What is the mission of the Church in the world?


We’re experiencing rapid changes in the world on every level. This is a time for local Churches to look more closely at how they approach ministry. Churches must expand their visions of ministry beyond the typical maintenance mentality that characterizes too many local fellowships. A Biblically holistic approach to ministry must be our aim if we desire to be God’s instrument of transformation in the world. Jesus outlined this approach to ministry in Matthew 5:1-16.

The guidelines below are offered for discussion and vision casting for ministry.

Three Dimensions of holistic ministry:

  1. Relief: because we are physical beings with bodily needs
  2. Development: because we are social beings with community needs
  3. Evangelism: because we are spiritual beings in need of salvation

Three questions:

  1. Why do we rely on government to meet the social needs of relief and development?
  2. What relief and development needs can the Church meet locally, nationally, and internationally?
  3. How does evangelism meet relief and development needs? What are the beneficial horizontal effects of the gospel

Three extremes to avoid:

  1. Imposition: coercing people by legislation to accept the Christian way. Yet Christians should offer influence on the formation of law
  2. Inquisition: violence used in the name of Christ to force Christianity on others.
  3. Indifference: a principled belief in the necessity of non-interference; leaving people alone in their non-Christian ways (see: John Stott, Decisive Issues)

Three God-ordained institutions —for the good of humanity:

  1. Family—for nurturing and molding the character of our children (Eph.  6:1; Colo. 3:18-21)
  2. Government—for punishing evildoers and praising those who do right (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:1-6:I Pe. 2:13-14)
  3. Church–as salt and light to the World (Matt. 5:13-16; Colo. 4:5-6)

Thought: When the two agents of influence (home and government) are failing, the church feels a greater need for her salt and light role in the world.

Key Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16 emphasizes the extensive role of Jesus’ followers in the world. In this text, Jesus outlined the strategic deployment of his disciples for capturing prominent places of influence in the world.

Two metaphors: our role defined:

To help His followers understand their relationship with the world, Jesus used two common commodities: salt and light.  The salt functioned as a preservative to keep perishable items from decaying and rotting.  The light dispels darkness to help people see clearly.  Using these commodities as metaphors, Jesus describes how His followers should view their relationship with the world.

  1. verse 13—“You are the salt of the earth.”  But salt must retain its saltiness.  If salt gets tainted or contaminated with other properties it loses its ability to function as salt.
  2. verse 14—“You are the light of the world.”  But the light must be allowed to shine:  verses 14b-16.

The ‘you” in each of these verses is the person Jesus described in the eight beatitudes in verses 3-10. Character precedes influence. The key to salt and light influence is to live out the descriptive qualities of those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.

Salt and Light

  1. As salt—to deter decay: moral and social. Implication: the world is a corrupt place. “Sometimes standards slip and slide in a community for want of a clear Christian protest”  (Stott). As salt, we serve a restraining function as a deterrent to social and moral deterioration.
  2. As light—to dispel the darkness of sin and unbelief. Implication: the world is a dark place. As light, we serve a directional function in guiding those who sit in the darkness of sin and unbelief.

Provokingly different:

In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus indicated that His disciples would live a provokingly different lifestyle.  Evidently, the followers of Jesus are not viewed as just a bunch of nice guys who are great to have around. People don’t persecute “nice guys”!  They persecute people who disturb them and convict them. Perhaps we see so little persecution because, unlike the Old Testament prophets, we are more concerned about being seen as nice people than we are about standing for righteousness.


With the metaphors, Jesus implied that His followers must make permeating contact with the world and establish strategic places of influence like well-lit cities on a hill. Salt will not help preserve meat unless it permeates it to hold back the corruption and decay.

“Christians are not to remain aloof from society where they cannot affect it, but are to become immersed in its life.” (John Stott)

This requires more than casual contact with unbelievers.  There must be meaningful intersection of our lives with unregenerate people so that we can fulfill a restraining influence and shine for Christ.  This means that we must resist the temptation to isolate and insulate ourselves by overly “Christianizing” our lives.

We need Christian fellowship as a sustaining discipline for godly living, but we also need to permeate unbelieving community with our influence.  This means we must avoid the “meet, eat and retreat” mentality that controls many Churches. New Testament evangelism is not fulfilled when we drop the drawbridges to our Christian stockades long enough to gospel-bomb the community with Christian literature and run back for cover.

We need the strategic deployment of well-placed believers who are situated among unbelievers like well-lit cities that cannot be missed. Jesus says: Don’t bushel the light!


The metaphors require distinction as well as contact.  The salt cannot become tainted or contaminated.  The light is obviously distinct from the darkness it enters.  Jesus’ followers must maintain their distinctions if they hope to fulfill their purposes in the world.  In our values, morality, attitudes and speech, we must live to please God within the community of unbelievers.

Key Question: How can we maintain permeating contact without being contaminated by the values, morality, attitudes, and speech of unbelievers?

Throughout church history, Christians have not always handled this tension well. Two extremes have often hurt the church.

  1. Trying to gain distinction through isolation (monasteries, cloisters, completely “Christianized” lives)
  2. Trying to gain influence through accommodation and compromise (taking our cue from the culture, not the cross)

It is vital to our witness (to our ability to permeate the community of unbelievers), that we know where God expects us to be different. Some Christians, fall for legalism and think they’re standing for Christ—when in fact they’re often being unnecessarily strange.  These are often the type of Christians who move from one crusade to another against whatever appears to be acceptable to the world.

We must not allow ourselves to be detoured from the main road of the gospel. When we are issue-driven on non-essentials, we risk misrepresenting what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Three strategic considerations:

  1. The scope of mission is the earth, the world or all nations (Matthew 28:19-20)–the entire sphere of human existence.
  2. The basis of influence: true Christian character as defined in the eight beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)
  3. The necessities for influence: Contact and distinction. Light must shine in dark places and salt must make permeating contact to bring preservation.

Note: I am indebted to the late John R. W. Stott for much of this understanding of mission.

Steve Cornell

See also: You are the light of the world 

Chart out some ideas for each dimension of ministry in your setting:

Evangelism Relief Development

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Church, Church and State, Church growth, Church Leadership, Church membership, Counseling, Culture, Elders, Leadership, Local Church, Mission statement, Missions, Pastors, Witness, Worldview and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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