Aviators are familiar with the “1 in 60” rule, which can be expressed as “for every sixty miles a pilot flies with a one-degree heading error, the plane will be one mile off course.” An implication is that even a small mistake in direction over time can cause a pilot to totally miss his intended target.
That same concept applies to our mission as the church, God’s called-out believers through which He is accomplishing His purposes in the world. That’s why, as we seek to address the challenges the past two pandemic years have created, we must carefully consider what we are hoping to achieve moving forward.
Consider the following examples I’ve heard recently: “we want to get back to our pre-COVID attendance”; “we want to restart our ministry programs”; “we want a better internet ministry”; “we want our volunteers re-engaged in service”; “we want younger people to come to our church”; “we want to hang on and survive.”
While I understand the sentiments expressed in such statements, I’d suggest they are not entirely “on course” as it was given to us by Jesus. The Great Commission, Matthew 28:19-20, widely understood to be Jesus’ primary missional directive for His church, has but one true imperative command: “make disciples.” All the church does—going, baptizing, teaching, worshipping, praying, sharing life together, meeting needs, and the like—should contribute to the goal of ongoing disciple development and multiplication.
The church’s mission is to make disciples: persons becoming more and more like Jesus (1 John 2:5-6) and less and less like themselves (Galatians 2:20) as they grow in their relationships with God, other Christians, and those who don’t know Jesus yet (Mark 12:28-34, Luke 19:10). The church is to equip disciples with the skills to build these relationships so those disciples can then share these skills with others. That mission is further informed by Jesus’ instructions in Acts 1:8, including geographic Kingdom expansion as well as local numerical addition.
All else, be it numerical growth, high-quality programming, service projects, small groups, or any other church program, activity, or goal, is validated only as it contributes to the making and multiplying of disciples for the expansion of God’s Kingdom. We must keep that goal paramount in our hearts, or we might drift from the course Jesus set for us. As he put it in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”