Does The Mission of the Church Include Economic Renewal?
Does the mission of the church include economic renewal?
I'm not sure I like that question even though I asked it. I think the short answer is "no," but as soon as I type those two letters I switch to "hmmmm ... possibly." For years I've had this internal dialogue over these kinds of questions ... what role does the church play in placemaking? What role does the church play in shaping urban form? What role does the church play in community and economic development?
There is no denying that our theological reference points and traditions factor heavily into how we view and answer those questions. For some the resounding answer is "no" while others the answer is more like, "well, no, not necessarily that's the mission of the church, but it still can be tackled by members of local churches who are gifted and called in these areas." Ultimately it ends up being a semantics game to some degree.
Biblically-speaking we can proof-text to prove our points. Some will contend that books like Nehemiah and passages like Jeremiah 29 prove that the church should play an active role in urban renewal projects and placemaking. Others will press the pause button and point to Matthew 28 and explain that the church is actually about making disciples of the nations where our primary role is evangelism and discipleship.
What if the answer was simply "both/and?"
We see a clear precedence throughout Scripture of the role of God's people in caring for the least and the last. One can argue that this entails (in our modern labels) community or economic development. People need Jesus ... and a job. A community needs spiritual renewal, but they also need safer streets and economic opportunities. On the other hand the mission of the church is also clear in our role of disciple-making. However, maybe then the bigger question is what specifically is a disciple, what do they do, and what are they like?
If a disciple is a "Christian" and when that term was first dubbed to identify Jesus followers it simple meant "little Christs." If a disciple is to be like Christ through emulation then we have to point our North Star to the life and actions of Jesus. Is that what we're to be about? If so, can we at least note that part of the role of a disciple moves beyond squishy "spiritual" activity and actually entails action in living out and demonstrating the gospel in tangible ways.
My goal is not to muddy the waters, but to simply poke and prod our thinking to consider what role the church plays (our should) in demonstrating gospel-renewal in our communities. While pastors may not be gifted or equipped to launch start-up incubators and the such, how do they create the right kind of environment within the church to make it happen?
A key component for our Intrepid strategy certainly entails community and economic development in the places featured in our Strategic Communities list. We want to see new churches planted and new start-ups whether for-profit or non-profit.