“Our task as his people is to discern what God is doing and join with him. It is not so much that the church has a mission but that the mission has a church.” As I read those words from Alan Hirsch’s book, The Permanent Revolution, they stopped me in my tracks. As the senior pastor of Meridian United Presbyterian Church, I have led my leaders through numerous periods of discernment. Our goals were always to discern what the church should do or where the church should go next. Of course we believed that we were following the Holy Spirit, and I like to think we were. However, when I read those words from Hirsch I started to wonder, “Have we failed to discern what God is up to in the world and join him in that mission?”
We tend to personalize mission as if it belongs to us and it is ours to accomplish. There is a problem with this way of thinking. The church becomes the ultimate solution to the issues we face in the world. The church becomes the goal. However, the church is not the end game in the story of God’s redemption. We spend so much time trying to keep the ship running that we can easily lose sight of who we are and the very reason God has called us into being. As a pastor I often feel like I’m more of a program manager than anything else. I have to make sure the budgets balance, plan and prep Sunday school, write a sermon, and go to meetings that happen far too often. Through all of it I often wonder what difference I’m making in the Kingdom of God.
Maybe it is time to rethink how we go about being the church. I understand that meetings are necessary and that someone has to preach. I love the church and I love the calling I have been given. But it is time for us to move from program runners to the permanent revolution Jesus intended us to be when he established his church. Jesus did not tell his disciples in the Great Commission to stay there and wait for people to show up. Jesus commanded his disciples to go, to move, and to proclaim. There was not a program started on that mountain in Galilee, but a movement of God’s people dedicated to the good news that Christ has risen.
Throughout the Bible we see the movement of the Spirit in the work of restoration. Scripture begins with creation and ends with new creation. God is in the business of bringing about new creation and he is calling us to participate in that work. The church was established as God’s mission to the world. It doesn’t belong to us, we simply share in it. We do not have a mission. The mission has us. The Holy Spirit is at work in every corner of the earth. It is time for us to discern where God is at work and to join in. We do not need to craft beautiful mission statements to know what we are about. We simply need to know the risen Lord and to participate in God’s restoration of creation.
Alan Hirsch will be joining us at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary during the World Mission Initiative conference April 8-9, 2016, when he’ll address “Recalibrating the Church for the 21st Century.” Do not miss this opportunity to learn what it means to join in the mission of God in the world. Jesus established the church to be his mission to the world. Let us join in!
The Rev. Stephen M. Franklin ’09 is pastor of Meridian United Presbyterian Church in Butler, Pa. He received his bachelor’s from Westminster College, master of divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and is currently working on his doctorate in congregational transformation. If Steve isn’t working or playing with his son, you can find him on the golf course or at a baseball stadium.