The Essence of Any Church is its Mission

What is the essence of the Church?
“The essence of any church is its mission. The essence of God’s mission is extravagant love, which Jesus Christ communicated and displayed for us on the cross.” Tom Clegg,
Lost in America
p. 20

Too many churches have lost sight of what they are all about. We get focussed primarily on our own fellowship and feeding, becoming insular and inbred.

“Your church – beginning with you – must change its heart and its behavior, learning to build intentional relationships with people in your community who aren’t yet Christians.”
Lost in America
p. 21

What will it take for pastors and believers to truly embrace a missional lifestyle? How does a “change of heart”
take place so that it changes behaviors?

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Author

Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer and strategist – and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. His training skills have been used to mobilize church planters, pastors and ministry leaders across the country and around the world. Missional Challenge partners together with churches, networks and denominations to advance disciplemaking movements globally.With 25+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches. He created The Multiplication Cycle™ to assist church planters to start churches by making disciples. He has trained and coached hundreds of coaches and church planters across the United States and internationally.Dave has been coaching pastors and church planters for more than ten years. His experience in church multiplication led to his doctorate in transformational leadership at Bakke Graduate University. He also received a Master of Divinity from The Master’s Seminary and graduated from Biola University with a B.S. in Business Administration.
12 replies
  1. ZooMuse
    ZooMuse says:

    What have you learned in regard to traditional, attractional, extractional churches? Can they change their DNA? Or, do we need to think primarily in terms of new churches?

    Reply
  2. Bob Carder
    Bob Carder says:

    ZOOMUSE – Let’s not just start new churches the way we always have in America. Let’s start with teachable leaders who are actually disciple-multipliers who release and expect every new Christ-follower to do the same. These people will die for the mission because they are grafted into the life and mission of Jesus.

    If I am right -and I always think I am right -the way we train new planters will need a revolutionary turned upside down approach. We might be better off if we blew up the outdated man approach that may have worked in the past but is failing in the present and will likely fail in the future. Church planters need to be deprogrammed from the control and programming that has hindered every foundation stone of missional.

    Present church planting training in America is for me characterized by (Five minutes on the mission of “Building Faith Communities” and several days on gearing for the launch and principles for success. This priority focus often becomes the very thing that will keep us from being missional in the first place. At the end of those training times every “T” is crossed and every “I” is dotted off the checklist of proven models for success.

    We are left with new church planters who are revved up to start new churches who end up without a clear missional faith and practice. They have their launch and they are well on their way to having buildings, budgets and more bodies, and as they accomplish these things -these things (budgets, buildings, more bodies) become the most important things and being a missional movement gets knocked down the list of lesser importance.

    Lunacy: Webster defines lunacy as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

    Reply
  3. ZooMuse
    ZooMuse says:

    bob-I couldn’t agree with you more. My question, which obviously miscommunicated as regards what knods of new churches I meant, was to ask Dave whether or not existing churches with traditional evangelical (seeker-friendly or whatever) practices have made the changeover to a more missional, incarnational DNA.

    Reply
  4. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    Rick and Bob –

    It seems so much easier to initiate new works that are focused on implementing missional strategies, abandoning traditional models, and initiating incarnational practices. I am working with a new plant in Greeley that is doing this. Another planter is heading to Providence, RI next month to start fresh. Chris in Long Beach has been doing this for the past two years.

    In terms of existing churches which already own property and buildings, I am not aware of any that are fully embracing a complete DNA transplant. I think that some of those churches that are embracing the ideas in Externally Focused Churches or The Church of Irresistable Influence are headed in the right direction!

    Churches need to cultivate a “mission outpost” mentality, rather than an institutional mentality that views the church as an end in itself. However, there is much greater adaptability and flexibility in the forms of new churches that are planted.

    Alan Hirsch has described the church in the West as being in a very threatening position where it must adapt or die. I believe that more established churches will be forced to change as they face the rapid and discontinuous changes in their communities and realize that the institutional model of church we inhabit in the US/UK cannot adapt to the rapid changing environment we find ourselves in. Even those churches who are beginning to understand that we live in a post-Christendom era continue to operate in institutional ways.

    We can help pastors and church planters to understand that…

    The incarnational/missional model is the most effective way to fulfill the Great Comission!

