Jesus said, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” –John 20:17
While a Sunday civilian between church jobs, I attended two different types of churches.
One had a countdown clock, worship earplugs and a fog-machine. During that sermon the pastor used one of the worst sermon illustrations I have ever heard. He said he was watching Shark Week, and had learned that scientists discovered a group of sharks that would sit under the crashing waves in a bay. It perplexed them why they would just sit there, but eventually they discovered the reason. By staying underneath these crashing waves, the churning of the water would make it oxygen enriched and therefore beneficial to the sharks. They could just sit there and absorb the rich, refreshing oxygen with little effort on their part. He then looked at his congregation and said—”That is our goal at this church. By doing worship [in such an awesome way], you can just come in here and absorb the breath of God.” Unbeknownst to him, he was also feeding the consumeristic American mentality that this required little effort and investment on the lives of the people in attendance.
Then a few weeks later, I went to a church where the liturgy was tightly managed and the language was richly doctrinal and theological. I counted in the message 27 theological words—like atonement, sanctification, justification—with very little explanation of these terms. While it stylistically was the exact opposite of the above church, the mentality of the parishioners was nearly the same. I discovered that people attended this church not because they truly understood and applied these theological concepts, but because by sitting underneath this pastor’s teaching ministry they felt as if they had worshipped God. The big words made them think they were encountering a big God. By being around these theologically laden terms they assumed that they had “done church.” Unbeknownst to them, while they looked down on the evangelistic mega-church, they were perpetuating the same mentality. Their oxygen just happened not to be emotional-hype but intellectual-hype that resulted in the same passive church attendance.
Perhaps a third option would be the justice-oriented churches that hype “make a difference” to appease our southern guilt. These congregants are happy to see how much of their institutional church’s benevolence dollars go towards the impoverished in our city without actually having to do anything. They love to quote Francis of Assisi’s: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” who by the way never said that. Their oxygen is the sense that the church is fulfilling the Micah 6:8 command for them.
All three ministry forms have caused the church to be a destination that does the work for us. Instead, what if the church–gathered body of devoted followers of Jesus–was the springboard of faith that launches each one of us out into mission?
A springboard is a tool from which divers or gymnasts are able to gain the energy needed to perform their unique dives or routines. It launches them into the air to twist and spin, to flip and flail (if you’ve ever seen me try to dive), to soar and to accomplish great achievements.
This is why Jesus’s ascension is such an essential yet often overlooked aspect of the Gospel story. Not only did the Son of God put on human flesh to seek out the lost and lonely. Not only did the Son of God go to the cross to be bear our sins and die the death we should have died. Not only did the Son of God rise from the dead to conquer sin and death for those of us who believe. But also He leaves his disciples here on earth to fulfill his mission.
By ascending to heaven, Jesus leaves us here to do the actual work of the church. So…if your church facility were to shut down today, would the mission of your church cease?
Jesus’ ministry was to become a launching pad for us to live out our ministries in His name. Likewise the Body of Christ’s mission should launch each of us into the specific mission fields God has designed us for.