When visiting my old place of work as a chaplain, a regular topic of conversation is why I have moved from working in engineering to being a church minister. The short answer I sometimes give to provoke discussion is that “I’m on a mission from God”. What I’m wanting to stir is a conversation about "Why are we here? What is our purpose? What are we living for?"
It is very easy to lose sight of our purpose, our mission. Imagine a ship that sets sail for a destination and along the journey the priorities change. The apostle Paul was a prisoner on a ship bound for Rome (Acts 27:13-33). Ignoring godly advice, the ship ended up in a severe storm. The priorities changed from getting to Rome to surviving. The cargo is thrown overboard, the ship's tackle follows, eventually the crew start to abandon ship. Getting to their destination got lost in the storm.
Sadly, in the storms of life, individuals, organisations and even churches can lose sight of their mission. People take their eyes off Jesus and look to themselves or other things for answers. Charities that once followed godly priorities get more concerned about finances. Churches feel burdened to fit in with society's rather than God’s ways.
The apostle Paul in the midst of the storm had an angel remind him of a promise from God, that he would get to Rome and that all on the ship would be saved. The message took Paul back to an encounter with Jesus several years earlier in Jerusalem when Paul had been attacked and arrested. At night in prison, with an unsure future Jesus stood before him and told Paul to “take courage, for as you testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:12). Paul had a clear mission and no government, soldiers, assassins, lawyers or storms were going to stop it coming to pass.
As a church we have a mission statement which comes from Jesus’ lips. A call which remains the same in whatever we do, and helps to shape who we are and what we seek to be. It captures the greatest commands and challenges in the Bible. It helps us to stay the course, run the race, without losing sight of our mission. This is to ‘Love God, Love His People, Love His World'. One of our elders described this as simply summing up the gospel.
We are called into a loving eternal relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ. The great and first commandment is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). The early church leader Augustine saw this as so important that he said, “Love God and do what you will”. In other words, if you truly love God following His ways will flow out of that loving relationship. This love that can sometimes get lost, needs to be refreshed and kept alive. As a church we are called to stir each other up in this love, through preaching, teaching, worship and prayer, empowered by the Spirit.
Love His People
We are called to love one another. Jesus told His disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). I find it intriguing that we have a command to love. Often we see love as a matter of the heart. Jesus is telling us it is a matter of the will as much as emotion. If we truly love God, we will love His people. How we love one another is a living demonstration of Christ’s love. Jesus tells us this is also a witness to the world (John 17:21). To be a people who truly love one another is not always easy. Sadly, the wider world is more aware of disagreements amongst Christians than love. We have much to grow in this area. Our desire is that the vast majority of our church are connected in a loving community beyond our Sunday services. It has been wonderful to see the growth of our small groups recently. We want everyone to be connected in meaningful loving fellowship where each can serve and be served.
Love His World
God so loved the world that He sent His Son to die for us. God loves His world; it is His creation. God loves people, we are all made in the image of God, despite our rejection of Him. We are the bearers of God’s good news of Jesus. The second part of the great commandment is; “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). I see a differentiation between the love within the body of Christ – the church – and the wider world. The world around us, be it individuals, our town or beyond, needs to know the good news in word and deed. Our motivation to share this needs to come from love rather than obligation. As you can read in this magazine we are committing ourselves to support John and Rachel McDonough, Elim missionaries in Paraguay. We are privileged to have members of our church minister in many countries of the world. There is a wider world for which we have the privilege of sharing the gospel with. Also we have the local world on our doorstep. Living Well and the 611 Asylum Support work are two good examples where we are committed to sharing the love of Jesus in word and deed. To help people share about Jesus in our personal world we will be running the ‘Talking Jesus’ six-part course in the autumn to build our confidence in sharing the gospel with family and friends.
There will be those who reading this may feel a sense of ‘deja vu’. If so, yes, you have heard this before. You see, our mission doesn’t change. Paul was on a mission to witness about Jesus in Rome. This was something that the trials and storms were not going to hinder. He was reminded in the midst of a boat seemingly adrift in the sea that he had a mission which had not changed. So we have a mission statement that does not change, it defines our continuous, ongoing purpose and focus. Our destination is not Rome but heaven. In fact, the context may change but loving God, His people and His world will be something that will carry on into eternity. Yet we need to be reminded of what we are about so we don’t go adrift, so our priorities don’t change. The mission is too important. We are on a mission from God.