“Love, Central”: A Sermon on Mission

In The Permanent Revolution, Alan Hirsch writes, “Of the 400,000 churches in the United States, only a few can be considered reproductive and fruitful.”[1]

David Watson has said of Christianity in the West:

It is widely held that the battle of the century will be between Marxism, Islam, and Third World Christianity. Western Christianity is considered too weak and ineffective to contribute anything significant to this universal struggle.[2]

Are these assessments too dire, too pessimistic? I think not. The fact of the matter is this: the world will be reached and revolutionized not by comfortable, wealthy, distracted, dying churches, but by churches of whatever size, possessing whatever kind of facilities or no facilities at all, and have a budget of whatever size or no budget at all, who are aligned with the missional, going, sending, engaging heart of God. 

It is not about money.

It is not about campuses.

It is not about the size of the congregation.

It is about a red-hot passion to see people saved arising out of deep and faithful commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.

I would like to call us to mission, then, not with a view toward religious busyness or frantic activity but with a view toward the church being who we were called to be: the body of Christ reaching out to a dying world with good news!

I would like to convince you that mission is hardwired into the DNA of the church because the church is the body of Christ and Christ is the very manifestation and incarnation of the missional heart of our great God.

Why mission?

Mission combats narcissistic consumerism by aligning the church with the missionary heart of God.

Simply put, if your primary engagement with the church is one of attendance and observation without shared mission, you will lapse into narcissistic consumerism. By which I mean this: the church will become commodified.

The church will become a store.

Worship will become background music to your shopping experience.

The activities of the church will become products on a shelf.

And you will become a customer whose primary disposition is one of judgment over the “product.”

And when the store called “church” displeases you or a shinier store called “church” opens up down the road you will go there until the new wears off of it.

The commodification of the church as a result of the abandonment of mission is the great tragedy of our church age.

But it need not be so. Mission—by which I mean a shared, passionate effort to engage the lost world with the good news of Jesus Christ—combats consumerism by aligning the church with the missionary heart of God.

What do I mean by “the missionary heart of God”? I mean that God is consistently depicted as the great missionary from Genesis to Revelation.  He goes, He sends, He commissions, He engages. God does not do with His throne what many of us do with our pews: sit passively there and watch. No, every time He speaks to lost humanity, comes among His people, gives instructions for worship, sends the prophets, and gives His word, He is showing Himself to be our great missionary God.

But the ultimate expression of the missionary heart of God is in the sending of Jesus. The beginning of the most famous verse in the Bible, found in John 3, demonstrates this powerfully:

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God loved the world.

God gave His only Son.

And in giving the Son God Himself came into the world.

This is why the degradation of the church to a largely passive body which hires alleged professionals to put on weekly productions is such a blasphemous thing: it betrays the heart of the God we profess to be worshipping.

Your God sends.

Your God goes.

Your God engages.

Your God speaks.

Your God is “inconvenienced,” for lack of a better word.

Your God lays down His life.

Are you? Are we? Are we a missionary people before our missionary God?

Mission combats atrophy by manifesting the generative power of the Holy Spirit in the church.

The consumer church inevitably atrophies. It gets weak. It decays. It dies.

But mission combats atrophy by manifesting the generative power of the Holy Spirit in the church.  The Holy Spirit wants to talk about Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to draw all people to Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to push the church toward Christlikeness and, thus, toward mission. The Holy Spirit is not passive, quiet, and sedentary. And if the Holy Spirit is not passive, quiet, and sedentary, how can the people in whose hearts the Holy Spirit is working be passive, quiet, and sedentary?

When the church goes on mission, atrophy is combatted as the life-giving, life-creating, multiplying, reproducing power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed. The gospel is shared. People pass from death to life. Stone hearts are replaced with living hearts. Deaf ears are unstopped. Blind eyes are given sight. Good news is heard. The body of Christ grows. The Kingdom of God expands. And the power of the Holy Spirit flows like hot lava through the formerly-cold aisles of the body of Christ.

Let me be blunt: Where the power of the Holy Spirit is present, mission will be present as well.

In Acts 1, the ascending Jesus says to His disciples:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Did you see that?

  • The Holy Spirit will come upon you.
  • You will receive power.
  • You will be my witness.

Unless you are stymying the power of the Holy Spirit, mission should be surging through your veins. The salvation of the nations should be your great occupation if the Holy Spirit is within you. Mere consumerism should look obscene to a Spirit-filled child of God.

Church! Let the Spirit do what the Spirit wants to do: compel you to strong, bold, courageous, joyful, God-honoring missional engagement with the lost world.

Mission combats pettiness by grounding the church in primary and eternal matters.

The consumer church is the atrophied church and the atrophied church is the petty church.

When Jesus-shaped Spirit-empowered mission disappears from the church, a thousand petty distractions will take its place.

Stop caring about whether or not your neighbor will end up in hell and you will start caring way too much about how long the worship service will be.

Stop caring about the condition of the lost in Indonesia and you will start caring way too much about the comfort of the saved in North Little Rock.

Stop caring about the question of when the unreached will have a copy of God’s word in their hand and you will start caring way too much about when you will have a copy of the menu in your own hands.

Stop caring about the primary matters and you will start caring way too much about the petty matters.

Mission combats that by grounding the church and bringing back before the church time and time again that which is primary and eternal: the glory of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the faithfulness of the church.

May I remind us, church, that we have a commission from our King and that commission cares nothing about our petty distractions.

The commission is found in Matthew 28 and it is known as The Great Commission.

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There are no petty elements here. Rather, this is all serious business and important business: Go. Make Disciples. Baptize. Teach.

This is the blueprint for the missionary church of our missionary God.

Mission combats hypocrisy by manifesting incarnation through missional engagement.

There is one more thing that mission combats: hypocrisy. The charge of hypocrisy arises from the church’s violation of two great truths.

Truth #1: The church is the body of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes:

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

The “you,” there, refers to the believers in Corinth. The “are,” there, refers to the definitional and foundational quality of what is about to be said: The “body of Christ,” there, refers to the fact that church is to continue in the world the same life and activities that Jesus demonstrated when He walked among us. This is the first truth.

Truth #2: Christ came to and dwelt among lost humanity without hiding from us.

The great incarnational verse of John 1 says:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus did not stay distant. Jesus was not unengaged. Jesus did not refuse to come, refuse to go. Jesus was not silent. Rather, Jesus “dwelt among us.” That “dwelt” contains within itself more than the mere idea of presence. It communicates relationship, engagement, speech, confrontation, and, ultimately, love.

How is the church being hypocritical when it abandons mission? It is being hypocritical by daring to claim the title “body of Christ” without actually doing what Christ actually did!

We are not the body of Christ if we are not doing what Christ did in His body, which was loving, powerful, convictional, God-honoring, self-giving mission.

I plead with you, church, to reject the siren call of consumerism, atrophy, pettiness, and hypocrisy. You were made for more than that! You were made for joyful, life-giving mission! You were made to go to the nations, starting here at home! You were made to be a part of God’s great work to draw the nations to Himself.

If we reject mission, we turn away from the very heart of God.

If we will not go, then let us at least be honest and reject openly the name of the Jesus who did go.


[1] Hirsch, Alan. The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church. (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 6411-6412). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

[2] Quoted in Bobby Welch. You The Warrior Leader. (Nashville, TN:  Broadman & Holman, Publishers, 2004), p.11.

2 thoughts on ““Love, Central”: A Sermon on Mission

  1. WOW, why not tell it like it is………….. go CBCNLR 🙂 read in a book years ago: Jesus wept (little wonder)

    Alan Hirsch was a extra special bonus footnote; WOW!!!!!!!,
    who knew

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