1. Some evangelical writers/thinkers say “no,” there is no difference and leave it at that.
2. Other evangelical leaders confuse the issue (in my opinion) by coming up with several purposes for the church, while subsuming the concept of mission under one of these purposes. An unfortunate side effect of this is that mission (disciple making) becomes just “one more thing” that the church does (alongside of and competing with things like worship, prayer and fellowship) instead of THE overriding task which the church is supposed to do. Thus, churches end up with an “evangelism committee” or an “outreach committee” which must jostle for attention with all the other committees.
3. Our best thinkers (again, in my view) distinguish mission and purpose as follows:
- Mission is what God has told the church to do; its one main assignment from God (making disciples).
- Purpose is God’s great, overarching, transcendent reason for redeeming a remnant of the fallen human race and turning us (or at least some of us, depending on your theology at this point) into the Church. Purpose, as hard as it may be to distinguish from mission, is easy to discern from the Scriptures. You can think of it this way: While MISSION is what we are sent to DO; PURPOSE is why we are sent to do it.
- Just as there’s an iconic great commandment passage (Matthew 22:37,38) which tells us to love God supremely, a great commission passage (Matthew 28:18-20) which tells us to make disciples, and a great prediction passage (Matthew 16:18) which tells us that our task will succeed, there is also an iconic great purpose passage (Ephesians 1:1-14) which tells us why God chose and redeemed us. In two words, His purpose was to GLORIFY HIMSELF. If you have any doubts on this point, please read the Ephesians passage carefully and then note how closely it follows God’s purpose for us in the greatly-beloved words of the Westminster Catechism:
Q – “What is the chief end of man?”
A – “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
For us, glorifying God simply means living in such a way as to make Him look good, to reflect His glory well, to cause those who see us (including angels and demons) to learn something true about God.
Preach a sermon, lead a Bible study, or better yet, have your strategic planning team do a Bible study (together as one group or in small groups of 4-6) on this subject of the Church’s (and thus, your church’s) ultimate purpose.
If you don’t want each person on your team to study every verse/passage below, you can divide up the material, separate your groups and have them come back together to share with each other (excitedly!) what they found.
- It will help your team to grasp that God is more interested in what we are than in what we do.
- It will help your team to realize that God is not going to let His great purpose for the church fall to the ground.
- It will lead your team to worship, and true worship is always pleasing to God and good for our souls.
- It will fill your team with gratitude for His incredible grace: We so often fail at giving God glory and yet His love is constant and His determination to bring us to glory never wavers.
- It will help your team members to see their idols, pettiness and selfishness in the revealing searchlight of God’s glory. Studying this subject makes it easier to understand that the church does not belong to US and it is not about us.
- It will clearly reveal the primary VALUE which ought to characterize every church’s work: a desire to glorify God in all that we do.
They don’t all use the word “glory,” but the meaning of most is unmistakable. Take your time with this. Let these amazing words sink in. Allow your participants to comment freely. At times you may want to stop and pray, praise or worship. When you’re done, re-read the bullet points just above and again, allow folks to comment freely and/or ask questions.
The discussion question is simply: What does each verse or passage say about God’s concern for His glory and/or His purpose for creating mankind and creating the Church?
Genesis 1:31 –
Exodus 14:4 –
Joshua 7:19 –
I Chronicles 22:5 –
Psalm 19:1 –
Psalm 79:9 –
Isaiah 24:15 –
Isaiah 42:8 –
Isaiah 42:12 –
Isaiah 43:6-7 –
Isaiah 48:11 –
Isaiah 66:18-19 –
Jeremiah 13:11 –
Jeremiah 13:16 –
Ezekiel 39:21 –
Matthew 5:16 –
Luke 2:14 –
John 5:44 –
John 7:18 –
John 11:4 –
Acts 12:23 –
Romans 9:22-25 –
Romans 11:36 –
Romans 15:7 –
I Corinthians 10:31 –
II Corinthians 1:20 –
II Corinthians 4:15 –
II Corinthians 5:14,15 –
II Corinthians 8:19 –
II Corinthians 9:10-15 –
Ephesians 1:11-14 (if you haven’t already studied it) –
Ephesians 3:20-21 –
Philippians 1:9-11 –
Philippians 1:19-21 –
Philippians 1:22-27 –
I Peter 1:6-8 –
I Peter 4:10-11 –
II Peter 3:18 –
Revelation 1:5b-6 –
Revelation 4:9-11 –
Revelation 11:13 –
Revelation 14:7 –
Revelation 16:9 –
Revelation 19:7-8 –
- What are the implications of these verses/passages for our church right now and into the future?
- What kinds of things happen in or through a church which probably do not glorify God?
- What kinds of things happen in or through a church which DO glorify God?
- What do these verses/passages say about HOW (in the sense of values and ethics, not methods) we should pursue our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ?