The mission of the church is to make disciples.

That’s basically what Greg Gilbert and I take 250 pages to say in What Is the Mission of the Church? We believe our answer to the question is clear from the Great Commission, from the record of the early church in Acts, from Paul’s own missionary example, and from piecing together theological themes like Kingdom and shalom. God sends the church into the world to bear witness to Jesus Christ, win people to Christ, build them up in Christ, and establish them in Christian churches.

There are any number of reasons why someone might not agree with our thesis or like our book. But at the level of gut-reaction I think many people are uncomfortable saying the mission of the church is to make disciples because they feel like this makes most of our lives for most of us rather irrelevant. “I want all of life to matter to God” is what I often hear. Most Christians, especially young ones with a lot of life and a lot of dreams in front of them, want to do something that really counts. They want to know that teaching botany or being a vet or running an ad agency isn’t a distraction from what really matters in life.

And yet, insisting that the mission of the church is the proclamation of the gospel or making disciples makes some Christians feel second-rate. I am sorry for this perception (let alone reality). It’s easy for churches to communicate, wittingly or unwittingly, that evangelism is far more important than anything else. After that, getting involved in church ministries is the next best thing. But the day to day stuff of life in your community, in your family, and in your career–these are, at best, only means to the end of making money so you can support your church or send out missionaries.

This line of thinking is muddled and unfortunate. Creating beautiful parks or elegant symphonies or funny movies,  cleaning up our streets and our schools, mastering Russian literature or C++, taking care of your kids and taking care of dying cancer patients–these things matter to God. He cares about beauty, truth, and love. He wants us to grow in excellence and do all things for his glory. So yes, yes, a thousands times yes, being a good, God-pleasing, faithful Christian involves a whole lot more than sharing your faith or leading a Bible study.

But, as Mike Horton reminds us, we don’t have to fold all this in to the mission of the church to make our Christian lives worthwhile. We don’t have to think we are partnering with God in re-ordering the cosmos or ushering in the kingdom. And we don’t have get the organized church caught up in planting trees or lowering unemployment. You can get to “all of life matters to God” without going through missional transformationalism. You can get there with a Reformation doctrine of vocation, a careful two kingdoms theology, and an appreciation for common grace.

The doctrines of incarnation, resurrection, and creation will help too.

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23 thoughts on “You Can Get There From Here”

  1. david carlson says:

    I don’t like using the word disciple because I think that people misunderstand the word, or understand it incompletely. Being a disciple contains two parts. The first part people seem to get – that is embracing the teaching of Jesus. We read the bible, we attend church, we go to Sunday school. But that is only half of what being a disciple means.

    It’s the second part of being a disciple that I think we fall short on understanding – that is spreading the teachings of the one we follow. That true Christian leadership is teaching others about Jesus. As Paul taught Timothy at the end of his life: “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV)

    If we are not teaching others about Jesus, we are not doing what God wants us to do. What God has told us to do.

    Which gets to the second part, thinking that in someway teaching is only applicable to “real” teachers – you know the professionals, the seminary trained folks. The rest of us are sheep, guided by our Shepards.

    Which gets us to another great failing, not studying the old Testament. The Shema, in Deut, and confirmed by Jesus, we all get – love God, love your Neighbor. But the Shema is followed by:

    You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
    (Deuteronomy 6:7-9 ESV)

    It’s not enough to embrace the teachings of Jesus – we must teach the teachings of Jesus. And not just in church and then leave them behind, but in every aspect of our lives. And that our job is to teach others so that they become teachers

    If we end by just getting them into Christian churches, we have failed. At least that is what Paul taught Timothy.

    /end soapbox

  2. Nathan Brown says:

    Kevin,

    There are other reasons why “someone might not agree with our thesis or like your book.”

    There are many of us who agree with you guys theologically on 90%-95% of the related issues and who would even affirm: “The mission of the church is to make disciples.” Even, yes, “[this] is clear from the Great Commission, from the record of the early church in Acts, from Paul’s own missionary example, and from piecing together theological themes like Kingdom and shalom. God sends the church into the world to bear witness to Jesus Christ, win people to Christ, build them up in Christ, and establish them in Christian churches.”

