Why Do We Exist as a Church?


Rev. Minho Song, Senior Pastor: Young Nak Presbyterian Church Toronto. 

Tyndale University College and Seminary Community Chapel, Tuesday, January 24, 2012.

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I was doing devotions in the book of Exodus. The problem with the people of Israel in the wilderness [and by extension many of God’s people in the Church today] is that they lack[ed] a purpose, a sense of direction. They didn’t know where they were going and why they were going to the promised land. Therefore it was easy for them to allow many difficulties to distract them. The importance of knowing your purpose, your mission [commission].

When I was studying in Chicago, as part of my assignment I had to conduct an ethnographic study of a church. I had to find out why so many people were drawn to this [particular] church. I remember interviewing a young father with three small children who said, “I don’t mind driving forty minutes to this church. Why? Because I am attracted to the church’s mission statement.” And the mission statement went something like this: “WillowCreek exists to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.” He said, “It is so refreshing to come across a church that really knows what it is doing, and knows where it is going, so I want to join this church.”

I think of many churches today, many churches as we know are struggling, young people are no longer to be found, some churches are closing. And I think the problem is the same, many churches lack a sense of direction, of purpose, of mission.

Many people do not know why they exist. Many churches do not know why they exist.

It was the prophet, I like to call him the prophet of our time, Lesslie Newbigin- some of you may have come across this name, who helped us understand the danger the churches in the West are facing. He brought us to this important question of, “Why do we exist as a church?”

He spent his adult life in India as a missionary and upon retirement he went back to his home country, UK, and as was his habit, he went around and he shared the gospel. He would knock on the door and he would ask people to consider Jesus Christ.

One day he gets a phone call and someone asks, “Why are you sharing the gospel and disturbing the people from South Asia?”

First he thought that the complaint came from within that community, but it shocked him to learn that it came from his fellow citizens. He was disturbed by the fact that most church people were content to live in that pluralist society, never taking the time to raise this question, “Is Jesus really the only way?” He learned that religion was very conveniently compartmentalized and was in a box called “private religion” or “personal truth”.

He came out of retirement and began writing, you may have come across some of his books such as “Foolishness to the Greeks” or “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society”. These are very fine books. He birthed what we call in North America, the “missional church movement”. It is about bringing back the mission, the purpose of the church. Many churches are now looking around and asking, “Why do we exist?”

In our verse Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus says, “You are the salt, you are the light of the world.” Jesus says, this is who you are. In the Bible, whenever there is a clear identity statement, we must also realize that it is also a mission statement. The same in 1 Peter 2:9. When there is a clear identity statement, “this is who you are,” it is tantamount to “this is what you should be doing.” This passage is about the identity and mission of the Church.

In Matthew 5-7 is the great Sermon on the Mount, the first twelve verse in chapter five, Jesus talks about the Beatitudes, the character of the kingdom people, how they ought to live, the kind of personality they should have. Then immediately after this he says, “now this is how you should be living”.

In the gospel of Matthew there is not just one commissioning passage, that is in chapter 28, but there is another in Matthew chapter 10. In Matthew 10 the commissioning is limited to the Jews. In verses 5-6, Jesus says, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus was very purposeful. He sent his disciples to give the Jews the first opportunity to hear the gospel and to experience the power of the kingdom.

When the Jews rejected that, then Jesus sent the same disciples to make disciples of all nations. Go to the Gentiles and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Jesus is very purposeful. He knows what he is doing. He wants his church to know what it is supposed to be doing. The Church has to have a very clear mission statement. As a pastor of a local church myself, I find it very easy to lose sight of why we exist as a church. We lose sight of the big picture.

At Young Nak, as Senior Pastor, I believe my primary call is to remind the church, why we exist. Every group in the church wants to exert its own interests, the task can get daunting. At Young Nak we have a mission statement. The truncated version is something like this: “Young Nak exists to bring the love of Christ to the ends of the earth in word and in deed.” That is why we exist. And my job is constantly to remind people,

“Is what you are doing in line with what we are here for?”

In our church, overseas missions is heavily emphasized. We have missionaries in Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia ministering to Muslim people in both cities, Bishkek and Osh. Osh is a very difficult place to minister in, if you are a Christian you will be found out very quickly. We have work going on in Cambodia among the Buddhists.

A few years ago it came to my mind that, we are sending people to the ends of the earth but the ends of the earth have come to us. What are we going to do about that? So we began collecting some demographic information about our city and learned there are more than two hundred languages spoken in [Toronto], but that is too many people to cover, we need to narrow down. We narrowed down to five people groups who are of Buddhist background and who come from South East Asia. They are the Vietnamese, the Cambodians, the Laotians, the Thai people, and the people from Myanmar.

We began systematically looking for them. Where do they live? Do they have Christian witness? We found out that among the five, the Vietnamese probably had the most Christian witness, but we began helping each one of them. Last year we had the privilege of seeing the first Thai church being formally planted in Canada. This was a tremendous work of Thai pastors and the help and prayers of the first generation Korean immigrants.

When I first gave the challenge that we should open our eyes to the people who are living around us, many of them said, “Pastor, but our English is limited, there is only so much we can express.” I said, “Don’t worry, your English is far better than some of the immigrants, they will understand you better than those who speak fluently,” which I think is true. In our church, if you ever come and visit us at two in the afternoon, our campus is open to all of these churches, they come and they worship with us in their own groups.

My challenge is this, how do I get the church members to constantly look outwardly. I am reminded of what William Temple, the former Archbishop of Canterbury once said about the Church: “The Church of Jesus Christ is the only Club that I know that exists for the sole benefit of its non-members.” Very profound statement.

And so I keep reminding my church members:

“The reason you and I are worshiping here is because of those who do not.” Let us not forget that.

Naturally people are looking for a good church. A good church is defined by the three “B’s”, according to Southern Baptists anyway: building, baptism, and budget. But I think we need to go beyond being a good church to being a church committed to [God’s] purpose. A clear mission. A clear vision of why we exist as a Church.

Now some of us are studying at Seminary and if you do not know why you are here you will always complain and argue like the Israelites in the wilderness. When I was in Seminary I remember trying to memorize Greek declensions, [asking] “Why are there so many exceptions?” But did you know the exceptions are the privileges of other languages. It is a price you have to pay to enter into their world. When I first tried to learn English I said to myself, “Why are there so many exceptions to this language?”

Well, if you don’t have a clear purpose and mission in life, you are going to complain and argue. That is what many churches are doing because they don’t know where they are going as a church. If you want to help shape God’s Church, we need to always ask, “Why do we exist?” You are the salt, you are the light of the world. Jesus has given us both the identity and purpose.

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