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What Are We About?
What is the purpose of the church? While some wrong answers are obvious, others are not. There really is only one purpose.

Every congregation should ask this question: What are we about?

Only those who accept the call to apprentice themselves to Jesus can produce the fruit of right living the world is starved for.

Are we about providing sanitized social gatherings where we engage in stimulating conversation about the weather and those who are surprisingly not present? Are we about preserving a distinct religious society where the term "Christian" is rarely understood? Are we about protecting some old or new worship style, about promoting a political ideal, about criticizing that other political ideal, about ensuring the next generation will carry on our traditions? What are we about?

Having mustered the courage to ask the question we should then seek to answer it honestly and biblically. For all our recent tendency to analyze ourselves to death and develop mission and vision statements through elaborate processes that generally result in lively banter, cool wall hangings, and little follow through, the reality remains that what we are to be about as local bodies of believers has been outlined for us in Scripture and the issue is not developing another pithy slogan, but obedience to what is already clear.

So what are we about? Our answer often slips quickly to compassionate living, evangelism, justice, meaningful corporate worship, genuine fellowship, faithful stewardship and other proper Sunday School responses that entirely miss the point. Though all warm and fuzzy these qualities are the fruit of the tree and not the tree itself. Compassion for our neighbours, justice for the marginalized, dynamic worship and fellowship, and the care and sharing of God's good gifts are not natural to us—they are learned in the school of grace as we die to ourselves, are raised to new life with Christ by the power of the Spirit, and walk daily in the footsteps of Jesus. The tree that produces the fruit of righteous and godly living is discipleship—that obedient response to the invitation of Jesus to be His apprentice—and without it the fruit simply will not be there.

Of all the things the authoritative risen Lord could have commanded us to be about as He left things teetering in our hands, it is striking that He chose to say, "Go and make disciples" (Matthew 28:18-20). Until the end of the age the Church of Jesus Christ is to be about disciple making—we are ultimately about urging, leading, and teaching people to obey Jesus, to live in Christ, because only He who is Life can produce life in and through them. If we are firstly about anything else then we are not about what Jesus commanded us to be about. So let us beware of justice without the life in Christ, let us shun evangelism without apprenticeship; let us shudder at Sunday worship at the feet of Jesus without Monday following in His footsteps. Dietrich Bonhoeffer powerfully drives home the point, "Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ."

Only those who accept the call to apprentice themselves to Jesus can produce the fruit of right living the world is starved for. Let us, then, humbly consider the words of Dallas Willard, "If we follow that call in our Christian groups, then, as in past times, the most important thing happening in our communities will be what is happening in our churches." Our making of disciples—of a people wholly sold to obeying Jesus' voice above every other cry begging for attention and allegiance—is the hinge upon which every community turns toward righteousness or wickedness, wholeness or chaos, life or death. Yes, that is the sound of alarm bells you are hearing! So what are we about?

Phil Wagler is an apprentice of Jesus and lead pastor of Zurich Mennonite Church in Ontario. You can reach him at

Originally published in Canadian Mennonite, April 17, 2006.




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