What is the Mission of the Church? Part 1: Distinguishing Between the Church and the Church

March 18, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement


I have served on the staff of a local church in some capacity for 25 years now. Large churches. Small churches. Suburban churches. Rural churches. Urban churches. Non-denominational churches. Baptist churches. Presbyterian churches. I have witnessed God work in the lives of hundreds of people. The power and hope of the Gospel binds up the broken-hearted, brings joy to the downcast, empowers courageous ministry, chastises the proud, and inspires great sacrifice. The wonder and joy of knowing Christ has compelled me to preach. 

Over these years, however, I have witnessed a common struggle in every church. This struggle is often expressed in moments of frustration and disappointment. “Why doesn’t the church do more ________?” “I wish the church offered ________.” “Doesn’t the church care about _________?” “The church should be doing _______.” At the root of such frustrations is the struggle over what is the mission of the church. What should the church be doing? 

I would like to address this struggle for the church I love, Oak Hills, over the next few weeks in Touchpoint. My aim and prayer is joyful and unifying clarity. If we, as members of this body, clearly understand what God calls us to do as a church, I believe we will be blessed with joyful unity around that mission. I also pray that such clarity will serve the fruitfulness of our gospel ministry. 

I start with a distinction. There is a difference between the Church and the church. As Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert say, “There is a difference between the church considered as a bunch of individual Christians and the church understood as an institution – as an organization of Christians that can and indeed must do some things that individual Christians cannot and indeed should not do. Perhaps we can talk about these two different entities as ‘the church organic’ and ‘the church institutional’” (What is the Mission of the Church? p. 232). Historically, the marks of the “institutional church” have been the preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and practice of discipline. These are activities that individual Christians should not carry out on their own. 

On the flip side, “there are commands given to individual Christians that are clearly not meant for the local church as an organized group” (DeYoung & Gilbert, p. 233). “Wives, submit to your own husbands… husbands, love your wives…” (Eph. 5:22, 25). Even a command such as forgive one another (Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13) is better applied by individual Christians rather than the institutional church. 

This distinction is important when we want to discuss the mission of the church. Are we talking about the “church organic” or the “church institutional”? Are we talking about what individual Christians ought to do? Or are we talking about what the organization of Christians in a “church” ought to do? I believe a lot of heat is generated in the discussion of what is the mission of the church when this distinction is not kept in mind. In the coming weeks, this distinction plays an important role as we consider what Scripture says the mission of the church ought to be.


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