“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” John 20:21
In many missionary circles it is often said: “The Church doesn’t have a mission. God has a mission. And His mission has a Church.” Quite right! God the Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord was sent into this world by the Father to love and save lost mankind. This sending is the mission itself. And the words of Jesus relate directly to this: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” The mission of the Church cannot be abstracted from the mission of God the Son – that of loving and saving lost humanity through the power of the Lord’s Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.
Today, many believe that Christian mission is merely a matter of proclamation. It has been this way for some time. Pearl Buck, in her novel The Good Earth, recounts missionaries to Imperial China distributing tracts in English – an unintelligible language to all but the missionaries themselves. The hero of the story, a poor farmer, merely stuffs them in his shoe to fill a hole. This is a reminder first that the Gospel must be contextualized but second, that even when the Gospel is proclaimed poorly, it is still Good News!
Many will conversely say that social action is the issue, quite apart from proclamation. This is every bit as imbalanced. When we look to Jesus, we see him beginning his proclamation in the synagogue at Capernaum: “The Spirit of The Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of The Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19) Unlike the Gospel of Caesar (of which there were many), which did nothing to alter the daily realities of life, the Gospel of The Lord Jesus actually brings about true change – rebirth in the Holy Spirit as well as physical healing, redemption from poverty, and vindication for the oppressed. This is the reason Jesus heals the sick and gives bread to those who hunger. It is not a show of power, but a sign of the Good News itself. If the Gospel we proclaim is not likewise balanced, we certainly err.
You may remember in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians that as soon as Paul lays the Gospel he preaches before the apostles gathered in Jerusalem, they merely ask him to “remember the poor,” which, he says is the “very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10) Shortly thereafter, Paul recounts: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” This is not merely how Paul understands salvation or justification. It is how he understands the whole Christian life. Through the waters of Baptism, you and I have been washed and made new, joined to Jesus in His Death and Resurrection. Given that, we have a great and high calling – that of being joined to His divine mission – one of proclaiming good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight to the blind, and liberty to those who are oppressed.
In this spirit, today’s missionaries understand that their task is not merely to proclaim, but to open hospitals, feed children, undermine oppressive governments, and seek justice for the victims of human trafficking and justice for the unborn. This social action is undoubtedly political. Anything that happens in the context of this world is. We need not be afraid of it. The Gospel has always and will always undermine the secular authority for Jesus is not merely the King of Heaven, but of this world as well. This is the reason that the Church joyfully joins His mission – proclaiming the Kingdom in all that we do and say.
What has this to do with church planting?
It must be said that often we in the Church operate with a peculiar feeling that nothing we do will last. We feel that we are fighting a losing battle. But, this is not the case! Jesus reminds us that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. Gates are defensive positions, not offensive. The Church never plays defense, but always offense. We forget that the destiny of all creation is to be a Temple for The Lord of Creation and His Bride the Church. In other words, Mother Church is inevitable. She will prevail.
Established congregations have a way of falling back to defensive positions. They tend towards maintenance instead of mission. Programs must be maintained, numbers kept steady, air conditioners in constant repair. Church plants, unconcerned with these things, have the golden opportunity to raise the stakes, attack the gates of Hell, and win! Effectively, this means evangelizing pagans, comforting the sick, bringing hope to the poor, and racking up the score.
Church planters are also missional. They establish congregations in the very cultures they seek to reach. The two plants I’m working on seek to make disciples in university towns and campuses. We do so by planting student ministries that are officially chartered on the campuses. Because we aren’t “campus-centric,” meaning focused on our physical plant, we can be “campus-centric” in the missional way, spending a great deal of time on the campus. Our members serve as professors, administrators, graduate assistants, RA’s, and student organization leaders. We meet in one plant, four blocks from the campus, and in another, directly ON the campus. In short, our mission fields is very tightly defined, and in that context, we can draw students into not only the proclamation of the Gospel, but the Gospel work of serving the poor and bringing the hope of the Faith to our town.
Lastly, church plants support global mission. In our own new plant, we have a couple who are missionaries to a closed country in Asia. We have mission contacts throughout the world, and support mission locally, regionally, and globally with 10% of our total budget. We can do so because we are not paying a mortgage or doing deferred maintenance. We can do so because our overhead, compared to established parishes, is quite low. In this, we are able to set practices in motion, to build a culture, which will last for many years to come.
Photo: Public Domain
The Rev. Lee Nelson, S.S.C. is a priest, church-planter, and catechist. He has planted churches in Waco and College Station, Texas with the aim of making disciples on college campuses. He is currently the Chair of the Committee for Catechesis of the Anglican Church in North America which produced To Be a Christian, an Anglican Catechism.