For the last three weeks I have been immersed in discussions about the mission of God: the Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN) conference, Dr. Farrar spoke to us last Sunday, and yesterday morning a group gathered at the Wilsons' home to pray about the mission and then many of us enjoyed a time of worship and fellowship at the Canfields' house last evening. One theme runs through all of this – God is doing wondrous things in this world and we are sent to witness it.

Read Luke 10. After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house.' And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 'The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.' But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city.
... Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." And He said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven."

Traditional View: The church has a mission. That statement seems so simple and unsurprising. Of course the church has a mission. And what is that mission? Well, we think of the Great Commission. Evangelism must be the mission of the church. But the Great Commission also involves teaching, so the mission of the church is evangelizing and teaching. But what about good works? Of course we need to do good works, so we should also affirm that the mission of the church is to do good works. Evangelism, education, service – these are the mission of the church. But what about fellowship and edification? You know, just spending time with one another and encouraging one another? Do we have to feel guilty about that because it isn’t really mission? Does that really fit into the church’s mission or is it a secondary activity? Well, I suppose they could fit into mission. Jesus certainly wouldn’t want his disciples to be strangers to one another. He did say, "People will know you are My disciples if you love one another." So, the mission of the church is evangelism, education, service, fellowship, and edification. Have we left anything out? ...

This is why it is difficult to write a mission statement. We want to cover everything the church needs to do. And when you start considering how we are going to fund activities, plan programs, and build buildings then it gets even more intimidating and complex. I don’t want to seem alarming or cynical (and I am certainly not being critical of so much good that has been done for generations and is being done even now), but sometimes when we think and talk about “the mission of the church” we have the whole matter turned upside down. We have the cart before the horse. I say this to be hopeful because we will be less discouraged and more inspired when we realize that the church doesn’t have a mission. Rather, the mission has a church!

What do I mean by this? I simply mean that the biblical view of the church is not that of a static organization that determines its own mission. Rather, God has a mission in this world and God is about His mission; He is calling and sending people caught up in that mission and they are the church.

When the mission has a church, then we are no longer tempted to shape the mission into whatever we want, instead we are shaped and formed according to God’s mission in this world. We see this clearly in Luke 10 when Jesus sends the 70.

  1. The mission has a church because Jesus sends his disciples with intention. He sent them to the towns and places where he intended to go.
  2. The mission has a church because God supplies the laborers for the mission. Jesus tells us that our first work in mission is to pray -- to ask the Lord of the harvest for workers.
  3. The mission has a church because (and this one is so difficult) we are sent out like lambs among wolves. We are not conquerors establishing our rule; we are heralds announcing the rule of God: we proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near you.”
  4. The mission has a church and so we needn’t get distracted and worried with the many things we assume necessary for that mission: purse, bag, sandals – buildings, programs, personnel, influential contacts, or even well-crafted mission statements!
Do not suppose that I have just dismissed the hard work and thought of those who labored to put up these lovely banners. I am not. The proper way to read these statements is not as if the church gave life to the words, but to always know that these words give life to the church! These statements did not originate in Fort Smith. The mission to Southeast Asia, Africa, France, and Guyana [etc.] did not originate in Fort Smith. The mission to all parts of the earth originates from the Lord who sends us out ...

The Mission Report: (The Return of the 70)
I truly had a sense of this yesterday when some of us gathered to talk about and pray for our partners in mission here and around the world. We prayed and gave reports on the mission in New Zealand, Southeast Asia, Africa, France, Guyana, and even Fort Smith. The common theme to all of these was recognition of what God was doing. That’s a true mission report – to report on what God has done.

Traditionally, we have thought of the mission report as a status report from “our” missionaries? Consider the assumptions: Why do we think missionaries have to give “us” a report? Is it because we expect it? Is it because we regard ourselves as investors who fund the mission? Again these are assumptions that must be tested if we are to be the church shaped by God’s mission rather than another agenda. With the traditional view, we expect reports from our missionaries but we don’t have anything to report ourselves. We assume that we are the senders and they are the sent. That is not the mission’s church: Our missionaries should expect reports from us as much as we want reports from them. We all need encouragement of what God is doing among us. We should send them good news of what God is doing and invite the same of them (and many of them are doing so).
I am inspired by the stories being told about God’s mission around the world. Last Sunday, Dr. Henry Farrar encouraged us with a lifetime of stories of God’s work in Nigeria. Because of God he has keen eyes and steady hands and through him God is healing sickness and disease. The mission has a church in Nigeria.
I think of our missionaries who are working subversively for God in Laos. The mission’s church works in secret, but the kingdom reign of God over Laos will not always be a secret. It is no secret to us! God continues his mission there.
Likewise, our missionary in Vietnam and his wife are the mission’s church in a place where the mission of God encounters hostility. But he has encouraged us by reminding us that it doesn’t matter if the church is legal or illegal in Vietnam, because God’s mission continues regardless. We should be emboldened by their refusal to submit to powers of lesser authority than God. Let that strengthen us as we enter into the kingdom of God in this place.
Every time John Paul and Ruby Lee Hundley are visiting with us they share stories about people they love in France. The mission has a church there and it has created a family of believers.
I have always been encouraged by Steve DeLoach’s reports – better to call them “stories” – because Steve makes it clear that God is doing amazing things. The mission has a church in Guyana – a church made up of believers in Guyana and many other nations who come and participate in what God is doing there.

I am convicted that we can tell stories just like this about Fort Smith and how God is working through West-Ark. I am convicted that we too are the mission’s church. There is no reason for us to believe that God works differently around the world than he does across the street or right here in this assembly. Mission reports and mission stories are not just reports for missionaries to give to us. We need to give our mission reports, too. Let us tell what God is doing through the Iglesia de Cristo, the Laotian Church, CURE, the Outreach Service Center downtown, and Overcomers Outreach. But let’s not stop there – God is also working through the ministries we often consider “internal” (but I tell you that they are mission if God is working through them!). Let us report on what God is doing through FLOCK, GATEWAY, the Youth Ministry, Lions for Christ, Kids for Christ, Connections, and just the everyday fact of being disciples for Jesus eager to serve others.

Like the 70 who were sent, we need to give our reports, too – and we give them to Jesus. Later in Luke 10, you will notice that the 70 returned with fascinating news of what God was doing to overthrow evil. “Even the demons submitted to us!” they report to Jesus. And notice very carefully Jesus’ response: He rejoices in the Holy Spirit. That’s why I want to be the mission’s church. Don’t you want to cause Jesus to rejoice?! Don’t you want to hear him say: “I saw Satan fall like lightning!”?

Earlier I invited you to contribute your money to supporting those who are involved in the mission in other places. Now I invite you to give yourself. The mission’s church is caught up in the tidal wave of God’s mission on earth, but if you want to be part of it you have to get into the water. The kingdom of God isn’t something we build. God is building it. We enter into it and receive it. The mission of God goes on and it shapes a church out of people like Steve, John Paul and Ruby Lee, Thomas, Oscar, and you. The mission of God is not simply the work of a few invested and interested individuals. The mission is the calling of all immersed individuals who are the church shaped by the mission. The church doesn’t have a mission – the mission of God has a church. Let’s be that church.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 6 November 2005

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