The Church looks upward when she worships God, inward when she seeks to build up the Christian community, and outward when she seeks to draw others into the Church. When we talk about this outward mission of the Church, we tend to talk the most about evangelism and international missions, which are certainly essential and important parts of the Church’s commission to disciple the nations.
But these aren’t the only ways that the Church interacts with those outside. When we limit our understanding of mission to evangelism and missions, we run the risk of leaving certain good works undone and certain spiritual gifts unappreciated. A church that valued preaching and singing, but neglected prayer or giving wouldn’t be worshiping in a healthy way. Similarly, a church that undervalues or loses sight of certain aspects of mission becomes unhealthy as well.
And so we need to see that the mission of the church has many faces, and we should be familiar with all of them. These faces can be categorized in a number of ways, which means that you might come up with a different list than I do, but I want to highlight seven faces of mission to capture something of the breadth of the Church’s outward calling.
As the Church interacts with the world, she will find opportunities for apologetics, evangelism, hospitality, mercy, prayer, service, and witness.
Apologetics defends and commends the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Christian faith.
Evangelism is the verbal presentation of the gospel message, whether locally or overseas.
Hospitality refers to acts of welcome in the name of Jesus.
Mercy refers to acts of compassion in response to suffering.
Prayer directed outward intercedes with God for the salvation of unbelievers.
Service means ministering to practical material needs.
Witness speaks of actions that testify to God and His truth.
Apologetics not only includes skilled debaters and thick books, but also taking the time to answer a friend’s question. Evangelism can take place in a preacher’s sermon, at a Billy Graham-style crusade, or in a checkout line conversation, as long as the gospel is articulated. Hospitality is practiced by greeters and ushers at church, by families inviting visitors over for a meal, and even by the guy who designs a better church logo or the gal who gives the church website a makeover.
Mercy shows forth the compassion of Christ through financial, medical, legal, and other types of aid, with soup kitchens, food banks, and crisis pregnancy centers being key examples. Prayers for revival and for the salvation of unbelievers may be the most invisible way of sharing in God’s mission, but also the most valuable. Running a Christian school, offering tutoring or ESL classes, or hosting community events at the church can be ways of serving the world in Christ’s name. Bearing witness involves speaking and doing the truth, which can be as prophetic as picketing an abortion mill or as ordinary as a man marrying a woman and welcoming God’s gift of children.
Any church or Christian who engages in any of these things is carrying out the mission of God, furthering the goal of discipling the nations in obedience to Christ.
Each of these aspects of the Church’s outward mission are distinct from one another, though there may be a great deal of overlap between them in any specific instance. For example, an act of service or mercy might lead seamlessly into evangelism, and a moment of bearing witness might provoke an apologetic encounter. But the value of recognizing each of these faces of mission comes when churches and church members find a place where they can serve faithfully and fruitfully.
Not every church will have an apologetics ministry or a soup kitchen, and not every member will be an evangelist or a missionary, but all churches and all members are called to participate in the outward mission of Christ’s Church, and there will be moments in the life of each church where mission takes each of these forms.
When we see all of the many faces of mission, we are better able to see where we fit into the mission that Jesus gave to His Church.