What is the mission of the Universal Church and how can we evaluate its effectiveness today? To assess the effectiveness of this generation in advancing the mission of the church we must first understand the universal mission of the Church. Daft (2004) writes, “the overall goal for an organization is often called the mission – the organization’s reason for existence. The mission describes the organization’s vision, its shared values and beliefs, and its reason for being” (p. 55). The overall goal for the universal Church was given by Jesus to the Apostles in Matthew 28. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20a, NIV). The mission of the Church is to make disciples. Going, baptizing, and teaching are all subordinate participles in the original langue and the imperative is ‘make disciples’ (Wilkins, 2004, p. 951). “Implied in the imperative “make disciples” is both the call to and the process of becoming a disciple” (Wilkins, 2004, p. 952). I may be splitting hairs but the commission of Jesus and thus the mission of the church is not worship, glory to God, loving others, serving the community, or even soul-winning. All these things fall under the umbrella of being a disciple of Jesus. If the church is carrying out its mission of making disciples then it will be nurturing people into a relationship with Jesus that carries out all these things.
The more difficult question to answer is whether or not this generation of the Church has been effective at carrying out its mission. Wilkins writes that part of the discipleship strategy (and thus the goal of making disciples) has failed in the modern church; “It is perhaps in carrying out the directive of the final participle that we have failed the most: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Do we have a personal strategy for carrying this out? Because most of us personally and most of our ministries lack such a strategy, many have called this the Great Omission of the Great Commission” (Wilkins, 2004, p. 971). Others believe that the Church has lost focus on making disciples; “The Church is in crisis today because we have wandered from our core mission and we must get back to it” (Ogden, 2003, p. 1). Honestly it is hard to measure an abstraction yet Jesus gives us an outward product of an inward reality. Jesus says in John 13:35, “Your love for one another will prove to the world you are my disciples” (NLT). I will say that the universal Church has made disciples. I personally cannot say that they have been particularly effective at it. There are a lot of believers but not nearly as many fully committed, transformed, and growing followers of Jesus that make being transformed into the image of Christ their consuming passion. Likewise there are a lot of believers out there who love Jesus unconditionally but put strict limits on whoever else could be worthy of love.
As already stated, we are given the mission and strategy of the universal Church by Jesus in Mt. 28. The strategy (going, baptizing, and teaching) is the same but looks different in every context. Wilkins writes about going; “’To obey Jesus’ commission may require some to leave homeland and go to other parts of the world, but the imperatival nature of the entire commission requires all believers to be involved in it. The completion of the commission is not simply evangelism. Rather, it means calling unbelievers to be converted and embark on the process of being transformed into the image of Jesus in lifelong discipleship” (2004, p. 954). Disciples are locally and globally minded followers but everyone’s ‘go’ is unique. Still there is no denying that the strategy is to go. Baptism throughout the NT is the starting point for new life in Christ. Teaching is where many congregations fall short. Many are good with the basics of discipleship but have few lifelong resources for growth outside of popular and topical small group/Sunday school options. Every Church needs a plan to help each person take responsibility for their growth in Christ.
To raise up the next generation of globally minded, culturally aware disciples the Church must be intentional about discipleship. Personally I think the best structure for this is the method Jesus used with his first disciples; an intentional, relationship-based journey of continual learning of who Jesus is and what it looks like to be like him. Every congregation’s unique context and values will determine the form this takes. The modern small-group movement is a good tool for this but small-groups are just another way, not the only way, to encourage community. A congregation that is successful at making disciples will make an intentional effort to build community between a diverse sampling of believers and equip them with the tools to understand where they are in their own discipleship journey and help move them along in their journey of Christlikeness.
Daft, R. L. (2004). Organization theory and design (8th ed.). Mason, Ohio: South-Western.
Ogden, G. (2003). Making disciples of Jesus: The unique mission of the church. Retrieved 10/4, 2013, from http://gregogden.com/PDFs/UniqueMissionOfChurch.pdf
Wilkins, M. J. (2004). The NIV application commentary: Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing,