For far too long, pastors and church leaders have wrestled with keeping the people they lead on-mission. Any honest pastor and church leader should admit that Church’s mission is undeniably clear in Scripture: helping lost people, by means of the gospel of Jesus Christ, become saved people who are being discipled as growing, committed, reproducing followers of Jesus. We see the Church’s mission in what we commonly call the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). The Great Commission is the Church’s what; it’s the reason the Church exists and what the Church should be all about. Every local church shares the same what. But that doesn’t stop churches and people from getting off-mission.
Churches can get off-mission doing some pretty good things. The non-Christian French Enlightenment philosopher, Voltaire, is quoted as saying, “The best is the enemy of the good.” The thought is that the good is good enough; that the best is truly unachievable. So, why strive for the elusive best when the good is good enough? Sadly, too many churches unwittingly get off-mission chasing the good; not realizing God’s best is right in front of them. Churches do a lot of good things in pursuit of our common mission but can still get off-mission in the doing of it. Some churches adopt an event-oriented mindset. They host events to which people come and hope and pray that lost people in attendance respond to the truth about Jesus. This mindset has a good intention but can give the church the impression of being on-mission because people are busy and there are a lot of events happening. Too often, the event orientation is a smoke screen for a congregation that is off-mission. Other churches attempt a programmatic style. Life, ministry, and evangelism are systematically organized around a set of church programs. Everyone is very busy with bible studies, discipleship programs, kids programs, youth programs, men’s, women’s, seniors’, etc., ad infinitum. For such churches, the realization of the mission is done programmatically. We will reach you, but only within a very tightly woven and intricate structure that seems to define church life.
There is nothing wrong with gospel-oriented events and certainly nothing wrong with strong church programs. In a sense, both events and programs can help a church achieve its mission, but more often than not they create a sense of being on-mission without the congregation being truly invested in the church’s mission. Too often, an emphasis on programs and events give the illusion of being on-mission but in reality create a Field of Dreams scenario – “If you build it, they will come.” Most believers, and definitely their pastors, grow weary and frustrated by the plethora of events and programs without a clear biblical understanding of the how of our mission.
For many churches, being on-mission is equivalent to church growth. The constant tension between reaching and winning people for Jesus and wanting our churches to grow leads us to use evangelism and church growth (both in terminology and ideology) interchangeably. Many churches have evangelistic emphasis times when they host seminars, invite guest speakers, and try another of a million avenues to get the “average Joe” in the congregation to catch the vision for church growth; praying that will lead the congregation to live on-mission. In some instances, this kind of ideology has worked and churches have grown, but that does not allow us to escape the inherent truth that evangelism and church growth are not absolutely synonymous. This kind of mindset yields frustration in pastors, leaders, and people; creating undue pressure to measure ministry and mission success by the number of bodies in the building and the sustainability of the budget. Too many churches grasp at straws; trying everything they can think of to grow and expand their ministries.
Our misplaced emphases on events, programs, and church growth has led many to confuse our God-given what with our desire to see our churches grow, and gets us off-mission.
Church life and living on-mission do not need to be so confusing. Would it surprise you to know that God not only gave the Church her what but also her how? Scripture emphasizes a simple, organic, systemic, healthy, natural approach (a.k.a. how) to our mission (a.k.a. what). It starts with a vital belief in the personal truth that every individual who follows Jesus Christ has already been put on-mission by Him. This mission is to change our relational worlds with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some call it the Oikos Principle.
Oikos (οἶκος) is the Greek word meaning “extended household.” In relation to our mission, our oikos is:
- that group of 8-15 people with whom we share life most closely; whom God has supernaturally and strategically placed into our worlds so that we might see their worlds changed by Him. It is our sphere of greatest influence.
- the people for whom God wants to prepare us to become ideal instruments of His grace.
- a microcosm of the world at large, for whom God sent His Son – that all who place their faith in Christ would be delivered from the bondage of sin.
- the most natural and common environment for evangelism to occur.
Understanding the Oikos Principle causes us to view ourselves as world-changers – believers who actively and intentionally encourage people in our relational worlds (our respective oikos networks) to become followers of Christ (Acts 17:6). This principle leads us to become oikocentric – viewing those 8-15 people we do life with on a regular basis as our personal mission fields.
