by Matt Sliger
August 13, 2017
When Jesus said, “I’ll make you fishers of men,” do you picture an individual sitting on the edge of a pier with a rod and reel? Or do you imagine a group of fishermen, each one leaning over the side of a boat holding their part of a large net?
1. A Short Theology of Corporate Mission
Western Christians often imagine the former, due to a number of factors. First, misunderstandings of New Testament mission texts can partly be attributed to the way translators flatten the distinction between second person singular and second person plural pronouns. English translations rarely distinguish between “you” and “you all.”
Second, certain cultural factors color the hermeneutic of those raised in the West. That is, those conditioned by Post–Enlightenment thinking read their own presuppositions, largely autonomous and individualistic, into their Bibles. Therefore, if a mission text says “you,” we regularly assume a lone fisher sitting on a pier.
However, because the biblical authors often addressed plural believers, scores of mission texts in the New Testament employ plural pronouns. For example, Acts 1:8 could rightly be, “You all are witnesses.” Jesus’ earlier declaration should be, “You all are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). 1 Thessalonians 1, 1 Peter 2, and Philippians 2 all include this missiological plurality as well.
First–century believers hearing these texts, without the individualistic presuppositions or translations of the modern West, likely assumed mission would be a corporate undertaking. Therefore, rather than choosing to evangelize alone, they engaged in God’s mission together.
This is because the God who saves individuals by faith alone does not save them alone. Further, the gathering of believers together and the mission given to those gathered people need not be dichotomized. Therefore, prior to the cumulative mission of individual believers, the mission of the local church necessitates communal mission by united believers. If God thought that isolated individuals would best propagate the gospel, why gather them into communities at all?
2. One Application of Corporate Mission
Just a few weeks ago, I worked my 20th Vacation Bible School. For the first time, however, I had a child old enough to attend. Admittedly, because a boy I named wore a nametag, my missiological antennas might’ve been heightened.
And here’s what I observed. During those few days of VBS, a number of my fellow church members greeted the kids. Others worked security. Some gracious volunteers watched little babies so husbands and wives could serve together night after night. In fact, one of those wives taught the children songs about the way, the truth, and the life. Meanwhile, other church members prepared chicken strips and served Capri–Sun. Thankfully, a young couple creatively thought of ways those kids could burn off some of the latter in the church’s yard. And each night, my fellow elder Chris––one of my son’s favorite adults––taught all the children about a King who’d come.
This group of men and women gladly gave time, energy, and giftings to get the gospel before these children, one of whom came home with me each night. Of course, while my wife and I retain the primary responsibility to teach that young man the gospel, some of my dearest brothers and sisters in Christ joined me for those few days. Further, in us gladly doing this together, we displayed before our children something of the gospel’s effect.
Unfortunately, there are times we’re so concerned about those who are not in our gatherings that we neglect those whom God walks through the door every week. In our setting, about 30% of our weekly attenders have yet to publicly profess faith in Christ. And most of those 30% also happen to be young enough to attend a Vacation Bible School. So every Sunday, as one volunteer greets at the front door, someone else changes diapers so yet another person can teach 4th graders the glories of the gospel.
The church’s mission isn’t merely one person casting from a pier; it’s a host of men and women holding their part of the net.