This is the first of three great posts by my friend Patrick Hubbard. Patrick brings a unique perspective because of the ministry he serves in and leads: Living Bread Ministries. LBM is a movement dedicated to planting interdependent missional churches–more like missional communities–among the global poor and to equip them to take care of their communities. Their approach to church planting is unlike most typical North American global church planting organizations. Presently they have churches in the slums of Brazil and are in the process of planting in the slums of Thailand. I am honored to serve as a member of their Advisory Board. Check them out at www.livingbread.org and catch Patrick’s site at www.gpatrickhubbard.com
“The mission of the church is an issue that is often fiercely debated. Many in the Western church have equated its mission with evangelism. They advocate social ministry, but as a means to capitalize on someone’s felt need in order to evangelize them. A practice that, according to John Stott, ultimately results in “rice Christians” (people who make false professions in order to continue to benefit from social ministry). Others, with this understanding of mission, see social ministry as a byproduct of faith in Christ, but not necessarily part of the church’s mission in the world. For them social concern is necessary in the life of the believer, but aside from its role in evangelism (creating an opportunity or testifying to the genuineness of faith) it does not advance the mission of the church. They see a dichotomy between the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
By no means am I arguing that the view I have presented represents the predominant view in the Evangelical church. A wide variety of beliefs on the mission of the church are prevalent. However, the above view is one that I encounter quite often. To be clear, I am a champion of evangelism and I fervently insist that any understanding of mission that does not grasp the necessity to verbally communicate the gospel is not Biblical. That being said, I believe the understanding of the mission of the church communicated above is horribly inadequate.
It is inadequate because it begins in the wrong place. Many begin to develop their understanding of the church’s mission after Genesis 3 and primarily in the New Testament. They begin at the fall of man and develop a theology of mission that is more about getting saved than serving God. The mission gets boiled down to evangelism, often resulting in churches filled with professing believers searching for purpose.
The problem with this is that it totally neglects that the Lord created Adam and Eve with a purpose, and that before the fall He commissioned them to fulfill that purpose. Humanity’s original great commission, also known as the cultural mandate, is found in Genesis 1:26-28. God created mankind in His image and gave them dominion over the earth. Most Old Testament scholars have come to understand this as the functional image of God.
This means that Adam and Eve were created to be priest-kings. They were commissioned as kings to mediate the reign of God on Earth. They were to subdue the Earth and bring it under the sovereign reign of Yahweh. As they were fruitful and multiplied, they would extend God’s reign beyond the garden borders to the ends of the Earth. As priests, they dwelt in the garden temple in the presence of the Lord. By cultivating the garden (Genesis 2:15) they would extend its borders, and thus the presence of God, to the ends of the Earth.
The original mission for humanity was to bring everything under the dominion of Yahweh and to extend the garden temple and thus His presence to the ends of the Earth. This did not change when Adam fell into sin. Rather, the necessity for redemption/restoration was added to the existing mission. This means a spiritual dimension is added to the command to be fruitful and multiply. Ultimately, Christ restores the image of God in fallen mankind so that the new humanity can once again pursue its mission. This happens through new birth, which results from repentance of sin and faith in Christ.
In light of this, clearly evangelism is essential to our theology of mission. However, the mission itself was given in Genesis 1:26-28 and reiterated in Matt 28:16-20. These two passages do not contradict one another. Disciples are restored image bearers (a kingdom of priests) who seek to bring all of life under the sovereign reign of Christ and to build a spiritual house (the church) thus extending the presence of God throughout the Earth.
Jesus is the supreme example of how this is to be done. Neither the presence nor the reign of God is extended by force. The kingdom expands under the authority of King Jesus, by the power of the Spirit through death; the continual dying to self of the members of the body of Christ. Disciples must lose their lives for the sake of the kingdom. This is the mission of the church.
If you would like a more comprehensive explanation of what I shared above please read The Image of God and Mission.”
Watch this short five minute video about Living Bread Ministries here: https://vimeo.com/59156511
 Stott, John. Christian Mission in the Modern World. (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 1975), 41.