Whatever Happened to the Church’s Core Corporate Identity?

By Ryan Shaw, General Editor

The Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, clearly lays out the overarching purpose, will and plan of God and His people, while revealing how history is progressively unfolding toward these ends.

A crucial need in the global Church corporately, and within our individual local ministries, denominations and church networks, is clarity on “who we are” and “why we are here.” Mission mobilization speaks to these core identity issues.

When we lack clarity on God’s big-picture purpose of “who we are” and “why we are here,” we settle into lesser pursuits and agendas across the Church. Mobilization keeps the Church’s core corporate identity before us.

Identity is fundamental to the human race, defining how we view ourselves and think others view us. God wills His people to lay down false identities, growing in core identity as individual believers who rightly serve God’s overarching, big-picture purpose.

What is the global Church’s core corporate identity? Mike Adegbile affirms we are God’s “missionary people,” His channel for multiplying biblical, Spirit-led, spiritually vibrant communities of disciples among all least reached peoples, seeing the Kingdom of God rooted among them, diffusing His righteousness and justice among the nations. 1

We are children of God, bought with the blood of Jesus, grafted into His global family, voluntarily living as bondservants of the King as He works out His Kingdom purposes. The corporate Church, made up of millions of individual local ministries, denominations and church networks globally, is meant to partner with God in His overarching mission as His channel among the unreached peoples both near and distant.

Instead, the common occurrence is God’s mission (mission Dei) and the mission of the Church tends to be cast to the side of our local ministries, out on the periphery, if there at all. Making it very difficult for most in the global Church to understand, grasp and respond to our true core identity in any meaningful way.

Following His death and resurrection, Jesus gave His Great Commission to all disciples (throughout all history). This was a reinterpretation by Jesus of the age-old promise of God (revealing God’s big-picture storyline) to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) years before that through him God would “bless all the families (ethnic peoples) of the earth.”

The original disciples would have been confused by Jesus’ commissioning. What was the vehicle to accomplish this? Were they to do it through Jewish Israel? No, the disciples had heard Jesus tell the Jewish leaders the Kingdom was being taken from them (Matthew 21:43).

The only instruction Jesus gave was to go back to Jerusalem (the lion’s den where their master had been crucified forty days before) and wait for the gift of God (Acts 1:3–8). They obediently did so. What transpired next was the coming of the Spirit and what G. Campbell Morgan calls the birthing of the vehicle God intended to spread the glory of Jesus throughout the whole earth. 2

The brand-new entity, the “Church,” came into being that day. For what? To produce a people
empowered by God cooperating with His age-old purpose of redeeming fallen humanity.

The “Church” was created as “God’s missionary people,” multiplying, reproducing, scattering itself among all unreached ethnic peoples, both near and distant, incarnating the gospel of the Kingdom, reaping a great global harvest. This core corporate identity has never changed.

Evidently, the first century Church inculcated this core corporate identity into every local ministry. History tells us the gospel spread across the Roman Empire, the Church, “turning the world upside down.” The churches Paul multiplied put this core corporate identity at the center of their fellowships and the results speak for themselves.

It is possible to read the whole Bible from the viewpoint of the global mission of God, as Christopher J. H. Wright reveals. 3 Doing so enables the people of God to find their core identity. All the portions and doctrines of the Bible, from the Old and New Testaments, come together around God and His glorious purpose—filling the earth with His glory. God’s global mission, realized through the delegated mission of His people, binds the Bible together from beginning to end.

By rooting our local ministries in the corporate purpose of the Church, we recognize the singular truth, suggested by David J. Bosch, that global mission is not merely an activity of the global Church, but an attribute of God Himself. 4 God is a missionary God, Jesus a missionary Messiah, and the Spirit a missionary Spirit.

Therefore, mission mobilization starts with God Himself, who is on mission among the unreached, aligning His body with the priority purpose on His heart. We do not mobilize the Church to merely good works, but to come into alignment with the grand narrative and storyline of the entire Bible and God Himself.

As such, according to Charles Van Engen, global mission is the global Church’s primary task, not one of many. 5 It is common to lump mission together as one of a handful of “projects” the Church or individual believers care about. In doing so we make something out of global mission God never intended.

Let us commit ourselves to guide our local ministries into embracing true core corporate identity. Seeing ourselves rightly as redeemed to participate with Jesus in His great commission among all the ethnic peoples, both near and distant.

If you would like more information on how to influence your local fellowship as a “Great Commission Ministry”, please download the below guide and begin to implement the mobilization tools, teachings and strategies within the life of your ministry.

1 Mike Adegbile, unpublished paper, “The Great Commission as the Core Task of the Church.”
2 G. Campbell Morgan, The Birth of the Church: An Exposition of the Second Chapter of Acts (New York: Revell
Company, 1968), 11.
3 Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 38.
4 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991), 389–390.
5 Charles Van Engen, The State of Missiology Today: Global Innovations in Christian Witness (Downers Grove: IVP
Academic, 2016), 4.

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