By Matt Larson
Jesus said some pretty powerful words to Peter: “I also say that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18). The more I think about this verse, the less I view God’s version of church as our Sunday services that we have grown so accustomed to. I have a hard time believing that Jesus was saying, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will have 10 minutes of announcements leading into some upbeat singing followed by a sermon, then some downbeat music, communion, offering, a closing song and prayer.” The church seemed to be bigger than that in Jesus’ vision-casting session with Peter. Jesus was planting a seed in Peter’s mind of something huge. He was building toward an eternally-focused, other-worldly mission that His church was going to participate in.
Jesus was sending His church on mission. That phrase has been wrecking me, but it makes so much sense: the church is “on mission.”
The snowball that was early church development just seemed to have this unbelievable momentum while on mission: Jesus sends His followers out two-by-two to train them and prepare them (Luke 10:1); John 14-17 has Jesus casting vision for why He needs to go and the Spirit needs to complete the work; Jesus dies on the cross and the disciples draw back in fear; Jesus appears to them, gives them confidence and then sends them with power (Matt 28, Acts 1); then the Holy Spirit comes and in one amazing sermon 3000 people become Christ-followers (Acts 2); the Apostles organize ministry, make key decisions and start reproducing leaders; Paul, John Mark, Barnabas, Titus, and Timothy begin leading the church planting movement with Peter sending them resources and counsel from Jerusalem.
Everything about the beginning of the church has movement and momentum built in. When the book of Acts ends, there is no indication that the Holy Spirit is worn out or used up. The book of Acts ends with the expectation that the movement will continue. I believe the church that Jesus envisioned when He cast that vision with Peter is a church that is unstoppably on mission.
The big question for us is: how do we do church on mission without killing ourselves in the process?
That is a lot of vision, a lot of resources, a lot of energy and a lot of relational capital that will be used in the process of being church on mission. I’ve had a couple thoughts of how to build a church that exists on a mission without burning everybody out in the process, so, here we go:
Reproduce. The mission that Jesus gave his disciples was obviously designed to go beyond them. God used a number of guys in Acts who weren’t direct recipients of the great commission to participate in the mission (Philip, Paul, Barnabas, etc.). So, built into Jesus’ mission was a heart for raising up new leaders to join the mission.
That’s how the message best gets out beyond the Jews, outside of Israel and into other cultures. As a church we are going to emphasize reproducing artists, leaders, small groups, locations and churches so that we can have more people living on mission than if we exist without a reproducing mindset. In addition to that, the reproducing church keeps things fresh. There is always something to be working towards which keeps the church focused on what God is doing next.
Spirit-led. I know, I know… what church isn’t Spirit led? My goal is not to put other churches in the “non-Spirit-led” category by saying this. When Paul prays in Ephesians 3 that they would be strengthened through His Spirit in our inner man, we see something crazy necessary about that for churches and leaders to stay on mission.
The strength and power of the Spirit is the ONLY way that churches can stay on mission without the crash and burn factor. Before marketing, before personality, before beautiful presentation, before tech-savvy expressions we have to be churches that exist as individuals and corporate bodies strengthened and led by the Spirit.
Because of the vision that Jesus gave to Peter and the call for churches and individuals to be on mission, I can’t see us starting a church that isn’t on mission.
Again, the goal is not to deliver a backhanded slap to say that other churches are not on mission, this is simply the conviction and compulsion that we are operating from. Maybe this isn’t new and it isn’t even that innovative, but I do believe that if we see more churches existing on mission we are going to see churches that are completely wrecked for the ordinary.
Matt Larson is Kristen’s husband, Andrew, Jeremy and Tyler’s dad and Anthem Church’s lead planter. He is starting Anthem Church in October of 2009 with plans of being a rapidly reproducing church as a member of the NewThing Network and EFCA.