a lost culture. The mission of an incarnational church is not to conform to the culture but to contradict it and to challenge it. It is important to stress that this ministry only works if the church engages with their neighborhoods and city. If a church is to be salt and light in a community, then it needs to be actively involved in the community. A church that only engages on Sunday mornings inside the walls of their own building will never participate in cultural renewal. At best it helps mature and sanctify believers, but it does little to restoring the brokenness of the city.
Second, an incarnational ministry seeks a complete restoration of shalom in the city. Just like how Christ came to restore all things unto Himself, so does an incarnational ministry seek to restore all that is broken within their city walls. This absolutely includes gospel declaration to those hostile to the church, but the church also alerts people to the reign of God through demonstrating the full implications of the gospel; the restoring of shalom in all things with the full installment of the kingdom. The church, therefore, feeds the hungry so that there is no such thing as starvation in the city. The church takes care and heals the sick so that there is no disease. If we are declarers of the gospel, then we seek to demonstrate the full implications of the gospel. A church for their city seeks the flourishing and restoration of their communities for the purpose of giving a foretaste of the kingdom of God. There are some who argue that a missional model deemphasizes the purpose of the church to glorify and worship God. This cannot be further from the truth. Sunday’s are important for corporate worship, the corporate study of the Word of God, the remembrance of the gospel, and encouraging and shepherding the flock. However, a missional church sees that the Church worships God everyday of the week and brings glory to him as they engage in the brokenness of the city. If they purpose of the missio Dei is the glory of God, then the churches participation in the missio Dei brings glory to God. Worship goes beyond a building on one day a week, but it permeates the life of the church as they offer their lives as living sacrifices unto the Lord (Rom. 12:1).
Lastly, the incarnational church is a “go to them” model and not a “come and hear” model. In the attractional model, the church continually bids for the attention of those outside of its walls by enticing people to come in. Church pastors and elders continually dream and think of new gimmicks and programs that would interest non-believers and the unchurched to attend their Sunday morning services. However the major problem with this is that those in a Post-Christian culture will not wonder inside of their buildings. They are suspect of the church and not even a free pizza lunch after the service will bring them through the doors. However, the startling reality is that the church was never called to be a stationary movement. The mission of the church is a “go and tell” commission, and to engage the lost where the lost live. An incarnational church sees ministry in all that they do and ministry is a community effort. It emphasizes that the best strategy is for a group of Christians to permeate within a neighborhood and group. Just as salt and light absorbs and engulfs what it touches and surrounds, so the church builds real relationships with people of their community so that gospel testimony occurs naturally. Proponents of the Attractional church model need to ask themselves why would they settle for the only place where a lost person can be engaged with the gospel is inside their church walls? Why wouldn’t we want to have a number of missional communities permeating throughout the city so that when one goes to Starbucks for coffee, a grocery store for food, a sporting event, or a movie theatre that they will be confronted by believers who see their whole lives as a mission field and give them a contrasting focus on life centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ? Instead of investing time and money determining how to better attract those outside the church walls, the incarnational church invests in people and organic relationships to infiltrate the lost culture for the purpose of gospel engagement.
In my last blog post I talked about the Mission of God. And it's important before we talk about the Mission of The Hill Church that we take a step back and see from a higher perspective of what God is doing on a greater narrative and a bigger picture. If I can put it a different way, the fact that we have a God on mission has implications for his people, the Church, and the mission of the Church therefore has implications for the mission of the Hill Church in Fayetteville, AR.
If I could sum up my last blog post it would be that the mission of God is for the acclaim of his own glory through the redemption and restoration of broken creation. But in the midst of all this restoration, God has elected a specific people to be a redeemed community, called the church, and for them to be the mouthpiece of his truth and beauty. The church then plays a vital role in announcing the works of the Triune God. Since the church is a product of a missional God the very purpose of the church is to be missional. Let me put it a little bit more bluntly. The church was never meant to be a collection of saved individuals who just look inwardly and try to learn more Bible facts, but its sole purpose is to partake in the mission of God by glorifying Him through the restoration of all things. The mission of God and the mission of the Church are inseparably interconnected.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, the Apostle Paul highlights the mission of the church. He says:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Just like the first creation declares the glory of God by displaying his internal attributes and glory (Rom. 1:20), so also the second creation, regenerated believers, declares the glory of God because of its origins. Just as the Father sent the Son to fulfill the mission of God, now the Son sends the Church as ambassadors to this lost and broken world. The universal church ministers, serves, pleads, preaches, prays, and engages all aspects of broken creation, taking part of the restoration of shalom for the glory of God.
