Is Your Church Experiencing Mission Drift?
No greater command was ever given to the church than in Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
These were the final and departing words of Jesus to his disciples. Thankfully, the disciples, and countless others ever since, have taken this Great Commission seriously, or else I would not be writing this blog to you today. Someone took that command to heart and shared the good news of Jesus Christ with me. And I am extremely happy that they were obedient to that Great Commission.
But how well is the church doing today in respect to obeying that Great Commission? Just as any organization needs to revisit its mission – to see if they are keeping true to their original purpose – the church is no different. Every church needs to assess how well they are doing with respect to the Great Commission.
Mission drift is a serious problem for any organization, but never more critical than for the church. The church deals with eternal matters. It cannot afford to be drifting when it comes to the Great Commission. Too much is at stake.
The church knows that to follow Jesus it must follow what he commanded and modelled. Jesus summed up his purpose in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save those who are lost. Lost people were the focus of Jesus’ ministry. That’s why he came. That’s why he taught. That’s why he died. That's why he gave us the Great Commission. Lost people were always on the mind of Jesus and at the heart of everything he did.
On one occasion when he was eating with sinners, the Pharisees criticized him for doing so. He in turn called out the Pharisees for their self-righteousness, and said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Just like Jesus, the church must have a passion for lost people. It must call; sinners to repentance, This must be the church’s central focus.
As a church gets older though, it can become difficult to remember the reasons why it was started in the first place. It can take on a club-like mentality and forget it’s to be a life-saving mission. They soon find themselves drifting away from their original purpose and mission.
So, what causes a church to drift away from the Great Commission? Here are several reasons that I can think of::
1. There is not a pressing urgency to share the gospel.
If you were to ask the average person in the church when was the last time they had a spiritual conversation with someone about God, the unfortunate answer would be a long time ago, if at all. Spiritual conversations with lost people are exceedingly rare for most Christians today.
But the apostle’s question to the Christians in Rome still applies to all of us today, “How Can They Hear Unless Someone Tells Them?”
Reaching the lost is not a priority for most churches. Many churches do not possess a “whatever it takes” mentality when it comes to reaching the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ. There is not a sense of urgency that flows from the reality of hell for those who don’t hear and believe the message of the Gospel.
Sometimes this lack of urgency is because of people's views about God. Church goers conclude that “it’s all up to God anyway.” What we do doesn't matter. Sometimes it flows out of a lack of understanding that the mission and mandate that Jesus left was not just for the disciples but for all of us.
Whatever the reason for this lack of urgency, church leaders need to help their congregations hear the call from above (the Great Commission), the inner voice from within (compassion), and the screams from beneath (the reality of hell). Only then can the Holy Spirit re-ignite their peoples’ passion to reach the lost.
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army once said:
'Not called!' did you say? 'Not heard the call,' I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father's house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there (see Luke 16:19-31). Then look Christ in the face -- whose mercy you have professed to obey -- and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world.
2. Leadership doesn’t model it.
It has been said, “If there is a mist from the pulpit, there will be a fog in the pews.” Today, many pews are filled with theological fog. Leaders are simply not modelling evangelism. Or as someone else put it, “No tears in the eyes of the writer, no tears in the eyes of the reader.” A leader’s passion for the lost must be palpable and contagious.
If the pastor, or church leadership doesn’t have broken hearts for the lost and aren’t engaging in Gospel conversations with family, friends, neighbors, etc., then neither will their congregations.
Evangelizing pastors have evangelizing congregations. Yes, church leaders, pastors are called to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5).
Missionary David Brainerd once said, "I care not where I go, or how I live, or what I endure so that I may save souls. When I sleep, I dream of them; when I awake they are first in my thoughts . . . no amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep impassioned sympathetic love for human souls."
Leaders, how is your passion for the lost?
3. Praying for Lost People is not a Priority.
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
The very first order of business in a church service, according to Paul’s instruction to Timothy, was praying for the lost. Why? Because God desires “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Sadly, the average church spends more time in church announcements than intercessory prayer! In some churches, the high task of intercessory prayer is relegated to a small group of prayer warriors. But when the church came together in Acts 2:42, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Do you pray for the lost in church leadership meetings, corporate meetings, and small groups? If you want to increase your church’s gospel urgency, then take seriously the need for praying for the lost.
4. Evangelism training rarely happens (if at all).
Most churches don’t have a consistent way for church members to be equipped in effectively engaging Gospel conversations. Or better yet, why not do an annual sermon series on how to share your faith? Why not make evangelism part of the fabric of growing in one’s faith, just like giving, praying, and Bible study? Or why not have all your small groups go through a series on evangelism?
Church leaders – this is what it means to equip the saints.
Here’s a great resource that you can use for practical evangelism training: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIMAX6WHtnhBZQN47uyPlmaokO9NXodrU
5. The Good News Needs to be Shared Consistently.
After someone visited your church what would they say? “Great service! Friendly people. Good sermon. Great worship. But what if they said in conclusion, “if I was lost when I came in, I’d still be lost when I left” (because the gospel was not clearly given).
As a pastor, I always tried to give the gospel message at the end of every sermon, and we saw people come to faith on a regular basis. Why? Because people invited friends, family and neighbors to church because they knew that the gospel would be given clearly and consistently. The gospel can also be shared in small groups, at Christmas banquets, at VBS closings, at kid’s camps, at baptisms, etc.
Paul Little in his book How to Give Away Your Faith defined sharing our faith as: "That deep-seated conviction that the greatest favour I can do for others is to introduce them to Jesus Christ."
6. The people in our churches don’t know their neighbors.
The average home can be described as a castle. The driveway is the moat. The garage door is the drawbridge. And when royalty comes home every night, they pull into their garages and close their drawbridge.
What if we really equipped the people of our churches to reach out to the neighbors in their own backyards and next door and across the street!
Check out the resource The Art of Neighboring at artofneighboring.com. They ask the obvious question, “What if Jesus meant that we should love our actual neighbors?” This website has tools for your whole church to start getting to know their neighbors.
If you want your church to reach the people in your own backyard, then unleash the people of your church to get to know their neighbors.
7. Evangelistic Storytelling is Not a Part of Your Church’s Culture.
In churches that are effective at evangelism, stories of changed lives are told consistently. They are interviewed in church services and allowed to share their testimonies. People get to see and hear about the results of evangelism firsthand. True stories of disciple multiplication help believers move all the talk about evangelism from “fiction” to reality.
Think about why we love the book of Acts. It’s the stories of changed lives that grab us! The book of Acts is full of these transformations and our churches should be to
Elton Trueblood, the Quaker scholar, once compared evangelism to fire. Evangelism occurs, he said, when Christians are so ignited by their contact with Christ that they in turn set other fires. It is easy to determine when something is aflame. It ignites other material. Any fire that does not spread will eventually go out. A church without evangelism is a contradiction in terms, just as fire that does not burn is a contradiction.
Take a good look at your church’s focus and priorities. Are they experiencing any mission drift?