What in the world is the church for, or the church in the world for?
Is it mostly for gathering every Sabbath day? If so, Christianity is no different from other religions that also gather on their sacred days. Is the church chiefly for helping the poor? If so, it will be a social club for good deeds.
The church’s primary purpose is to obey Christ’s commission: Go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21; Acts 1:8). These last earthly words of Jesus are the church’s first priority. The word go makes clear that this is not our choice but His command, whether or not we feel good about it or we’re financially empowered to do it. Unless the church commits itself to make disciples, it is not a church at all.
Our success in this commission depends on how much we commit to a good cause. Commitment includes love, labor, time, energy, courage, and willingness to learn, no matter the cost. Just as love for Christ motivates commitment for Him, so people’s love for the church will impact their commitment to its top job. Without commitment, nothing is achieved.
Coming to Christian faith, one must not aim for what the world sees as success. We are working in our Father’s vineyard, and everything is ours through Christ. Our reward is well reserved in Him. This will encourage us when it seems that we have failed in the task. The world takes Jesus to be unsuccessful too, because He died before His work (the church) was full grown. But God takes Jesus to be successful because He finished the mission He came for — not to build a big church but to die for the world. Likewise, how the world evaluates our ministry is not too important.
After committing to follow and obey Christ, we must guard against the tendency to turn back. Jesus warns us, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). This tendency may come from disappointment, criticism, feeling unsuccessful, hardship, money problems, etc. It might be better not to commit to follow Christ at all than to turn back before the mission is finished (14:27-30).
How did Jesus reply to a scribe who wanted to follow Him? Not with “Oh, what a decision! I appreciate it! You are welcome!” Instead, Jesus told him the price of following Him, without rejecting the scribe’s desire (Matthew 8:19, 20).
Taking up one’s cross (Luke 9:23; Matthew 10:38) requires not only daily self-denial but also physical “death” for the sake of Christ as the ultimate price to pay. No man carrying his cross returns alive.
It remains for all committed disciples to be “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). There is no “exit” in commitment to Christ but renewal of commitment to what God asks of us. Be assured that something will discourage you; disappointment is so human. But we cannot allow these to stop us. We can trust Jesus’ words for whatever cost may be required: He overcame the world, and He will be with us unto its end (John 16:33; Matthew 28:20b).BA