    But, we apply all of this and put it together differently.

    We have Ph.D. degrees in theology. We pastor churches that see gospel proclamation as central, primary, or ultimate (whatever word one wants to use) to the church’s mission. We simply put it together differently for biblical-theological reasons, and not based on a “gut-reaction” that “we want our life to count.” Rather, we are faithfully trying to workout what it means to follow and lead others to follow the one to whom all authority under heaven and on earth has been given.

    What frustrates us is you don’t respect our view enough to understand and address it. You consistently take statements that alarm you and apply them broadly. (Often times, you misunderstand the statements and ignore the context, and ultimately, though probably unintentionally, misrepresent people’s views.)

    This blog seems like another example of this. You build this blog post on: “I think many people are uncomfortable saying the mission of the church is to make disciples because they feel like this makes most of our lives for most of us rather irrelevant.” That may be for some.

    But, for a whole bunch of us, it is not. We don’t like your book (actually there are things many of us do like), because we “perceive” that you are talking to us but not with us.

    I think (and I am not trying to be offensive here, just using your words) “[that] is muddled and unfortunate.”

  3. Thanks Kevin, This article is like an early Christmas present. Loved the book, love trying to engage my friends in discussion of the same. Profited very much from reading the responses to your book and understanding why someone would take issue – which surprised me, but especially from reading your further interaction with those responses bringing me into a deeper understanding of the importance of grasping just “What is the Mission of the Church.” Though knowing better, having been a believer for many years now, yet I felt a refreshing sense of liberty being reminded this morning of vocation. I’ve said something like this to myself and I think to others regarding the purpose of vocation/role/gifting that God has for us individually so though knowing better your words this morning were very helpful. So often the greatest need is not to learn something new but to be reminded of the precious truths God has already shown us.

    On another note, I would really appreciate your comments regarding, the Perspectives Course and the World Christian Movement. I’m hoping soon to begin a study of the course, but preliminarily I’m wondering now to what degree, if at all, does this course buy into the shift in mission you caution against. I’m hoping not at all.

  4. Jay Beerley says:

    @Nathan

    So, what exactly is your stance? How do you see from the Scriptures that making disciples involves things other than the spreading of the gospel?

  5. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Scott, I haven’t looked at the Perspectives Course in awhile. I’m sure there are some elements I would tweak. But we have used it in our church before and I read through much of the big book in seminary. God certainly has used the course to do many good things.

    Nathan, I’m sorry you find the post so frustrating. I’ve had conversations with people who gravitate toward the restoring-the-cosmos view of mission because they want to understand how everything matters to God. It sounds like that is not why you disagree with (portions of) our book. That’s why I said “many” and not “all.” I tried to explain in the post that I was only dealing with one objection that some people have. I understand that many others put things together differently for other reasons. Merry Christmas.

  6. Mike Sung Im says:

    Nathan, I’d also like to chime in to ask you to actually explain what it is with which you actually disagree.

    Your comment was long but without any substance. You stated dissatisfaction with DeYoung’s thesis without supplying either the lack in his thesis or the alternate thesis that you think superior but with which you claim DeYoung consistently fails to interact.

    “But, for a whole bunch of us, it is not. We don’t like your book (actually there are things many of us do like), because we “perceive” that you are talking to us but not with us.”

    I read through your comment multiple times and what I am left with is that your only stated reason to dislike his book is not any flaw in its argumentation, logic, theology, exegesis, hermeneutic, etc. but that it somehow makes you feel marginalized.

    This is obviously not the whole picture, but it is the one painted in the comment supplied. Can you help us out with specifically both what you find deficient and what a superior thesis would be?

  7. Dusty Robinson says:

    Any recommendations on some good books for the doctrines you mentioned in the last sentence?

  8. John says:

    This, I think, is a great point. There are things that really matter and are beautiful and good – and we don’t have to roll them into disciple making or church mission to say that. Well done.

  9. Brent Johnson says:

    Just finished your book and i’m thankful for it. I think about how the early church viewed the message, the focus was on presenting the Gospel at all costs and first. If we lose that, as you guys point out, we are merely another philanthropic group. I know too many that are all about remaking the neighborhood and have lost the ideas that men’s souls are in peril.

