The Church’s Mission: Altars, Pitchers and Easels

In an admittedly simple fashion, the mission of the church might be described as empowering people to glorify God by obeying the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37), fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and carrying out the Cultural Mandate(Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15). We might illustrate these by an altar (a devoted life giving our all in loving God), a pitcher (the pouring of one life into another in discipleship), and an easel (the imitation of God in creating things of truth, beauty and goodness).

A healthy church would be engaging in all three of these pursuits as its mission. The size of the church is irrelevant since this mission can be pursued in a church of any size. Let’ s consider each separately.

The church, by empowering people to be altars, would be emphasizing both the love of God for us (most fully expressed in the gospel) and our call to respond in love to Him (we love because He first loved us). This love for God is to be all-encompassing, involving all of who we are and all of what we do.

When a church focuses on empowering altars to the exclusion of producing pitchers and easels, the church becomes ingrown and pietistic. The church becomes little more than a social club that meets around spiritual matters and tends to develop an “us versus them” attitude.

The church, by empowering people to be pitchers, would be emphasizing the importance of evangelism, missions and discipleship. It would be involved in training people for service and providing opportunities for people to deepen their knowledge of God and the Scriptures through its teaching and seminars. Relationships in small groups and one-on-one settings would be cultivated to personalize people’s opportunities to contribute to the church’s ministry.

When a church focuses on empowering pitchers to the exclusion of producing altars and easels, the church becomes works-centered (though they may still be preaching the gospel) and activistic. It is all about what people are “doing” for the church and can lead people to be in church four, five or more times a week. The church can fall victim to the success syndrome seeking larger attendance, buildings and income.

The church, by empowering people to be easels, would be emphasizing the church’s engagement with the culture seeking to transform the culture by the influence of Christians doing excellent work in the arts, education, government, business, health care, etc. They would see part of the engagement with culture as working with the poor and oppressed. Their vision would extend beyond the walls of the church in order to be involved in and working for their local community.

When a church focuses on empowering easels to the exclusion of producing altars and pitchers, the church becomes socially relevant but spiritually irrelevant. The desire to transform culture can become a conforming to culture. More and more of the culture can be introduced into the church so that the church loses its prophetic voice to the culture because the church is merely a poor imitation of the culture. It has been drained of its spiritual power.

I have tried (again, admittedly in a simple way) to illustrate why the need of the church is to have this three-pronged mission of obeying the Great Commandment, fulfilling the Great Commission and carrying out the Cultural Mandate. This is not a condemnation of any church in particular and there are certainly churches which are doing well in balancing these three priorities. However, I have seen many churches who are focusing on only one or two of these priorities and their churches are tottering like a stool missing one or two of its legs.

Could your church be in that situation? Is there anything that you can do to help it find a balance?

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About Dr. John H. Harbison

Son of God, Husband, Father, Author of "Keeping Christ in Ministry,"Vice-President for Academic Affairs, College Pastor, Runner, Writer
This entry was posted in The Church in the World. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Church’s Mission: Altars, Pitchers and Easels

  1. heb says:

    “well-balanced” thoughts.

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