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus further explains the mission of the church through what theologians call The Great Commission. In this text Christ says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The important thing to highlight in this text is that Jesus claims that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. Already in the Gospel’s Jesus has shown this authority at work when he calmed the storms (Matt. 8:23-27) with his rebuke and healed the centurion servant by his mere words even though he was miles away (Matt. 8:5-13). Now if Christ can foster those types of results with the mere pronouncing of words, then you can trust that what Christ say’s next is going to happen. You know that when he says, “I am sending you to all nations in order to make disciples”, that if Christ is the active agent, then the spiritually dead will be awaken and the lost will be found. God’s word will never return in void (Isa. 55:11). Christ has said that he has been given authority and on that proclamation he commissions the church to go and make disciples of all nations. The church then participates in the missio Dei (Mission of God) by bringing glory to God through gospel declaration throughout all nations and the development of disciples.
The church then is meant to be a “go and tell” body that goes to the people that are lost and the places that are lost in order to seek to transform it and redeem it into the image of Christ and into the coming kingdom. However an honest assessment of our churches will reveal that the inside of our churches has become influenced more by the outside culture more than the church as been the salt and light to the community. This is the result from the desire to be “relevant” and the aspiration to resemble the trends and fads, not for the sake of incarnational ministry, but in order to be liked by society. The influence of the culture on the church has not helped it win converts or to distinguish it as a contrastive community. It has had the opposite effect, where the divorce rate is the same inside the church, even higher in some places, as it is in the secular culture, and morality such as sex outside of marriage and acceptance of sexual immorality in all of its forms has become increasingly customary in the church. When relevance became the mission of church, something went askew.
This “come and here” model of doing church does not work anymore because those who are hostile towards the faith and those who want nothing to do with Christianity will never set foot in a church. But the church was never meant to have a “come and here” philosophy but since its inception it has been a “go and tell” culture. Since our God is a missionary God, then his people are a missionary people. In light of this, JR Woodward slightly edits a quote by Karl Barth and says, “a church which is not on mission is either not yet or no longer the church or only a dead church – itself in need of renewal” (Creating a Missional Culture, pg. 28). According to Barth, if the church is not marked as sent people who engage the lost then they are just a book club, not a church.
This is why churches now are realizing that an incarnational approach to ministry compared to an attractional model is the most effective in engaging the lost in their communities. But More on that in the next blog post entitled The Missional Church.
The majority of churchgoers today are self-seeking consumers. That may appear to be a harsh statement but in reality, we take our marketplace mentality that we get from the culture and bring into our churches. So in a culture that’s all about “me”, like what products make me look cooler and more stylish, which friends make me seem more popular, and what classes and events will add greater value to my life, its no surprise that this has rubbed off on us about how we do church. Therefore, when it comes to God and church, we tend to think that we are the center of this whole thing, as if church was about us and what we get out of it. However when you look at Scripture, you will consistently see this theme that God is for God and for His glory, and the reason why the church exists is to glorify God. So in the next few weeks we are going to do a study on the Mission of God and the Mission of the Church, so that we can fully understand the purpose of the church.
The Mission of God
As a new church plant in Fayetteville Arkansas, a question that we should ask ourselves is, “why are we here?” Why does The Hill Church even exist? What’s our purpose? But before we can fully answer that question we need to go a little farther up and see what God is doing from a 1,000-foot level. Or in other words, what is God’s grand narrative in his sovereign plan? When we do that, we find out that God has been on mission from Genesis 1:1, which is to bring glory to himself through the restoration of all things that are broken. Even in the creation account, what we see is a God who brings order to the chaos (Gen. 1:2), and displays his majesty through his created works so that all might know him (Rom. 1:20).
