“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

This oft-quoted and helpful mantra raises the question of what is “the main thing”?

I think I’m fairly safe to say the typical Independent Baptist answer is “missions.”

Though it might be surprising to some, Bill Hybels and Rick Warren were not really the pioneers of the Church Growth Movement. It was actually Fundamentalist leaders like Jack Hyles who were the true pioneers of the Church Growth Movement. [Hyles’ church pictured below]

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What Hybels and Warren and others can be credited with is bringing to popularity the element of Seeker Sensitive thinking to that movement.

Basically, the underlying assumption in Seeker Sensitive thinking is that the answer to the question of what is the main thing is “mission.” But is that the correct biblical answer? Is that why God made the world? For mission? Is that why God brought about the gospel? The incarnation? The church?

I want to suggest that it is not. The main thing is not mission.

I know that sounds like heresy to the well tuned Independent Baptist ear. And to the Broader Evangelical ear as well. I suspect Warren would disagree. Hybels as well. Hillsong would probably disagree. Much of the Baptist Union would disagree. But I think it’s still true.

The problem with seeing mission as “the main thing” is that the whole idea of mission only became necessary after the fall of man. In other words, mission doesn’t answer any of your primary questions. Who am I? Why was I created? What is my purpose? All of those questions only find their answer before the fall of man.

God didn’t create man for mission because there was no need for mission when God created man. In other words, to live life as if mission is primary is to live life missing the point.

So what is the main thing? The main thing is God.

We were created by God for God. The main thing is God’s glory, God’s pleasure, God’s fame in the earth. If you want to compare the two mindsets, consider this:

God is just as glorified in the damnation of the unbeliever as he is in the salvation of the believer.

Now, I know you might have to replace a few fuses after that statement, but it is true. It’s true in Calvinist thinking. It’s true in Arminian thinking. If facing that reality causes you to question the goodness or justice of God, then you are merely revealing that you’ve allowed missional thinking to supersede God-centred thinking. You’re willing to entertain slander against God in your mind because you’re so focused on mission.

There are two things that acted as catalysts for this post today. First, last week’s post has generated some discussion and got me thinking about Fundamentalism. I think I may spend a few more weeks looking at different aspects of the topic.

Second, I was in a discussion this week with a couple of Baptist Union gentlemen. These men and many others are leading their congregations toward missional thinking. I want to challenge this generation of leaders to get this issue right because it is crucial. Our methodology must be backed by a theology that squares with the theocentric message of Scripture.

Now to be fair, I’m not bagging mission or even necessarily “missional thinking.” These are significant and essential aspects of any healthy ministry. Christ came “to seek and to save the lost.” But he didn’t do it primarily for the lost. He did it for the glory of God. He did it “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Mission is all about God.

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About Jason Harris

Jason is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. He is currently working on his PhD from James Cook University as well as serving as pastor at CrossPoint Church. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007. You can contact Jason at jason@jasonharris.com.au.

12 Comments

  1. Albert 5 March, 2009 at 11:33 am - Reply

    John Piper’s Let The Nations Be Glad is an excellent and detailed resource on this question.
    .
    Some of the catch-phrases,,, “Missions exists for the Glory of God” & “Missions exists because worship doesn’t” have their origin in this work.

  2. Albert 5 March, 2009 at 11:34 am - Reply

    hmmm html tag didn’t seem to work
    here is the link
    https://www.desiringgod.org/Store/Books/ByTopic/4/75_Let_the_Nations_Be_Glad/

  3. Mark E 5 March, 2009 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    you can run….. :)

    It leads to the same conclusion though…that mission is the objective of ‘this age that we live in’ The age of grace.

    God’s object and aim is that all would call upon the name of the Lord, He is not willing that any should suffer and die without Christ, but that all would be saved…to His glory. So the primary objective of the church is mission, because its God’s primary objective…for His glories sake.

  4. Jason Harris 5 March, 2009 at 1:54 pm - Reply

    Albert,

    Would love to read that one sometime. Thanks for the comment.

    Mark,

    Your conclusion doesn’t stand because your premise doesn’t stand. Where in Scripture do we see that mission is God’s primary objective? There’s the GC, but that’s just a command. There are hundreds of commands.

    You really need to address my pre-fall argument before dismissing my conclusion.

  5. James 5 March, 2009 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    The only problem I see with your pre-fall argument is that it almost assumes God had ‘no idea’ that the fall would happen when he created us.

    What if he did know? Mission may well still be his plan, ‘knowing’ the fall would happen. Perhaps before time started God planned to send Jesus to atone for what he KNEW would happen, and then his people would set out with mission is a primary goal. Bringing God’s eternal plan (to glorify Jesus in death and resurrection and then bring all of mankind back to God through mission via Jesus death)

    Sorry, I didn’t have long to type this so it isn’t a ‘full argument’ but It is a basic idea.