  10. Nathan Brown says:

    Mike and Jay fair questions. You are right Jay, I did not put forward a view. That was not my point. My point is that some of us are on the same page theologically and would use very similar language, but apply things differently. We apply things differently, because we are not working of a “two kingdom” framework.

    There seems to me that there should be room within wider Evangelicalism, YRR, and GC for these differences. My frustration is that Deyoung seems to me to lump everyone who is willing to speak about mission more broadly in the same batch (with same concerns), and I realize that is not all together fair.

    He speaks to those who hold my view or something similar to correct us.

    That is not the conversation I want. I am holding out for mutual correction through conversation–seeking to understand the views of others. I don’t get that from Gilbert and Deyoung’s book. That’s my frustion.

    I am sorry that I can’t take the time to answer your questions Jay and Mike. There is a lot involved in this discussion.

    I will give you a list of books that do what I am suggesting. I don’t agree with everyone of these authors on every point, but they would all say that the mission of the church is to make disciples. They would just define and apply that more broadly than Deyoung and Gilbert.

    When you read these books, it is important to note that they are working from different theological frameworks. The first thing we need to do in this discussion is to understand the framework people are writing from.

    Here is a list:

    Chris Wright, The Mission of God and The Mission of God’s People
    Michael Goheen, A Light to the Nations
    Timothy Tennent, Invitation to World Missions
    Ed. Bruce Ashford, Theology and Practice of Mission
    Beale, The Temple and The Church’s Mission

    Kevin, thanks for you reply. You are right. You were addressing one “perceived” point in the conversation. You are right to suggest there are other ways to address that then trying to renew the cosmos.

    I think there are other ways to conceive of the mission of Church being disciple making that is broader than you conceive. I am trying to figure why we can’t work from a statement like the GC statement and work together and enrich one another–rather than trying to correct one another.

    Would you affirm this statement?

    “Christian churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service even as they call individuals to conversion and the new birth. We must work for the eternal and common good and show our neighbors we love them sacrificially whether they believe as we do or not. Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged means there has not been a true grasp of our salvation by sheer grace.”

    Thanks, Nathan

  11. Jed Schoepp says:

    Nathan, I consider myself to be a R2Ker, and I think most people in that camp could agree with your statement if you just changed the opening words from “Christian churches” to “Christians.” The role of the Church is to make disciples, and then the role of those disciples is to “work for the eternal and common good” (aka, love God and love neighbors).
    As for your reading list, it’s been a little while since I read Beale’s fantastic book, but if I remember right, I would say that it’s not a transformationalist book but fits better in the R2K camp.

  12. Nathan Brown says:

    Jed, good word. Ecclessiology is part of this conversation. But again, some of us are not satisfied with drawing that distinction in such a way that it resolves this tension.

    Re: Beale . . . I am not suggesting a “transformationalist” reading list. I am not sure Wright would say he is a transformationalist. I am merely saying that “there are differing ways to conceive/apply ‘making disciples.’” And, the transformationalist perspective might be an all together different point on the grid. That is part of the challenge with the big categories.

    Nevertheless, Beale’s view/framework is more expansive than Deyoung/Gilbert. He explicitly ties the execution of the Great Commission to recovering God’s plan in creation.

    Here is my understanding of his view:

    Beale argues that the mandate given to Adam to be fruitful and multiply was in essence a mandate to expand the Garden/Sanctuary. This mandate, in turn, was handed down to the patriarchs over and over again. But, like Adam, they failed as “priests”.

    He says when we get to Christ the temple expansion/mission begins to happen as it should. His body, the church, is called a “temple” multiple times.

    And as the church expands by fulfilling the great commission, it is fulfilling this mandate that goes all the way back to Genesis.

  13. Dan says:

    Is there a difference between the mission of the church and the purpose of the church? I understand the mission is to proclaim the good news while the purpose of the church is to worship God. What do you think?

