Some church mission statements sound silly to outsiders and others sound self-serving or trite. What is a good mission statement for a church?
Let’s examine a wonderful mission statement for any church directly from Jesus, a statement that summarized his purpose on earth in different words than usual.
Let’s look at Luke 4:14-21 and Isaiah’s summary of Jesus’ mission.
Luke 4:14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
1. Who are the Poor?
We think of the poor as people with inadequate money or perhaps the poor in spirit. When Jesus quoted Isaiah’s “good news to the poor” it had a broader meaning, anyone who was marginalized. They might be foreigners who were not accepted as belonging. They might have a disease or handicap which put them on the outside. They might have some other social status relating to “education, gender, family heritage, religious purity, vocation, economics, and so on”1 which marginalized them. Thus Jesus’ message was directed towards those who for any reason were outsiders to the rest. In our society who could we think of that this applies to? Is it really good news for them if nobody takes action?
1 Joel B. Green. NICNT. The Gospel of Luke. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1997. 211.
2. Who Needs Release?
Freedom or release is expressed twice in Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4:18-19. Captives or the oppressed being released is central to Christ’s mission. Counterfeit Christianity makes people captive to burdensome rules and religious oppression. Sadly, the false religion, of touch not, taste not, of lording it over people, is all too common. Release is often used in the context of forgiveness or release from sins. It signifies full admission into the community of believers without restriction. This parallels the release from debts granted in the Jubilee year, the year of release, redistribution back to Israel’s original land grants. Jesus proclaims this Jubilee theme as “the year of the Lord’s favor,” foreshadowing our eternal inheritance in God’s kingdom.
3. What did Jesus say About the Poor?
Jesus preached good news for the poor (Luke 4:14-21). He told a rich man to sell everything and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21), that we always have the poor but not him (Matthew 26:11), the poor are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is theirs (Luke 6:20), giving to the poor cleans us on the inside (Luke 11:40-41) providing us treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33). We should invite the poor to our parties (Luke 14:13) and the poor can be more generous than the rich (Luke 21:1-4). Is our version of Christianity just warming a pew and praying for a blessing or is it being good news to the poor?
4. How was Isaiah Fulfilled the Day Jesus Read?
Obviously, all oppression and captivity to sin did not end the day Jesus read Isaiah in the synagogue. He announced that a new era had already begun. As Mary composed in the Magnificat, God has lifted up the humble and he has filled the hungry with good things (Luke 1:52-53). This fulfillment is found in the person of Jesus. The words “in your hearing” refer to the presence of the one who would fulfill the promises of Isaiah. Jesus had quoted Isaiah 61. Is it also our primary purpose to preach, heal, deliver, give sight, freedom and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the Jubilee? Does today mean that we can’t put it off, but must act today?
This summarizes our mission very well. It is a mission that begins with empowerment of the Holy Spirit, being sent, proclaiming and actively setting the oppressed free. It is not a mission we can think about putting off, but one that Jesus challenges us to join in today.