  6. Jason Harris 5 March, 2009 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    James,

    Scripture clearly teaches that God not only knew that the fall would occur, but sovereignly foreordained certain things to happen before He even created the world.

    There is no question that God intends to be glorified through mission (see Eph 2). But that doesn’t answer the question of why He created man in the first place. It doesn’t answer the ultimate question: what is the chief end of man?

  7. Mark E 5 March, 2009 at 11:17 pm - Reply

    to glorify God….by choosing to follow Him and love Him of his own free will…..which will only happen if the Church engages in the primary command of Jesus Christ, to engage itself in Mission.

  8. Robert Apps 6 March, 2009 at 8:43 am - Reply

    I have been pondering your post and let me give some thoughts:-

    -there have been obvious abuses with the ‘souls at all costs’ approach, eg, shallow professions, zero repentance, poor follow-up, discipleship, etc. So we want to avoid that.

    -Before the fall, God made man for an intended loving relationship; man was made in God’s image after all.

    -The Fall changed that, though God knew that before the time and made provision for salvation through His Son.

    -The purpose in Christ coming was to restore was what lost by Adam, eg that sinners might become saints and be brought back into worship and service of God

    -The church’s mission is to preach the Gospel to every creature, discipling them with all things that Christ taught (as well as all the Scriptures). That is Christ’s explicit command to those he left behind.

    -The purpose of missions is to glorify God and accomplish his purposes. Those who believe are the beneficiaries of this mission.

    -The famed writer Scroggie, wrote a book about the Bible called ‘The Unfolding Drama of Redemption’. It is a great description of the purpose of God in sending Christ.

    So I am wondering is there any conflict in the primary role of the church being the pursuit of missions to bring about God’s glory?

    Remember that ‘missions’ doesn’t stop at conversion-that is just the beginning of discipleship.

  9. James 6 March, 2009 at 9:38 am - Reply

    “to glorify God….by choosing to follow Him and love Him of his own free will…..which will only happen if the Church engages in the primary command of Jesus Christ, to engage itself in Mission.”

    Can I say an amen?

    Seriously, the chief end of ‘man’ is to glorify God. The chief purpose of the church is to encourage all of ‘man’ to be bringing glory to God by being in relationship with him. This ONLY happens through mission.

  10. Gordon 6 March, 2009 at 11:38 am - Reply

    I am one of those so ingloriously described as a ‘Baptist Union gentleman’. I see no incongruity between seeking to be faithful to a missionary God, who is at work in the world to bring about His redmeptive purposes – and to keeping the ‘main thing the main thing’.

    I cannot worship God in isolation to my missionary responsibilities, and I cannot busy myself in missionary work without God being the very centre of that. there’s way to much straw flying around in your circular argument.

    I suspect we are all in agreeance, but not on our semantics.

  11. Jason Harris 7 March, 2009 at 8:55 pm - Reply

    Mark,

    Sorry for the delay. I’ve had a busy weekend.

    You say “to glorify God….by choosing to follow Him and love Him of his own free will…..which will only happen if the Church engages in the primary command of Jesus Christ, to engage itself in Mission.”

    It seems to me that this whole mindset creates a functionally man-centred focus. In other words, “to glorify God” is not the important part… it can never stand on it’s own. It’s got to be followed with “by…”

    Granted all those other things are important and they do bring glory to God, but in doing so, they do not become the chief end of man. The idea of enjoying God forever is not mission. It will always lead to mission, but it is not mission.

    At the end of the day, God-centred thinking leads to mission, but it feels different from mission that comes from man-centred thinking.

  12. Jason Harris 7 March, 2009 at 9:11 pm - Reply

    Robert,

    I agree with your points for the most part. But when we talk about the great redemptive focus of Scripture, we have to realise, God does not redeem us for us. He redeems us for Him! That whole redemptive story is about His glory, not ours.

    I believe Seeker Sensitive thinking has for the most part missed the point of mission. If it’s all about God, we’re going to cater to His sensitivities first.

    I believe the primary role of the church is not the great commission, but the great commandment. And the second is like unto it, the great commission.

    James,

    You said “The chief purpose of the church is to encourage all of ‘man’ to be bringing glory to God by being in relationship with him.”

    I addressed this in my quote about God being just as glorified in the damnation of the unbelieving as in the salvation of the believing. God is not only glorified when we are in right relationship with Him.

    Gordon,

    Great to see you over here! “Inglorious.” You make it sound like I insulted you! lol I didn’t mean it to come across that way.

    I agree with you basically about the complementary way mission and God’s glory work. And there is certainly much I need to learn about living missionally or redemptively.

    My great concern is what I mentioned earlier, at the end of the day, God-centred thinking leads to mission, but it feels different from mission that comes from man-centred thinking.

    I’ve observed the man-centred side within the Independent Baptist movement. I find it interesting that many IB’s and the Seeker Sensitive movement both follow the same premise, though they end up looking very different in practice.

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