  14. Jonathan says:

    Good work Kevin. I agree totally. Social work and picking up trash is a good thing. Individual christians will feel called to LOVE PEOPLE in that way. However, the Church body’s mission is to tell people about Jesus with our mouth. Apologetics and Social Healing are good things that we can use to get to Evangelism, but they are not in themselves Evangelism. However, they are very good things! But if we really want to love people, we MUST tell them about Jesus!

  15. Anand Samuel says:

    Kevin,

    Short and succinct! Loved the post.

  16. zee says:

    A disciple is a disciplined beleiver.

    It takes discipline not to go off on the person in front of you who cut you off on the highway.

    It takes discipline to greet your co workers kindly and warmly, while they turn around and give you the evil eye or talk about you behind your back.

    I’ve heard this said before, “You may be the only Christian that people ever see”.

    That’s an awesome and powerful responsibility.

    Even if you just happen to be grocery shopping, if you can make even just one person consider Jesus Christ as Savior, by the way you conduct yourself and live your life…I’d say that that’s great, and that’s discipleship

  17. Daniel F. Wells says:

    Kevin,

    I wonder how some of this discussion relates to other recent discussions about “two kingdoms” and defining the church. Perhaps the debate over your book is related to whether one holds to a doctrine of the church and the kingdom as described and prescribed by those at Westminster Seminary California. The perspective from those scholars is not necessarily wrong, though it isn’t synonymous with Reformed Orthodoxy as a whole.

    The other issue, as some have alluded to, is the definition of ‘discipleship.’ Perhaps some of that which you critique in your book as not being part of the church’s mission would be seen by others as merely a part of the Bible’s teaching which should be applied to Christian living, which the church plays a great part in.

    Just some thoughts.

  18. Bernard says:

    Great post Kevin. Thank you so much for your clear thinking and writing.

  19. John Thomson says:

    I am almost totally with Kevin on this issue and grateful for his contribution to the debate. Where I amy differ is in how I would deine ‘church’. Rather than speak of ‘Christians’ and ‘Church’ or ‘organized church’ I would rather speak of the church gathered or not gathered.

    Re

    ‘“Christian churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service even as they call individuals to conversion and the new birth. We must work for the eternal and common good and show our neighbors we love them sacrificially whether they believe as we do or not. Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged means there has not been a true grasp of our salvation by sheer grace.”’

    I am not convinced Christians must work for justice in their communities. Christians must themselves be just and will no doubt support justice where possible but this imperative to ‘work for justice’ seems to me to lack bibical support and place a heavy burden on the church.

    Should believers in Iran or North Korea speak out against injustice within their Government? To do so would invite severe retribution. I am not at all convinced this is their calling. I accept there are grey areas here, difficult areas. I simply think it is unwise to impose upon the church gathered or ungathered the obligation to be the policeman of the world. Only in a modern, relatively tolerant democracy, is such an idea even thinkable.

  20. Judd Rumley says:

    Kevin,

    GREAT post! Here’s a thought – could it be we have been told all our lives to be something great and invest in your future and the Bible comes along and says no make Someone great and invest in others.

    The sooner we “get it” as Piper would say, the sooner the arguments against you and Greg will cease and then people will make schools better because we are discipling (love that word) teachers not just painting walls at the local school and patting ourselves on the back for being so missional.

    I am glad you wrote the book. I fear many Calvinists my age (30 somethings) are bored and do not really understand the P in TULIP.

    Have a Merry Christmas!

    Judd

  21. Jack Brooks says:

    One of our church’s discipling problems, here in central Kentucky, is that the local population loves things that we, as a church, won’t give them. Our church is committed to discipleship and world missions, my expository preaching & teaching is good (I speak as a fool), the worship service points people to Christ, there is very good congregational unity, and our board is made up of Christian men of integrity and diligence. We don’t do CCM in the service, we’re not using the Saddleback formula, and I don’t preach Arminianism, prosperity gospel, power confession, healing-in-the-atonement, or baptism-of-the-Spirit-with-speaking-in-tongues, King James Only, or that we must do good works to keep ourselves saved. Theology trumps social action every time. Kentucky Christians contribute almost nothing to the “doing of justice” mandate, because they are so deeply corrupted by Pentecostal teachings and sensation-drunk Arminianism.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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