    Let’s pray that more and more established churches will change – and not die!

    Reply
  5. Bob Carder
    Bob Carder says:

    Dave, Your comments are right on and very much appreciated. Now we need to just figure out how to get your (His) message in BootCamps and training venues to be heard.

    Unless we can help pastors and church planters see this truth we will have much of the same in America.

    I am most hopeful we can do this in new environments. I am less optimistic we can turn those traditional pastors and churches around. I say this because I have the scars from their denial.

    Dave – I am counting on your influence in America to steer the BootCamp -(church planter training centers) back to the mission and away from the thing that has always been the main thing. C.P.’s and pastors need to be brought back to the main thing.

    I’m counting on you to help us make this most important shift away from the Christendom-mode church and back to the Jesus Missional-mode Church.

    Reply
  6. Rick Dugan
    Rick Dugan says:

    Hmmm. The essence of the church is its mission? I thought the essence of the church was the presence of Christ. You can have a mission without Christ, just like you can have church growth theory without Christ. Much missional literature seems to imply that God changes us so that we can change society. But the goal of discipleship isn’t to transform society, but to live in faithfulness with Jesus – defined in relational rather than moralistic terms. The problem with the contemporary church isn’t that we have failed to engage culture adequately, but that we have failed to engage God.

    Just thinking off the top of my head … am I off base? Open to correction.

    Reply
  7. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    Hey Rick – Good to hear from you. I think you are right in the sense that there are local churches that pursue social action as their mission and don’t have much, if anything, to do with Jesus. Eddie Gibbs has observed that we have “a missionless church and a churchless mission.”

    However, the biblical mission of the church is the mission of Jesus. Therefore, a church on mission is a church that experiences the presence of Jesus – and seeks to extend Jesus’ rule and reign throughout the earth.

    A church that embraces the mission to make disciples who make disciples will hopefully witness the transformation of lives! And as lives are transformed, it will have an impact on society. The primary objective is not community transformation – it is life transformation. The by-product of life transformation is community transformation. God doesn’t change us so that we can change society – He changes us so that we can bring Him glory and join in His rescue effort to save others.

    Discipleship is all about following Jesus! When we look at Jesus – we see how we as His followers are to behave, what we are to value, how we are to treat others.

    Jesus says in Matthew 25:34-40,
    “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

    I’ve met a lot of Christians that appear to be close to God, they read their Bibles, they go to church, they pray, they have a church ministry – but they could care less about the poor, the prisoner, widows and orphans.


    “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
    James 1:27

    There are Christians who engage God and fail to engage culture – and there are Christians who fail to engage God and fail to engage culture.

    I think pastors need to equip Christians to embrace Jesus passionately AND engage culture compassionately. That’s what true disciples ought to be about. It’s not either/or – it’s both/and.

    The essence of who we are as the church – the body of Christ – is wrapped up in our mission of making disciples. To be a disciple is to be a follower of Jesus. To make disciples is the comission that has been passed on to us today. Our mission is all about Jesus! It’s all because of Jesus! It’s all for Jesus! We’re saved by Jesus! We’re sent by Jesus! We serve Jesus! It’s all about Jesus!

    That’s why the essence of any church is the mission of Jesus!

    Reply
  8. Rick Dugan
    Rick Dugan says:

    Hi Dave. Thanks for the clarification. I’m much more comfortable with this because it begins with Jesus. If we begin with mission, we can end up simply promoting the political left or right or whatever other agenda is important to us or our sub-culture. This was one of the good things in ‘The Shaping of Things to Come.’ Christology to missiology to ecclesiology. (I’m remembering that correctly, aren’t I? I’m away from my library.)

    Reply
  9. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    Right on! We always start with Jesus – and recalibrate/reboot back to Jesus!

    Alan emphasizes getting back to Jesus and that Jesus will teach us about mission more than anyone else!

    Christology —> Missiology —> Ecclesiology

    Reply
  10. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    From The Shaping of Things to Come:

    The church should define itself in terms of its mission – to take the gospel to and incarnate the gospel within a specific cultural contetxt.

    Reply
  11. David M
    David M says:

    I thought the essence of God’s mission was our submission to Him as God. If the Cross was the essential expression of the essence of God’s mission (sic), then why all the other junk in the New Testament?

    Reply

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