Prior to the Fall, when God created all things, everything was at such a peace that it was called shalom. In English we translate that word as “peace” but the theological idea behind shalom is far greater than just “harmony.” It refers to rightness, universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight – it’s the recognition that things are the way they are suppose to be. However, the sin of Adam and Eve broke this shalom when they sinned against the LORD, because in man’s rebellion the relationship between man and God broke. Keller says:
“Human beings are so integral to the fabric of things that when human beings turned from God the entire warp and roof of the world unraveled... We have lost God’s shalom – physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart” –Tim Keller from Reason for God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism
But God doesn’t leave this world in its state of brokenness. Ever since Genesis 3:15, he has been on mission to re-establish shalom, restore creation, bring about His kingdom, and build up the church.
The other day I dropped my iPad when I was carrying it and the screen cracked. My first reaction was disgust and anger because now this device can no longer operate the way it was functioned to operate. I got online and started to research what I could do to fix the screen and try to restore it back to its original condition. Now the silly thing is that my iPad is just a trinket. It’s a toy that I use to surf the web and watch Netflix, but as soon as it was broken I immediately began thinking about how I could restore it. If I spend so much energy to restore a device that is broken, how much more does God, who loves us and this world far more than I can love a device, long for and seek to restore his broken creation? How much more does God yearn for the restoration of all that has been skewed by the fall?
This is the glorious news of the Gospel that the church clings to and declares’; that God did not leave us in our brokenness and corruption, but he himself came to rescue and renew all of creation through the work of Jesus Christ.
For the Glory of God
Where we tend to get it wrong is often we think that God’s work of salvation and redemption is about us. That the point of God choosing us, saving us, and rescuing us from the penalty of sin is for us and our benefit. So when they look at the Bible they see a reflection of themselves and not a reflection of the God who saves. But, if I can put it simply, the point of the Bible is not man, it’s about God. God is for God and when he is at work in the universe he does it for his own glory and for his namesake. The fact that God has saved a remnant of humanity and called her the Church is not for the benefit of man, but it’s to show how great, merciful, gracious and loving is our God. So God’s mission is for his own renown.
In case you want to push back on this, let me give you a slew of Bible verses that support this.
Isaiah 43:6-7 - God created us for His glory
Isaiah 49:3 - God calls Israel for His glory
Jeremiah 13:11 – God chooses Israel as his chosen nation because his glory will be shown greater through his use of this small nation
Psalm 106:7-8 – God rescues Israel from Egypt for His glory
Romans 9:17 – God raises Pharaoh to show His power and glory
Exodus 14:4; 17-18 – God defeats Pharaoh by the Red Sea to show his glory
Ezekiel 20:14 – God spared Israel in the wilderness for the glory of His name
2 Samuel 7:23 – God gave Israel the Promised Land for his glory
2 Samuel 12:20-22 – God did not cast away His people for the glory of His name
2 Kings 19:34; 20:6 – God saved Jerusalem from attack for the glory of His name
Ezekiel 36:22-23; 32 – God restored Israel from exile for the glory of His name
John 7:18 – Jesus seeks the glory of the Father in all he did
Matthew 5:16 – Jesus says that your good works gives glory to God
John 5:44 – Jesus said that faith is impossible without seeking the glory of God
John 14:13 – Jesus answers prayers so that God would be glorified
John 12:27-28 – Jesus endured suffering for the glory of God.
Isaiah 43:25 – God forgives our sin for his own sake
Romans 15:7 – Jesus receives us into His fellowship for the glory of God
1 Corinthians 10:31 – God instructs us to do everything for his glory
1 Peter 4:11 – God tells us to serve so that we glorify Him
2 Thess. 1:9-10 – Jesus is coming again for the glory of God
John 17:24 – Jesus ultimate hope is for us to enjoy his glory
Habakkuk 2:14 – God’s plan is to fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory
Revelation 21:23 – The glory of God will replace the sun
Now I could have gone further, but I wanted to show you that this is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. Whenever we think that the story of the Scripture is about us, then we deprive God of the glory that is rightly His. And since the mission of God is for the acclaim of his glory through the redemption and restoration of broken creation, therefore, the mission of the Church should be the same. But more on that in the next blog entitled The Mission of the Church.