You’ve probably been sent on a mission before. For some, it could have simply been out to the store to get some ice cream. For others, it could have been to face a deadly enemy on foreign soil.
For Christians, we have been sent. Recognize that truth is significant, particularly in a culture that is rapidly shedding the remnants of its religious veneer. How do we live in this changing culture? That starts with understanding our being sent. We know Christians are sent because Jesus says so in John 20:21. He told His followers, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.”
That immediately raises the question: What do we know about this mission on which Jesus has sent His followers?
First, we must keep in mind that God is the source of the Christian’s mission. Our sending God is a sovereign God. Looking at our current situation, followers of Jesus can rest in the fact that this cultural moment is not a surprise to the One who has sent us into this culture.
God has sent us on mission in this specific time and place. Just as Isaiah did in Isaiah 6, when we say, “Here I am, Lord,” we are asking God to send us to this moment, in this situation, in this challenging time.
So when we discuss our mission, everything else should be framed by our knowledge of the God who sent us. The situation of the world is not a surprise to a holy, loving, sovereign God. He’s not shocked or stunned by this moment. Knowing that He is an all-knowing and all-loving Creator should give us peace and encouragement to embrace this mission.
COVERAGE: The 2016 Wilberforce Weekend
Second, after understanding who the Sender is, we should pay attention to where we are being sent.
In the Christian understanding of this world, there is great beauty to be observed and which points to its Creator. Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky proclaims the work of His hands.” Creation exists to bring glory to God, but that’s not the complete story for the Christian.
We believe God created this world and called it “very good,” but sin entered the world and that sin has consequences. That sin shaped a world that is broken and lost.
By broken, we mean that the impact of that decision stains everything. Nothing in this world can escape being tainted by sin. But more than that, creation is also lost. There is something that needs to be found, a reconnection that must take place, a reconciliation that needs to be made. That leads us to the next point.
Third, we should recognize that God’s mission has a purpose.
There are not many things worse than not having purpose. But the Christian has been given a mission with a definite purpose. Jesus came to save the lost and serve the hurting. We are to join Him in that mission.
The Christian Gospel message is one that proclaims Jesus conquered sin through His death on the cross and rose three days later to conquer death itself. Gospel means good news, and that message is one of love and hope and purpose.
This is not merely news to talk about inside the four walls of a church. This is a proclamation to be made in neighborhoods and communities, towns and cities, states and nations. Because it is the good news of the rightful King coming back to rule His creation and make everything right in the end.
To establish His kingdom, Christ started the church. Whether it is a historic church in the United Kingdom, a house church in China, a megachurch in South Korea or an average church in America, each congregation is part of God’s kingdom and plays a role in its expansion. But one day that growth will be complete.
Finally, Christians should never forget that God’s mission will be completed, even while many Christians claim the sky is falling.
As executive director of LifeWay Research, I see much of the statistical data about Christianity in the U.S. I also see many of the fear-based interpretations of the data. In reality, the percentage of people who call themselves Christians and order their lives around that has not changed dramatically in decades.
We have seen, however, a significant decline in the number of nominal Christians. Those who never go to church — but check “Christian” on a survey — no longer feel compelled to select a religion. Nominal Christians are shedding their religious label and becoming the “Nones” — the unaffiliated who choose “None” on a religious survey.
Those with a loose affiliation to Christianity are also shedding that label. This is not the crisis many make it out to be, but it is significant. The sky is not falling, but most certainly the ground is shifting.
In the midst of these cultural shifts, it is important to remember that Christians believe Christ will bring His mission to a completion. Even as many paint a bleak picture, Jesus is still on the move. His kingdom is still advancing. His mission is still secure.
Until the moment God’s mission is complete, however, Christians are to continue pursuing its end. We are called to be good citizens and loving neighbors, seeking to uplift the welfare of our community and our nation. That mission is for God’s glory and our good. And it’s much more important than going out for ice cream.
• Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is executive director of LifeWay Research and co-host of “BreakPoint This Week” with John Stonestreet. Mr. Stetzer is also a contributing editor to Christianity Today magazine and executive editor of Facts & Trends, a magazine for church leaders. This article is derived from his April 8 remarks at the Wilberforce Weekend in Arlington, Virginia.