22 Nov

There seems to be a bit of discussion going on right now over a book called, What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. If you are interested, Ed Stetzer gathers together some of the different reviews of the book.

This can be an emotional issue. I think it should be. What is the mission of the church? Evangelism, discipleship, loving your neighbor, caring for the poor, these are important subjects that we should get fired up about. We need to think carefully, we need to push each other to speak more carefully, we need discussions about this kind of stuff. But sometimes, when you are emotionally fired up about an issue it is difficult to truly hear those who seem to disagree with you.

I can give you an example from my own life.

Take the way DeYoung and Gilbert summarize the mission of the church.

“The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples in churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.” (p.62)

I love that. I believe that. That’s what I hope I am about.

But still, I have had people tell others that I believe in a mercy-centered ministry or that the church should be a soup kitchen and other kinds of things like that. Now when I hear that it always makes me scratch my head. It’s taken me about a year to go through Ephesians and we are only in chapter 4. I spend hours each week discipling and teaching individuals from the church. I am planting a church.

My point isn’t so much to defend myself as it is to say that it is really possible to miss what someone is actually saying and argue with someone who isn’t arguing with you.

I think if you read through the reviews you will notice that DeYoung and Gilbert seem to express some concern regarding that, where they are concerned that people read what they are writing and take it to mean something they didn’t. I can see how that can happen. I have been slow to read the book honestly because I love the ministry I am in so much that I am quick to fight for it, even if it isn’t been attacked.

Those who are really energized and concerned about the poor should know that the best way to show love to anyone is to help them understand the gospel and live their lives in obedience to Christ. When people emphasize the importance of proclaiming the message of the gospel, that isn’t minimizing concern for people, that is maximizing it! Saying the church’s mission is to make disciples, isn’t an attack on ministry to those who are in vulnerable situations, because if you are really making disciples they will have a concern for those who are in vulnerable situations and there’s nothing those in vulnerable situations need more than to learn how to better follow Christ.

On the other hand, those who are really energized and concerned about discipleship and specifically discipleship by proclaiming and teaching should know that sometimes people are concerned about justice and the poor because they are concerned about those things. There are some for example who believe that part of putting off the old self is putting of self-absorption and that self-absorption really runs deep and one of the ways it expresses itself in many churches is a failure to take seriously the deep problems in society and in the lives of the people who are living near them.

If I am a pastor in a society that still worships its ancestors, then when it comes to discipleship, I can’t avoid this issue. I have to think carefully about how we as a church can address this issue. And if I am a pastor in a society that worships money or that worships its own culture or where people are trained not to be concerned about a certain segment of society, then when it comes to discipleship it would be irresponsible of me not to think about how I can lead people to put off the old self in these areas.

I wonder if some of the problems discussing stuff like this comes down to a sort of naivete about the issues. I always want to be careful talking about naivete because I am sure I am one of the most naive of all, but when it comes to justice and the poor and the church, this is definitely a problem.

For example, it is easy to be naive about ministry to the poor. Sometimes we are tempted to think that the poor are only victims and of ourselves as their Messiah and if we can just go in there and serve them, they will lift us on their shoulders and cheer and we can solve all their problems with just a little bit of hard work. This ignores the reality of depravity. I don’t know how anyone can work with anyone in crisis situations and not see the desperate need for truth and also the desperate need for Jesus to come back. You would have to be pretty blind to be involved in real relationships with those who are in crisis situations and not see that you are not the ultimate solution, that these are ultimately only problems that can be fixed by the return of Christ, and that there is a much bigger problem in this world than simply not having enough money.

I wonder if sometimes it is easy to be naive about the problems in mercy ministries that aren’t centered on the gospel. I have always been involved in Bible teaching churches and haven’t participated in ministries that didn’t take Bible teaching seriously and I wonder if that may be part of why I don’t always understand who men like DeYoung and Gilbert are talking to. I just haven’t seen it as much as they have, and yet I believe that if I did, I would be pretty worked up as well. For one thing there is no mercy without truth and for another, this is the gospel we are talking about! It’s everything to us and we have to want to keep the church on track in teaching and proclaiming it.

On the other hand, I wonder if it is easy to be naive about the level of self-absorption that sometimes exists in churches that are preaching and teaching centers. I shouldn’t talk for others, but sometimes when I hear people talking about the problems of the poor and solutions to those problems I wonder a little if they have ever had deep relationships with people in these kinds of crisis situations. I know I for one, could have talked about the problem of racism before I moved to South Africa but I never felt it, I never saw how deep it goes until I started walking a road with certain members of our church. It sometimes feels like discussing running a marathon with a person who started running at mile 23 and he is minimizing the difficulties of running the marathon when others started the marathon at negative mile 100.

Again, so much of this isn’t really about a certain ministry to the poor but it is about love. At the end of the day, that’s so much what it is about and why I at least get fired up. If you have a church that is just overflowing with love for God and their neighbors and their enemies and they are working hard and thinking carefully about the best ways of doing that and they are working hard at discipling their people to live lives of sacrificial love and to share the gospel and to be willing to take risks to proclaim the gospel, then who is going to argue if they don’t say, have a particular organized orphan ministry? But sometimes a lack of concern and thought by the leadership of a church in regards to issues like this seems to be a symptom of a deeper problem and it isn’t first a lack of an organized mercy ministry, it is a lack of mercy.

4 Responses to “Rambling…”

  1. Tommie November 22, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    I read a post over at CrippelGate a few weeks back that also felt a bit off. I just tried to explain it away for myself by saying they just overreacting to some social gospel, church as a soup kitchen approach but, it has stayed in the back of my mind. (There is just something off in that guys view, I think. I read his post a few times, he even wrote a follow up but, I just couldn’t roll with it. Mostly I love their stuff. )

    I think the correct balance is the key; I almost want to say it’s not a balancing act with truth and love. It has something more to do with truth in love.
    The giving of physical help so mashed in with truth that it cannot be made two of.

  2. Tommie November 22, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    Ps love the pic but, invite me over so that I can take a picture with you in it 🙂

    • joshnmarda November 22, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

      Sounds like a great idea! Let’s make a plan…

  3. Joe Lima November 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    Really thoughtful post Josh. Great balance. Josh, you don’t need to justify yourself to others for rightly doing what others refuse to do. They will always try to defend their evident lack of mercy by pointing out your abundance of mercy as proof that you believe that the church should be a soup kitchen. Honest people without hidden agendas who have bothered to actually go to Living Hope to see the style of ecclesiology and listen to the expositional, biblical teaching that is taught with the conviction that the Bible is the word of God know what the truth is. You keep on preaching, teaching and reaching in love my friend for there is no law in the scripture against that but certainly there is a biblical mandate to preach, teach and reach in love as the Beautiful One Himself modelled on earth that we might have an example to imitate.

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