Identity and mission have always been critical issues for leaders and organizations. A clear sense of who you are and what you are supposed to do is essential.
In Matthew 16, the identity and mission of Jesus come into sharp focus. He asked his followers, “Who do you say that I am?” The answer was articulated by Peter and affirmed by Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16, ESV).
Then comes the statement of mission. Jesus declared: “I will build my church.” So committed was he to this mission that he added, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, ESV).
Given the clarity of Jesus’ words, it’s really not surprising to read what the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth. They were learning what it meant to follow Christ and to use their spiritual gifts. In that context, Paul wrote:
“strive to excel in building up the church.”
(1 Corinthians 14:9, ESV)
So what is this “church” that Jesus declared that he would “build” and that the Apostle Paul said we should “strive to excel in building up”?
Our English word “church” translates the Greek New Testament word, ekklesia. This is a compound word which joins a preposition, “ek-,” (meaning “out of”) with a form of the word “kaleo” (which means “to call”). So, the “church” is comprised of people who have been “called out of” something.
The words of Jesus are instructive at precisely this point. In his prayer recorded in John 17, he says to the Father: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (John 17:6, ESV, emphasis added). So, the “church” is the assembly of those who have been called out of the world to follow Jesus and keep his word.
Though explicit in the teaching of Jesus and underscored by the Apostle Paul, the biblical mission of “building up the church” is not in vogue in some circles today. Don’t fall prey to a subtle, but dangerous re-definition of Jesus’ mission and ours. Let’s go with the gospel into the world for the purpose of making disciples and “building up the church” . . . all for the great glory of God!
Your Pastor and Friend,