A charge to keep I have

By | April 21, 2017

In 1762 Charles Wesley wrote a hymn by the above name; he was talking about mission. Jesus charged the church with our mission just before he ascended to glory, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19-20).

This mission applies to every Christian. If we’re not focused on the charge of making disciples, we’re simply not meeting Jesus’ expectations.

Though we have a common mission, we go about accomplishing that mission in different ways. “Vision” refers to the more personal, specific, grass-roots ways individuals and churches go about fulfilling the mission.

Vision is local and unique to every congregation. Vision grows out of our gifts, graces and what we’re naturally passionate about, it can often be discovered within what we’re already doing.

Still, to meet our charge, the mission of disciple making must be kept at the forefront of our vision.

Methodist preacher William Booth, living in particularly hard times, had a servant’s heart for the poor. Still, Booth understood his ultimate mission was to make disciples of Jesus.

Knowing that dirty, hungry and hopeless people would not be able to internalize the message of the gospel, Booth adopted a vision of caring for the people’s physical needs as a way of opening their hearts to the good news.

The result? In 1865 William Booth founded the Salvation Army, whose vision today can be summed up in the tidy motto, “Soup, Soap and Salvation.”

The point of retelling that well-known story here is the “salvation” part. Booth’s vision of sharing soup and soaps with needing people is an act of grace that stands on its own.

Yet, that grace enabled the Salvation Army to realize its ultimate charge of opening lives to the good news of the Christ and, in turn, to set lives on the path of discipleship.

Similarly, every activity the church is engaged in today, our collections, our singing, our teaching and pot-lucking should be married to our singular mission of making (and deepening) disciples.

Vision is specific to every church. Some churches meet the mission by hosting 12-step recovery programs; others are all about children’s development, or music.

Whatever our calling may be, we’re to use it so as to empower our ultimate mission of making disciples.

Sadly, too many churches have traded the discipleship part of our charge for the more comfortable call to be friendly. We collect food, mail off boxes of soap and participate in fundraising dinners while farming out the real mission work to someone else, hoping that discipleship will simply fall into place somewhere along the process.

Wrongly engaged, “mission-lite” insulates us against the hard, often uncomfortable work of actually engaging messy lives and leading individuals beyond passive belief and into the deep waters of committed discipleship.

Scripture rightly tells us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV). To that I’d add, “…and churches close their doors.”

For where there is no vision there is little mission, and without taking Jesus’ mission of disciple making seriously, we’re not being the church.

We have a charge to keep… still.

By Mitch Jarvis

(Mitch pastors Neosho United Methodist Church. He can be reached by email at thejarvi44@gmail.com.)

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