Becoming What We Are

Since the 1980's, "visioneering" has been something of a passion for Christians. Many churches have adopted a vision statement, including ours. I understand the rationale for vision statements. As a community, we should aspire to accomplish something. And if we don't define that "something" to one degree or another, we won't accomplish it. Aiming for everything is about as effective as aiming for nothing.

But something about this vision emphasis has always irked me. The church isn't a business, or a non-profit, or an NGO. It's a wildly complex spiritual organism, with members from every tribe, tongue and nation. Furthermore, this organism has existed from thousands of years. Did the church lack vision before we came along? Were the apostles, or the fathers, or the reformers unclear as to why the church existed? I remember reading a quote by Stanley Hauerwas somewhere to the effect that the problem with Christians today is that they think "Christianity" is something they get to make up, rather than something they receive. There's a good bit of truth to that.  

I'm all for vision, but I'm not sure we have any business creating a vision statement for the church. Jesus has a vision for the church, and we should share his vision (and I assume that people who craft vision statements agree with this, and want to convey Jesus' vision for the church in modern day language). After all, he created the thing, is currently sustaining the thing, and will one day redeem the thing.

So the real question is, "what is Jesus' vision for the church?" But this question begs another, "what is the church?"

Recently, I've found the latter question to be extremely clarifying and helpful. We may have all kinds of hopes and aspirations for the church. But what is the church? If we don't define what the church is, can we accurately describe what the church should become?

The folks over at the GCM Collective have shaped my understanding of the church. I think they correctly define the church as a gospel-formed community on mission.

That definition should sound familiar. Last year, I wrote a lot about the gospel, community and mission (See the summary post for that series here). The gospel is the good news of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, ascension and return. It is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16-17). When we believe this message, we are saved. As we believe this message, we grow. Thus, it is right to say that the gospel creates and sustains the church. Fundamentally, the church is a community. We are a family (Mark 3:31-35), and a body (1 Cor 12). And we have been saved into this community for the purpose of mission. We are people sent by Jesus into the world with the good news of the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20; John 17:18; Acts 1:8). 

This is our identity as the people of God; we are a gospel-shaped community on mission. Various practices flow from this identity. What we do flows from who we are. Since we are gospel-formed, we should be gospel-speaking. In other words, we should be a community that encourages one another with the truth of the gospel, and applies this truth together. Since we are a family, we should exhibit radical loyalty and love to one another. We should meet one another's needs, bear one another's burdens, and make life-decisions together. Since we are a family on mission, we should be actively seeking to bless our neighbors, and share the message of Jesus with them. All of these practices should be normal rhythms of church life.

If all of this sounds lofty, perhaps it's because we've forgotten who we are. Since we are gospel-formed, it makes sense to be intensely gospel-centered. Since we are a family, it makes sense to be radically committed to one another. Since we are a people on mission, it makes sense that we should be continually serving, blessing, and witnessing to our neighbors. Our vision for life should flow from our understanding of who God has created us to be. To me, this simplifies things. We don't have to create vision. We just need to faithfully live out of our new identity in Christ. This will require hard work, and yes, some imagination. However, God has not left us in the dark on these matters. He has hardwired these things into our spiritual DNA. He isn't asking us to do or be anything that isn't consistent with who we truly are in Christ.

The challenge for us is twofold; (1) do we truly believe that this is our new identity as the church, and (2) are we willing to live consistently with it?