Most churches would say that their mission is guided by Jesus’ Great Commission, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.” (Mt 28:18-20). It is impossible, however, for any one local church to make disciples of all the nations of the world. That is simply the general commission to churches everywhere by which each church is to determine its specific calling about the “where?”, the “whom?” and the “how?”; and maybe even the “when?”.
How a church determines all that is what we want to explore in this discussion.
If a church is not clear about its specific purpose it is likely to end up doing “anything and everything”, and accomplishing “nothing”. It may even try to muster up spiritual gifts and resources it doesn’t have to meet a need that it has no real passion for; while the talents it does have are not fully utilised. Inevitably, this will result in ineffective ministries and less than fruitful missions.
On the other hand, if a church is clear about its purpose it can focus its resources and energy on it. The result is obviously going to be much greater. It has the same effect as using a magnifying glass to train the rays of the sunlight onto a specific spot on a piece of paper. Very quickly the concentrated energy of the sunlight on that one focussed point will cause the paper to catch fire. That’s the power of a clear purpose when a church has it (or, for that matter, any organisation or individual).
Three Components That Help Determine Your Church’s Purpose
How can a church know what its specific purpose is? Three important components come into play: 1. Need, 2. Passion, and 3. Ability.
What needs do you see around your church? You can be absolutely certain that the Lord is calling your church to meet one or more of those needs. You may contend that the Great Commission points us to make disciples of all the nations of the world. That is correct. However, the fulfilment of the Great Commission worldwide begins with a ministry to the community where the Lord has established your church. That’s the principle of Acts 1:8; our witness begins with our Jerusalem and spreading further afield till it reaches the ends of the earth.
Needs alone, however, cannot define the calling of your church. For the simple reason, there are so many needs out there; even just within the community where your church is located. So, how do we determine what needs the Lord is calling us to meet?
One important guiding factor has to do with our affinity to the need. Which needs tug at your heart? Which needs do you identify with? Which needs are you passionate about? When we feel strongly for something or are convinced that this is something we have to do we will be much more enthusiastic about meeting that need.
Nonetheless, passion alone is insufficient. Passion may drive us but it cannot meet the need. Only a corresponding ability will enable us to meet that need. In the economy of God’s Kingdom, if the Lord is directing you to minister to a certain need He will also give you the ability and resources to meet that need. To quote the renown missionary of the 19th Century, Hudson Taylor, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”
Hence the three components: Need, Passion and Ability; when they align together, they give you the Purpose of your church.
Nehemiah is a great example of an individual who knew his purpose in life. After receiving the report about the sorry condition of Jerusalem he went into his prayer closet to seek the Lord. Jerusalem had to be rebuilt (Neh 1:1-4). Not only did he see the need, he also felt compelled to take personal responsibility to lead the charge (Ch 2:5, 17). The subsequent details in the story paint a picture of a man who was driven with intense passion. The condition of the city either glorified or reflected badly on the Name of the Lord. He could not allow Jerusalem to remain in its deplorable condition. Jerusalem had to be restored; beginning with the rebuilding of the walls that provided protection for the city.
Nehemiah was God’s man. The Lord had already prepared Nehemiah by giving him a certain amount of political clout (Ch 2:1, 7) and immense leadership, administrative and organisational skills (Ch 2:7-8, 11-6, 17-18) to fulfil the calling that He had laid upon his heart.
These three components that were operating in Nehemiah’s life are also present in every church. To determine the purpose of the church the leadership needs to spend time seeking the Lord for His leading while asking themselves the following questions:
- What needs do we see in the community where our church is located?
- What are we passionate about?
- What abilities and resources do we have?
- Where do the needs, our passion and our abilities align?
After more than forty years of its establishment an English-speaking middle-class church in Penang started a work among the lower-income dialect-speaking people in the community around their church. This was because they could see that that was what the Lord was telling them to do. They were also willing and able. Today, since 16 years ago, the church has a thriving Hokkien-speaking congregation and a life-changing ministry to the needs of the people in that enclave.