Let me begin by saying that I’m a big advocate of both the marks and the mission of the church. In fact, I want to believe we all are. But what I have observed in evangelical life is that those who emphasize the marks of a healthy church are often (not always) weak on the mission, and those who emphasize the mission of the church are often (not always) weak on the marks of a true church.
As I have argued earlier, the marks and mission are not in opposition to one another. Jesus is both the builder (mission) of the church as well as the perfector (marks) of the church. I want to pursue genuine biblical health that will, by virtue of being healthy, be growing and bearing fruit. I also want to pursue fruitfulness that is consistent and a consequence of faithfulness to God’s Word. As Tim Keller puts it, we should evangelize as we edify and edify as we evangelize. Churches should be comprised of disciples of Jesus who have a simultaneous pursuit of God (holiness) and pursuit of man (mission), and these two should not be divorced from one another. Jesus calls us to follow Him (marks of a true disciple), and He will make us fishers of men (mission of a true disciple).
Indeed, when one comes to think about discipleship in relationship to the marks and mission, it is compelling to see how disciple-making merges the two together. What is the mark of a true disciple? Christ-likeness (increasing conformity into His image). What is the mission of a true disciple? To make more disciples of Jesus (by the power of His Spirit and instrumentality of His Word). What kind of new disciples are we seeking to make? True disciples who bear the marks of a genuine, devoted follower of Jesus. It stands to reason then, that a biblical church bearing true marks of health, will consist of disciples not only becoming like Christ but also being used by Christ in His mission.
What troubles me is that often times churches who seek to emphasize numerical growth are very loosely connected or concerned with the marks of a true church. Theology and ecclesiology is reduced to a tool in the pragmatist belt, to be used like a spare tire in cases of emergency, rather than the engine that drives the vehicle. Because the goal is growth, whatever means to secure that goal is deemed appropriate (I think you will see a good bit of this, by the way, in how churches treat Easter).
On the other hand, often times churches who seek biblical depth and health are loosely connected or concerned about the mission of the church. Evangelism, disciple-making, and church planting are not cultivated and celebrated as central to the life and focus of the church. Whereas intentionality exists in expository preaching and the membership process, there is not as much intentionality when it comes to missional engagement and the discipleship process. Because the goal is health, churches can feel justified with missional atrophy so long as the church is valuing purity.
If we believe in the mission, then we must care deeply about ecclesiology, so that we know what God considers to be a church and how it is to be governed. If we believe in a true church, then we must care deeply about mission so that true churches serve the purpose for which we exist in the world. I want both, but I admit that I feel the tension and the breakdown that exists in the evangelical world.
I want to be careful here not to make broad generalizations and stereotype every church that exists. Bear with me as I simply try to elaborate on an observation that I hope will generate substantive discussion and even more importantly, a learning experience so that we as practitioners can have a healthy and robust praxis in our respective local churches.
Am I missing it here? Are my observations off base? What are your thoughts?