“The church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning.” These words of Swiss theologian Emil Brunner are timeless in their truth. Christian congregations are found throughout the world because of mission and in order to serve God through mission. A church without a strong sense of mission has lost its purpose. It may continue to exist as an institution but will, to use Brunner’s analogy, become cold and passionless like the embers of a fire that once burned brightly.
Brunner’s saying captures the New Testament’s emphasis on the church as a community of people that has been called by God to bear witness through words, deeds and its shared life of faith. St. Paul used the phrase the body of Christ to signify that the church was the concrete representation of God’s love, grace and justice in locations stretching from Jerusalem to Rome. In our own time, Christians around the globe gather for worship and teaching and scatter to witness and serve. Followers of Jesus are at the forefront of movements to share their faith, feed the hungry, heal the wounds of war, combat racism, protect children, and restore the environment. Sometimes this witness takes place in hostile settings.
If this is all true, why does a presentation about mission fail to excite the interest and passions of most people in most congregations? Why does the invitation to serve on a mission and outreach committee seem more like an obligation than a privilege?