What are the goals of a church (any church)? What’s the ministry of that church seeking to accomplish in the lives of people?
Here’s my answer:
believing the gospel, obeying the Savior, discipling the world, for the glory of God
You can get here pretty easily from the Great Commission (Mat 28:18-20):
- “Disciples… baptizing” → requires believing the gospel.
- “Obey all I commanded” → obeying the Savior.
- “Make disciples of all nations… teaching” → discipling the world
- Baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” → in other words, ministry is in and through and for the glory of the triune God.
Looking at the big picture of Scripture, Jesus doesn’t highlight these goals in an isolated way, but as a summary of what all Scripture calls God’s people to.
So how does this look in a church?
Believing the gospel
Without Christ, all people, as sinners, are in the desperate situation of facing God’s just wrath (Rom 5:12; 3:23). But the amazing truth of the gospel is that God has sent his Son Jesus to deliver sinners. Only Jesus can rescue us, and he does it by taking God’s wrath on himself, dying in our place, and rising from the dead. The sins that should have condemned us, God laid on Jesus. So, the amazing exchange: Jesus endured what we deserved so that we might enjoy what he deserved: eternal life. We access this life by believing the gospel, which involves understanding these truths, turning away from sin, and trusting in Jesus as the one way of salvation (John 6:47, Luke 8:12, 2 Cor 5:21).
Guiding people to belief in the gospel is the goal of all a church is and does. A church calls non‐Christians to believe and be saved. But a church must also emphasize believing the gospel to Christians. Why? Because even after saving us, the gospel is God’s instrument of our continued spiritual growth (Gal 3:1‐3; Col 1:6). There is no such thing as graduating from the gospel to more advanced levels of Christianity. We do not just need to “believe” at one particular point in our lives, but rather we need to live lives of ongoing, continual, “believing.” Most problems in life stem from a practical failure to believe the gospel. So a church should focus teaching, preaching, small groups, Bible studies, and counseling on the gospel and the gospel’s application, so that people would keep believing the gospel, keep changing the orientation of their lives to be closer to the gospel, keep striving to grasp all that it means.
To be believing the gospel is to be living as a worshipper of God who gives him all glory. It is to be walking in conviction of sin and ongoing repentance. It is to be humble, forgiving, patient, and loving. Believing the gospel drives a faithful mission to the world, seeking for others to know this good news that we have.
Obeying the Savior
Jesus demands to be obeyed. Mere awareness or profession will not suffice. He must be obeyed because he has all authority in heaven and on earth (Mat 28:18), but even moreso he must be obeyed because in our lives of obedience God is glorified and the numbers of those glorifying him are increased (Mat 5:16).
So Jesus’ church must be about obeying and teaching others to obey all that he commanded (Mat 28:20). A church must call unbelievers to obey Jesus by believing the gospel and becoming his disciple, and call believers to obey all of Jesus’ commands as they live a life of belief in the gospel.
On a human level, obedience is impossible (Mat 19:16), but with God all things are possible, including obedience through Jesus’ atoning death (Mark 10:45), the work of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), and prayer (Mat 6:13). The specific way God chooses to bring about this obedience is through teaching, which is why Jesus spoke of making disciples by “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” A church values the proclamation and the teaching of Scripture, not to increase knowledge but to increase obedience. Obedience does not strive to earn God’s acceptance, but responds to God’s gracious acceptance in the gospel. Many will hear and agree with the gospel, but a failure to obey Jesus’ teaching indicates a heart that does not truly believe (Mat 7:21‐27).
But why obeying “the Savior”? What about the rest of Scripture outside of the gospels? “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). This fits together when we see that all of the Old Testament points to Jesus Christ (Luk 24:27) and is fulfilled in him (Matt 5:17–20), and that the rest of the New Testament represents Jesus’ first followers calling people to obey him (1 Pet 1:2) and expounding what that means. Because of that, as we seek to “obey Jesus Christ” we will be obeying all of Scripture.
Discipling the world,
As the Lord of all, Jesus demands that everyone from every nation and every religion become his disciple. He commissioned his followers to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). Jesus calls people to follow through his followers. We, while disciples ourselves, are the means Jesus uses to make disciples of others.
Discipleship is an ongoing process of learning to believe the gospel and obey all that Jesus commanded. It will never be complete during any person’s life on earth, because belief and obedience will never be fully realized. Yet even as we walk the road of discipleship ourselves, it is our mission to lead others down this road. We make disciples of unbelievers by entering into their lives, patiently teaching them the significance of Christ and his gospel, and calling them to believe and then learn to obey. We disciple our fellow Christians by directing them, in the particular situations of their life, to believe the gospel and obey Jesus Christ. Making disciples is not the task of an elite few in the church, but is the call of all. Discipling others is motivated by love for them, and requires that we seek their interests above our own.
The church seeks to disciple “the world,” underscoring that all people, regardless of whether or not they are yet a Christian, whether or not they look like us, whether they live near us or around the world, must either become a disciple of Jesus Christ or grow in their discipleship. The church must be involved in making disciples both within the church and outside, both in a local neighborhood and around the world.
For the glory of God
God created the world, and called his people, for his own glory (Isa 43:1-7; 20-21; 44:23; 48:9-11). Life ought to be lived soli Deo gloria, for the glory of God alone. This is a life of recognizing and acknowledging the unsurpassed worth, character, and acts of God, and giving him the honor he is due. But in mankind’s fallen state, our specific problem is falling short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23); not esteeming him as we were created to do. God saves his people with the goal of restoring them to their state of living for the praise of his glory (Eph 1:3-15; cf. Rom 15:8-9), and so for the Christian everything ought be done unto the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
This means that as we strive together in believing the gospel, obeying the Savior, and discipling the world, the focus is not on us and what we might gain personally, or even on others and what we might accomplish for them, but the ultimate focus must be on God and how he is glorified by his church walking in his ways. In believing the gospel, obeying the Savior, and discipling the world, the church is existing for the glory of God and striving to glorify him in the world.
So there it is: believing the gospel, obeying the Savior, discipling the world. I think you’ll find that everything else a church ought to be doing or talking about could be fruitfully located within this framework. If a church is committed to these three goals, if the people of the church are growing in these three areas, if teaching and relationships and conversations in the church are characterized by these three foci, this is likely to be a healthy church, one that is doing all for the glory of God.
To go deeper into believing the gospel, obeying the Savior, and discipling the world for the glory of God, I’m offering a five part Bible study for personal or group use, including discussions guides and a leader’s manual. Download free .zip containing .PDF and Word files.