I took one punch to the face and said, “I’m done!” I threw the boxing gloves down and walked out of the locker room. During high school, one of my football teammates brought boxing gloves into the locker room and so, after practice, when the coaches weren’t around, impromptu boxing matches would start up. This particular time, I slipped my hands in the gloves, assumed a stance, and the match began. Oh, did I tell you that my opponent happened to be the starting middle linebacker for our team? A player who went on to play football at Stanford University? Not my smartest moment. And I quickly knew after that one punch I took to the face, I was sorely overmatched and would probably get hurt. So I did what I needed to do to preserve my life: walk away!
Boxing is a sport where you need both hands (Now in my case, even with my two hands functioning properly, I was still completely overmatched due to my lack of height…and size…and skill). But a professional boxer, who was fighting a match with only one hand functioning properly, would still find it difficult, if not impossible, to win. A fighter who has both hands operative and coordinates them into a flurry of effective punches, on the other hand, will be victorious.
The idea of having two hands working in coordination with one another has been a helpful metaphor to me for understanding how God’s mission can be accomplish through LBC. The two “hands” of God’s mission, then, are the corporate and the individual. The church accomplishes God’s mission two ways: by sponsoring mission activity as a whole organization and by individual Christians going out into the world to share the gospel. The book of Acts display the dynamic of corporate mission and individual mission. The church as a whole was caring for one another, sharing Christ’s gospel, and worshipping together (Acts 2:42-47; 4:31-35). The book of Acts also narrates many of the individuals who carry forth Christ’s message, such as Peter (Acts 2:14-41), Philip (Acts 8:25-40), and Paul (13:44-52). Interestingly, the individual apostles stayed anchored to local churches to accomplish the mission. For example, the church at Antioch commissioned Paul and Barnabas for traveling missions activity (Acts 13:1-3).
Both aspects of God’s mission are needed to reach the world through Christ. Churches must corporately seek to reach their communities and also band together to commission those who are “sent” out into the world. Christians must also individually seek to share Jesus with those around themselves. Unfortunately, both churches and individual believers can default to favoring one aspect over the other.
What Happens When We “Fight” With One Hand Tied Behind Our Back?
When churches or individual believers favor one “hand” of God’s mission over the other, it can become more difficult to accomplish the mission. If the corporate is favored, and the individual is neglected, a church’s ability to reach beyond its own immediate geographic area is stunted. If the corporate is favored, then churches become event-based machines, losing sight of the fact that some people might never typically darken the doorway of a church or even step onto a field for a church-sponsored Easter Egg Hunt. Churches which favor the corporate too much lose some of the “go and tell” momentum of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). On the other hand, churches which never seek to reach their communities corporately but instead rely on individual believers to fulfill the mission will fall short as well. Evangelism seems to be a spiritual gift (Ephesians 4:11). And so what this means is that while all Christians are called to make disciples, probably only a few are only really going to excel at sharing Jesus with others, because they have the gift of evangelism. For the rest of us, it will be hard work.
The other factor is that individual believers also have to work. And many have families they have to take care of. Therefore, the amount of time that a believer can intentionally devote to evangelism is probably a lot less than most pastors would care to admit. Sometimes a corporate event thrown by the church can be the just the thing that is an “easy win” for individual believer to invite a friend to.
The plain reality is that we need both “hands” of God’s mission. Churches should seek to reach their communities for Christ, and it often doesn’t hurt to organize some initiatives, events, and programs to make that happen. Individual believers must also heed the call of the Great Commission and seek to make disciples in the contexts where they find themselves. Just because the church is hosting a BBQ, doesn’t let us off the hook to share Christ as the opportunities arise around us.