Mission: The Activity of the Church

A thing’s purpose dictates its form. Its mission determines its shape.

That’s why a knife differs in shape from a spoon. It’s why a house differs in shape from a pen. Purpose determines shape or form. It seems obvious, but the implications are far reaching.

For example, consider the purpose of the church. What is its mission, in other words? And what shape must the life of the church take in order to match its mission by God’s design?

Starting in the Wrong Place

When it comes to the purpose of the church, we often start in the wrong place. That is, we begin with the wrong reality. We take the church as a given, and then we ask the question, “What is the church’s mission?”

The problem is that we are getting the question backward.

As scholar Christopher J. H. Wright has said, “[I]t is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission” (14).

“The church is the consequence, the result, of God’s own missionary activity.”

In other words, God’s mission came first and God’s church came second. The church exists for the mission—not the other way around. But what exactly is God’s mission?

The Mission That Makes the Church

The Bible tells us that the world was created for God, has fallen from God, and is being reconciled to God (Col. 1:15–20). God’s actions in that sequence of creation, fall, and redemption are what we mean by the “mission of God.” It is a shorthand way to describe what God is doing in the world.

The apostle Paul puts it like this: “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” (2 Cor. 5:17–19 ESV).

The Greek word for reconciliation used here is the same word that describes what Christ does with his enemies (Rom. 5:10), as well as what spouses in conflict are called to do with each other (1 Cor. 7:11). In other words, reconciliation is a reunion of two estranged parties and a restoration of the fellowship they formerly enjoyed with all its benefits. This is the mission of God that literally makes the church. Thus, the church is the consequence—the result—of God’s own missionary activity (Titus 2:11–14). It was brought into being for this purpose, and this mission, in turn, directs the shape and life of its ministry.

The Church That Lives on Mission

The church isn’t just the result of God’s mission; it’s also the chosen vessel for it.

Paul says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. . . . Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:18, 20 ESV).

Our identity as ambassadors is connected to Christ’s missionary purposes in the world. He has saved us from sin, but he saved us for mission, making us his own representatives. Indeed, that’s what ambassadors are: representatives who speak and act on the king’s behalf, under his authority, carrying out his desires.

“Christ has saved us from sin, but he has saved us for mission, making us his own representatives.”

This purpose shapes the life of God’s people, both when we gather on Sundays and when we scatter during the rest of the week. It means we speak on the King’s behalf, both talking directly about him (evangelism) as well as talking about what he cares about (truth) in ways that truly reflect him (love).

It also means we live to bring glory to the King. All our actions in all areas of life should point to Christ and the reconciliation he has purchased for the world. Christians know no sacred-secular divide. Jesus is Lord over all.

Finally, it means we embrace our calling on mission. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV). This is not only for missionaries and church planters. It’s a job description for ambassadors. It’s the purpose of the church. It’s the activity of ambassadors. And it’s for everyone who’s been reconciled.

Cliff Jordan is the lead pastor at Movement Church in Richmond, Virginia, which he planted in 2010.

Related: Start with Why: The Motivation for the Mission, Identity before Action: Ambassadors on Mission