As it happens, Keller’s City to City organization puts out a monthly newsletter, wherein Keller himself continues a dialogue this month on the issue of the church’s personal and/or social purpose. To quote his intro/tag-line:
Is the mission of the local church to evangelize and produce disciples? Or is it to do justice and transform culture? Or is it an equal emphasis and combination of both?
As for my own take on the subject, it should be apparent just from my title above that I believe it HAS to be a BOTH/AND approach, or it’s not likely to work very well.
For one thing, as a charismatic Christian who has participated in various faith traditions, I’ve been involved with some “flops”, relatively speaking, when good intentions and even good plans have run into God’s slightly different plan or timing (i.e. when the Spirit may not have actually led the way). If nothing else, “fleshly” or trendy efforts without both a personal AND a social energy driving them tend to fade. So-called social “movements” come and go –even those with a strong spiritual foundation– leaving behind both good work and unfinished business in their wake. Individual adherents grow up, sell out, move on to the next trend, or just lose their fire in what Kierkegaard once called this “long obedience in the same direction”. Agencies compromise, are co-opted, or get sidetracked by priorities (or realities) that pull them away from their primary mission.
Hence the need for evangelism and discipleship. The Holy Spirit (with scripture as the foundational but not sole research/relational method) is Yahweh’s main broadcast channel for these twin tasks, and He/She/It gives one strength for the long haul. Discipleship exists primarily to teach us to listen, so that God’s increasingly familiar Spirit can either lead the way or hold us back. This is important lest some ministry or service project become a humanistic way of trying to earn a sense of worthiness, or even assure salvation itself.
Worthiness and unworthiness intertwined. The “beautiful mess” that characterizes our human character. These are the essence of dignity and purpose in the eyes of a healing, forgiving Creator God. So our dignity and our salvation are partly inherent, mostly bestowed, and almost entirely out of our control. Therefore that listening, often called discernment, should be a self-renewing process of discipleship and maturity — as we let go of our own plan and instead allow ourselves to grow into or claim that sense of whom God has created, and our role in the Big Picture.
Then of course, listening should lead to doing, or God’s grander purposes cannot be fulfilled.
Ours is a God who seemingly never stands still, and it stands to reason we should not rest on our laurels either… which leads, of course, to ministry… to “doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly” with our God.
So evangelism is first for the healing transformation of those who encounter Jesus, but then also –and soon after– it is the recruitment and staffing method for God’s plan, a plan to serve God’s beloved children both in and out of the church. God seeks to equip us not first for our own prosperity or to feed our ego, but because it is only in using our new spiritual equipment (such as faith, hope, love, postcard mailings, paintbrushes, soup pots) that the fullness of God’s joy will become apparent to us, and to a world in dire need.
It is by getting our fingers dirty that we receive God’s cleansing grace, and pass it along to others.
Time to start that spring cleaning, people! Prayerbook or guitar in one hand, broom, bullhorn or Twelve-Step schedule in the other…
- Spring Cleaning: Don’t Be Afraid To Fall, Don’t Be Afraid To Die (markedwardturnbull.com)