It’s an overwhelming task if you really think about it – changing THE world! Scripture never instructs the individual believer or the local church that it’s their responsibility to change THE world. Rather, it commands the believer to change HIS/HER world with the transforming truth of Jesus.
A Focus on World-Change
The Oikos Principle lets us think beyond the required process and focus on the desired outcome. We don’t define a challenge (e.g. our mission / the Great Commission) simply in terms of the tasks involved. Where’s the motivation in that? If a church emphasizes the tasks or processes as primary, then the church’s mission becomes nothing more than a simple “to do” list. The Church’s common mission, evangelizing the world, becomes nothing more than a series of programs or events to bring people in and grow our churches. The Church’s mission becomes introspective rather than outward focused. Churches design and execute great programs and events that allow Christians to check the box and assume they’ve done their duty to reach THE world, but sadly remain largely off-mission.
The Oikos Principle challenges the status quo and reorients our focus. When a church understands and teaches this biblical Principle, individual believers will come to realize it is their mission to personally reach their individual oikos networks (those 8-15 people with whom they do life with on a regular basis) and see their worlds changed by the gospel of Jesus. This will become what motivates them even more than a successful event, dynamic program, or hoards more in worship. Embracing the Oikos Principle is embracing a way of life that seeks authentic, organic world-change – one person’s world at a time – and causes us to see the people God has supernaturally and strategically placed in our oikos networks as our mission fields. Living the Oikos Principle is messy business. Truly investing in the lives of those in our oikos networks gets messy, ugly, and draining. But that’s where real world-change happens.
Getting the big picture helps us understand why embracing the Oikos Principle is so important. The world’s 5.3 billion people are divided into approximately 24,000 people groups. Of those 24,000 groups, 12,000 are “reached” –cultures where a viable indigenous church movement has been established. On the other hand, 12,000 people groups, comprising some 2.2 billion individuals, do not yet have a viable Christian representation. These groups include 4,000 Muslim people groups, 3,000 Tribal people groups, 2,000 Hindu people groups, 1,000 Chinese people groups, 1,000 Buddhist people groups, 1,000 other people groups – all with virtually no true gospel presence. Let’s face it; there has never been a believer who has had a global presence influential enough to reach every person on the planet with the gospel, and there never will be. That’s because God hasn’t tasked us with reaching the entire world; He’s tasked us with reaching our individual worlds.
The Great Commission texts (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 1:8) command every believer to be about the business of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples within his own world and to the ends of the earth. Living on-mission – reaching the whole world and changing it with the gospel – means reaching our own oikos networks – those 8-15 people God has supernaturally and strategically placed in your sphere of influence with whom we do life on a regular basis – and seeing their worlds changed by the gospel.
The Purpose of the Church
The Oikos Principle changes the focus of the local church. No longer are the people who attend the church viewed as tools to grow the church, because the Oikos Principle isn’t about church growth per se. The church becomes what God intended her to be; a vehicle whereby believers are equipped, encouraged and held accountable so that they can be more effective in living on-mission and reaching their respective oikos networks. Rather than viewing the church as an upward-trending pyramid where people feed into the organization of the church to make its ministries bigger and budget more stable; the church is seen as a downward-channeling funnel where people are equipped and sent out into their relational worlds to see them changed by the power of God. The focus of ministries and programs shifts from being self-feeding to equipping. The church becomes a facilitator that hosts a relatively smaller scope of events that are more streamlined to give believers opportunities to bring their oikos networks into contact with others who can help them know the truth.
The Oikos Principle is not just another church program or kitschy evangelism methodology. The Great Commission was given to individual believers. The New Testament Church is responsible for the Great Commission only in so much as it is comprised of individual believers. It’s not the Church’s, pastor’s, elders’, deacons’, etc. job to reach every believer’s oikos network for them. That mission is every believer’s personal mission from God. The essence of the gospel is personal. In a very real sense, God is oikocentric. God created mankind, we sinned, and He reached out to the people He created by sending His one and only Son, Jesus, to become one of us so that He might die to save us. It doesn’t get more oikocentric than that!
When a local church learns, adopts, and practices the biblical Oikos Principle, she is helping every individual believer live on-mission. When every individual believer of a local church is living on-mission then the entire church is on-mission.
If you’d like to more about the Oikos Principle or desire a consult in how to teach your church the Oikos Principle, please fill out the contact request on the contact page. We’d love to help you get and keep your church on-mission.