The cul-de-sac was a phenomenal invention for the suburbs. It created a safe and peaceful place for families to raise children. No one passed through. In fact, the only time strangers can appear is after a wrong turn and they find themselves at the dead end. The design made it simple for those who don’t belong to quickly turn around.
It also kept everyone who belonged there in one place. Once you came in, you didn’t have to leave. You could remain the rest of your days with likeminded folks, playing games in your asphalt sanctuary.
The cul-de-sac is the epitome of the suburban life and values. However, the gospel is not a cul-de-sac. It isn’t a safe sanctuary that separates you from the dangers of the world—it throws you into the world. It isn’t your private enclave to secure your values and doctrines. It ushers you into a hospitality for the other—the not like you. The gospel is doctrinal, changing what we believe. It also is personal, changing who we are. But it is more than that.
The gospel is missional: it changes where & how we live.
If we just focus on the doctrinal and personal aspect of the gospel, we will neglect its missional aspect. If the doctrinal gospel changes what we believe, and the personal gospel changes who we are, then the missional gospel changes where we live and what we say. It is the hopeful announcement that God is making all things new in Christ Jesus! The gospel ushers us into a new kingdom and new world. We no longer live in a world dominated by death and deconstruction but one of life and re-creation!
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” —Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61
The Gospel Changes Everything
The gospel changes everything. It is not only good news for us, but also for our neighbors, the poor, our city, and the world. It affects the social, cultural, and physical fabric of the universe. In Luke 4, Jesus preached the gospel to the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. It is good news for them because through his death and resurrection he has defeated sin, death, and evil (1 Jn. 2:13; 3:8). The gospel announces the in-breaking reign of Jesus, which is in the process of reversing the order of things. The poor become rich, the captives are freed, and the old become new.
The Gospel Sends Us On Mission
Those who follow Jesus join his mission by making disciples of all ethnic groups by going, teaching, and baptizing (Matt. 28:18-20). We are sent to teach, speak, counsel, discuss, and proclaim the gospel to others so that they might be baptized into God’s new creation and join his mission of making all things new. We are called “ambassadors of reconciliation” and given the privilege of sharing in Jesus’ ministry of reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:17-20). Those who have been changed by the gospel share its life-changing power with others. We should announce and embody the good news by caring for the poor and rebuilding cities (Is. 61:4). In fact, the future for the people of God is an entirely new city in a new creation (Rev. 21). The church should be a movie trailer of this grand, coming attraction, when all things will be made new!
Remember, This is Who You Are
The result of the church—you, us—being sent is that we live as a community of disciples—not only devoted to Jesus and to one another—but devoted to our neighbors and our city, too. When we come to Christ, we are all sent on his mission.
We are new and have a new purpose. Christ reconciled us to himself and we are a new creation. Our old way of finding identity and our broken ways of finding meaning are over. We are reconciled and ushered into a vibrant and living relationship with God. This is the gospel, that Christ has reconciled us to God through his death and resurrection and is making all things new—even us. We are recipients of the gospel, messengers of the gospel, servants of the gospel, and are representatives of the gospel’s work. See, you cannot separate our identity in Christ from our purpose in Christ. That identity and purpose requires some sort of expression of gospel focused community on mission:
- We live on mission because we have received the gospel.
- We live on mission because we are messengers of the gospel. He is making his appeal to the world through us.
- We live on mission because we are ministers of reconciliation—servants of the gospel.
- We live on mission because we are ambassadors—representatives of the gospel.
We Participate in God’s Mission by Making Disciples
In Matthew 28:18-20, we get to overhear Jesus’ parting words to his disciples, who were the beginning of the first missional community:
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’’’ —Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus gives his disciples the life-long purpose of making disciples of Jesus. It isn’t a side job or a hobby, but an all encompassing orientation for life. As a disciple, you are called to make disciples of Jesus. The key here, is “as a disciple of Jesus”. Meaning, you are daily answering Jesus’ call to repentance and faith in Mark 1:15:
“Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
As a disciple you repent and believe. You trust Jesus’ incarnation, his kingdom, his purposes. As a disciple, you exchange your agenda for his. You let go of your imaginary kingdom for his tangible reign. NT Wright describes repentance this way in, The Challenge of Jesus, “[Jesus] was telling his hearers to give up their agendas and to trust him for his way of being Israel, his way of bringing the kingdom, his kingdom-agenda.”
You not only welcome Jesus’ presence, but cling to this promise: desperate for his ways, not yours. This is the transformative journey of the gospel. This is also the way toward mission.Meaning, as you learn to follow Jesus, you invite others to join you by making the gospel clear and tangible. As God transforms you in and through the power of the Spirit, you humbly, but clearly challenge others to repent and believe. You are, as Eugene Peterson writes, “God’s billboard.”
We Participate in God’s Mission by Loving the Poor
God’s mission is also to the oppressed, captive, orphan, and neglected. From the onset of God’s mission through his people beginning with Abraham and moving through Moses, David, and the prophets of the Old Testament, God called them to care for those tossed aside. They were to care for the orphan and the oppressed, the sojourner and the alien traveling through their lands. It was not simply traditional middle eastern hospitality. It was a command of God for his people to care for those in need: to usher into our broken earth, the grace and love that inhabits heaven.
This clearly, doesn’t stop with Jesus. Jesus forgave sins and healed sickness. He welcomed those sent to the margins of society to eat with him. He cared for those burdened, ignored, and abused. Jesus proclaimed the gospel and the kingdom of God coming to us. Jesus came for the poor and powerless—the oppressed.
Therefore, Jesus’ church is sent on the mission of declaring the gospel and demonstrating the gospel. In other words, as the church spreads and grows by making disciples, it also cares for the poor. A clear mark of a church as early as Pentecost, has been meeting the needs of the marginalized. From the Old Testament through the early Church, God has sent his people on the mission of doing justice and inviting the world to experience the God of grace and mercy.
 Language and concepts can be found in the book I co-authored with Jonathan Dodson, Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities
Brad Watson (@bradawatson) serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities where he develops and teaches leaders how to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is the author of Raised? and Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their two daughters. You can read more from Brad at www.bradawatson.com