Alan Hirsch has challenged the way we typically order our thinking about Jesus and the church. Typically, we place missiology as a subheading of our ecclesiology. With this pattern, mission becomes just a part of all that the church is about. I believe Hirsch rightly orders the thinking process in the following way:
Christ comes first. He then commands us into His mission. The byproduct of our mission is spreading His kingdom on earth via the building of His church. As much as I value church planting, I have come to realize that we should stop planting churches. We should plant Jesus, and let Jesus build His church.
Because we have been confused on the order of things we have propagated less than fertile works around the world. We have planted religious organizations rather than planting the powerful presence of Christ. Often, those organizations have very Western structures and values that are foreign to the indigenous soil in which they are planted. The result is a misplaced priority in a new emerging church. If only we would simply plant Jesus in these cultures and let His church emerge indigenously from the soil. A self-sustaining and reproducing church movement would grow that was not dependent upon the West and more integrated in the culture from which it grows. Rather than a group that strives to be separate and removed from its culture, the church would be engaged and transformative of that culture.
It dawned on me one day that the Bible never commands us to plant a church. When the disciples were sent out they were to bring the Kingdom (or reign) of God to the places where people lived life. When Paul and Barnabas went out they didn’t think of their task as starting churches but making new disciples of the King. Our command is to connect people to Jesus as their King. We are to extend the reign of Christ on earth. The byproduct of this work is church. We often think backwards about these things. We think that if we start a church the kingdom will come and Jesus will be glorified. The truth is opposite of this. If we glorify Christ by bringing His reign to a new place the church will emerge in that place. But it will not stay there. It will be a church on mission to bring Christ to the next town and the next territory.
Church is not meant to be the agent of change, Jesus is. The Bible doesn’t say, “For God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Church.” Church is the result of the Gospel, not the cause. In a sense we are confusing the fruit with the seed. We must plant the seed of the Gospel of the Kingdom and the fruit will be changed lives living out their faith together, which is church. Hirsch comments, “We frequently say ‘the church has a mission,’ a more correct statement would be ‘the mission has a church.’”