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The Church Exists by Mission Just as . . .

September 15, 2014

My children LOVE fire.  Admittedly, their affinity for fire may have something to do with how much I enjoy a good fire!  You see, over the years, I have spent a lot of time at church camps – as a camper, a counselor, a manager, a program director, a curriculum writer, a trainer, and much more.  I am not sure if those experiences created my fondness for fires or if they simply gave me an outlet to enjoy them.  Nonetheless, I enjoy a good fire, and my children do to.

A good fire can be fun.  As a teenager, I would think of all kinds of things one could do with a fire – some of them safer than others!  Fire can be transformational.  Its heat allows us to shape metal and be creative.  Fire can be life giving.  It can prepare a field for new growth or simply provide heat for cooking.  Fire is powerful.

However, a fire only exists by burning.  Without flames, there is no fire, only a bunch of sticks or combustible material.  No one remembers sitting around a bunch of sticks at camp.  They remember sitting around a fire.  The flames and the burning, are what make it a fire and the fire is what brings joy, transformation, life, and power.

The famous Swiss theologian, Emil Brunner, once wrote, “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning.”

What a potent and challenging statement!  Just as a pile of sticks is not a fire until there are flames, a group of people is not the Church until there is a commitment to the Mission of God.

The Mission of God should be the foundation of the Church as well as the driving force behind the life of a Christian.  In John 20:21, Jesus commissions his followers by saying, “Peace be with you.  Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”  As followers of Christ, we are by nature “sent ones” and the level to which we embrace that reality impacts the vibrancy that we see within the Body of Christ – the Church.

Sometimes we define “mission” as work that is done overseas or outreach that a church does in a community.  While those are both important, they are not ample descriptions or definitions of mission.  Through the authority of God and by the power of the Spirit, Jesus sent the disciples.  So, too, is the Church sent.  We are an apostolic Church.  There is a fundamental “sent-ness” to the Church.

This doesn’t mean we are only sent to do outreach or sent overseas or sent into other cultures.  First and foremost, it means we need to understand that we are called into relationship with those around us so that we might discover where God is working and then invite others to participate in that work, join God in mission, and experience life in the Kingdom.

To live a life of mission, we must commit to an ongoing process of transformation.  The journey of discipleship is never complete and Ephesians 4:1 reminds us that we are called to Christian maturity.  That journey toward maturity is not meant to be a lonely walk.  We are sent to bring others along on that journey.

Fire can be transformational.  So can the Church.  The Mission of God is to the Church what flames are to fire.  “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning.”

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