Entire books have been written about the church’s mission. And there are a whole range of ideas as to what exactly the church’s mission really is.
- Is the church’s mission evangelism?
- Is the church’s mission social justice?
- Is the church’s mission to grow the church?
- Is the church’s mission to serve and bless those who are in need?
The answer is to these questions is… Well, yes. All of these! All of these and more are part of the church’s mission.
But these are only part of the church’s mission. Why? Because they are only part of God’s mission.
The mission of God is really much bigger than any of these. And, yet, the mission of God can be captured in a single word: shalom.
The Mission of God
Shalom is the mission of God.
You may know that shalom is the Hebrew word for “peace.” “Peace” is a good English translation of shalom, but it’s important to understand that shalom means so much more than “an absence of hostility”—although that’s a part of it. Shalom also means more than “inner peace”—although that’s also a part of it.
What is Shalom?
The root of shalom has to do with being intact or complete. It indicates a daily existence that is characterized by harmony with nature, harmony with oneself, and harmony with God. Eerdmans Bible Dictionary puts it this way: shalom is “a state of wholeness…and security embracing both the physical and spiritual dimensions and relating not only to the individual, but also to entire communities and relationships among persons.”
In other words, shalom has to do with restoration—restoration of relationships, restoration of health, restoration of provision, restoration of inner well-being….
- When a husband and wife reconnect after years of drifting apart, that’s shalom.
- When a parent and child reunite after having been estranged, that’s shalom.
- When two countries end hostilities, that’s shalom.
- When a person’s cancer goes into remission, that’s shalom.
- When a person learns to embrace their past and live without shame, that’s shalom.
- When a church feeds and clothes and houses the poor, that’s shalom.
Even the seemingly mundane can be expressions of shalom:
- When a person enjoys a cup of rich coffee, that’s shalom.
- When a family has a super-fun day at the amusement park, that’s shalom.
- When a surfer catches a perfect wave, that’s shalom.
Shalom is a word that has to do with a state of comprehensive well-being that touches every aspect of life. It is a kind of fullness of joy, of hope, of goodness, of justice, of faithfulness, of compassion, and of love.
The Church’s Mission
A world characterized by shalom is what God intended the world to be.
And this is the mission of the church. The mission of the church is to participate with God in bringing shalom to the world. The mission of the church is to restore relationships between human beings and God, between human beings and each other, and between human beings and God’s precious creation.
The beauty of this is that the mission of the church can take on all kinds of forms. One church’s expression of God’s mission will look different than another church’s expression of God’s mission. But both are being faithful to God.
The challenge for the church is to listen patiently to God, to its neighbors, and to its people—listen in order to discern how God is inviting that particular church to join God in God’s mission.