More on What is the Mission of the Church?

Last week, I wrote a review of Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s book What is the Mission of the Church?. On his blog at The Gospel Coalition today, Pastor DeYoung addresses some of the criticism the book has received. Here is a brief excerpt:

The question we are addressing in the book is whether the mission of the church—the thing it is organized and sent into the world to do—is to do those good deeds to the end of making the world a better place. Is it the church’s mission to do city renewal, to do neighborhood revitalization, to eradicate poverty, to eliminate hunger, to raise the global standard of living? Of course, we all want to see this happen. But should we always expect to see this happen? Is this why God gathers weak and weary sinners into churches? Is the presence of social problems in a community a sign that the church has been unfaithful to its mission? That’s the direction this discussion of mission often runs. We’ve seen well-meaning evangelical Christians explain church planting initiatives with the language of pulling “the whole community together [to] make a measurable difference.” The expressed desire is to be “agents in improving graduation rates, increasing literacy or lowering unemployment.” They ask, “What if together we could provide tutoring in every school, support services for every fire station, or orientation for every immigrant?” (We’re not making up these quotes.) Obviously, these are fine causes, ones Christians may pursue—and some will be called to pursue—out of love for others. But then again, is this the sort of work we see Jesus engaged in during his ministry? Is it the ministry we see pursued in the book of Acts? It sounds good to say mission is “both-and,” that the church should do these things while still making the gospel central. But churches do not have infinite resources, people, or time. The church cannot do every good thing that could be done. There must be priorities. We argue that the church’s priority—and the grid through which mission endeavors should be evaluated—is teaching others about Christ to the end that they may worship him now and forever.

Just to reiterate, our book is not about whether good deeds commend the preaching of the gospel, and whether therefore they are vitally important to the mission. It’s a question of whether it’s the church’s mission—its Christ-given orders—to improve the world and make it more livable. That’s what large numbers of evangelicals seem to think these days. They talk as if Jesus expects them to improve housing options and sanitation in their cities. They adopt church slogans that call their people to “Change the City and Change the World.” They publish brochures that say that their churches exist to make their cities livable for all people, that their Sunday morning services happen so that all people—Christian or not—can share their Christ-given gifts with the city, and they invite all people, regardless of faith, to join them in the great work of revitalizing the downtown area. That’s what too many young Christians today think the church is about. And therefore that’s the main thing we are questioning in What Is the Mission of the Church? and pleading with people to reconsider.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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