A few years ago, a prominent church leader was promoting the mantra "The church is the hope of the world." I'm not entirely sure who it was, but I remember it being a popular saying. At first glance, this looks like a great way of talking about role of the church in the world. I've been thinking about it a bit more as I'm working on revisions to my next book, which are due much quicker than I'd like. It seems to me that we have to think about what we mean by church and it's mission in the world a bit more.
The church's mission is itself. For many, the mission of the church is growing itself. The assumption that if the church grows that the world will be impacted. The mission of the church with this mindset it to enlist church members to help gather more people.
The church has a mission. In this imagination, mission is one of the things that it does, alongside other things. Mission is the outreach activity and a part if it's church strategy. Usually, this comes with statements like "if everything is mission then nothing is mission" or a search to find a church's unique focus or mission.
The church is on mission. Those who take this perspective, emphasize the work of the church in the world. Usually there is a focus on doing what Jesus would do in the world. This sounds very correct, but usually it comes with a set of rules and lists of what Jesus would or would not be doing in this mission.
The church is mission. In this point of view, the church does not have a mission, the way of the church is the mission. The church is viewed as a enclave that is withdrawn from the world and is not so much called to impact or engage the world but to be a world in and of itself.
The church participates in God's mission. I get concerned about how we are more concerned about doing "the mission" than we are about learning how to encounter God in the life and work of the mission that the Triune God is doing. We do "missional" things—we do the right stuff to impact the world—then we leave the rest of our lives untouched by the Gospel. We are not relating to the head of mission—that is Christ (see Col 2)—while we try to be "emergent", "monastic", relevant, post-modern, evangelistic, or whatever we might call it. We must discover how to encounter the God of mission and join the Spirit who is on mission. God is the hope of the world. We join the Father, Son and Spirit in this hope. We need eyes to see what he is doing. We need ears to hear the pain of our world and how God would have us respond. This is about "who" we are, not just "what" we do. But this might require us to take a long hard look in the mirror. As we do this, we can invite the Spirit to change us to be a people of hope, not so that more and more people can come to our church buildings—although that's not a bad thing—but for the simple reason that God has woven his love into our lives that we become the kind of people who love just because, no strings attached. People will respond to that kind of love. In that they will find hope.
How is your church participating in the hope of the world?