Reading: 2 Corinthians 10
Are the church and mission antagonistic toward one another? Is church life inconsistent with accomplishing mission? Paul's idea of mission was not, “mission at the expense of the church,” or, “mission in lieu of the church.” Rather, it seems to have been, “mission in concert with the church.”
Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, 16so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. (2 Corinthians 10:15-16)
Paul understood that you can't export what you aren't producing. So when Paul wants to see Gospel activity expanding in the regions near and around the Corinthians, he works toward the strengthening of their faith. He knew that if they grew in Christ, they would become a model for the regions around them, a platform from which he could preach the Gospel.
When Paul went into regions, it appears, the example of how the churches of that region lived out the Gospel became foundational to what Paul was proclaiming. Therefore Paul wasn't quick to move on, but labored to build solid foundations wherever he went.
This kind of thinking guided Paul's view of activity with the church. Hence Paul would labor to build strong churches and then export that model to other places as he worked the regions around. As a result, Paul didn't see the work of building the church and the work of mission in tension with each other—one pulling against the other. Rather this kind of model birthed in Paul a real passion to build into the church as a means of accomplishing mission.
This is definitely a more consistent missiology. Since the goal of mission is the conversion of souls and therefore the planting of a local church, it is inconsistent to view the work of building the church in tension with mission. We can see Paul express his passion for building this local church again in 2 Corinthians 13:4, 9:
For to be sure, [Christ] was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you.... 9We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection.
Paul was glad to invest everything into the church which God had entrusted to his care because that church would be a platform for more Gospel proclamation. In fact, when the NIV says Paul prayed for their perfection, he uses the same base word that he uses when writing the Ephesians about the purpose of ministry to the church.
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Ephesians 4:11, 12
Paul's prayer was for the church at Corinth's full preparation, complete equipping. This base word is also used in the Gospels in a way that I think provides a great illustration of this.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.(Matthew 4:21)
Other translations say, “mending their nets.” Both are good. But the picture is clear: These fishermen didn't see their nets as a hindrance to catching fish, but as a means of catching fish. So they didn't neglect their nets in order to catch fish, they mended, or prepared their nets in order to catch fish.
It is to these kind of fishermen that Jesus says, “Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19) As I shared a couple Sundays ago, they didn't envision standing on the shore, or in a boat, casting out a single line by themselves, catching a fish. Rather they envisioned casting a net.
Paul apparently saw that net, if you will, as the church. He wanted to catch many fish, so he didn't neglect the church but prayed and labored toward their complete preparation or mending. He prayed and labored that they would be built up and strengthened in faith. And he knew a strong, well prepared net would catch a lot more fish than if he just went around throwing in his single line.
God has called each of us to be involved in fishing for men, but he has called us to do it as a part of a net, a local church which is striving to live out the Gospel. In turn a Gospel living church will become a platform for effective Gospel proclamation.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,