The Mission of the Church of the Nazarene
To make Christlike disciples in the nationsHistorical
The genesis for a “statement of mission” can be found in some of the earliest language used by those who helped found the Church of the Nazarene.
In a review of Called Unto Holiness
(Volumes I and II), we find language used by the early leaders of the church to call attention to their priorities. In 1892, just ahead of the 1895 founding of Los Angeles First Church, Dr. Phineas Bresee began using the following language to describe the major focus of the church that was yet to come…“The sanctification of believers, the reclamation of backsliders and the conversion of sinners”
In 1895, Dr. J. P. Widney, another leader, said:“…the essence of Christianity was not to receive a creed or to observe church forms and rituals, but simply to accept the Christ life, to make Christ himself, the Lord of one’s heart”
In Volume II, in a chapter entitled “Nazarene Self-Image in 1933,” Dr. W. T.
Purkiser wrote that “a church is measured not only by its leadership and organization but also by its shared concepts and convictions as to its reason for being.”
In other words, a statement or statements about the mission, if used properly, contribute to and summarize a sense of shared purpose and responsibility. However, it takes more than a statement to hold things together. People who embody and act upon the ideas are essential to the process.
By the 30s, the language for the church’s reason-to-be evolved into the following:“…holy Christian fellowship, the conversion of sinners, the entire sanctification of believers, and their upbuilding in holiness.”
In the 40s and 50s church leaders began using themes or emphases to address specific needs. (Succeeding Boards would return to this concept, most notably in the 80s). Back then the use of themes by the Board of General Superintendents was in direct response to the decline in the rate of growth within the denomination.
This period is often remembered for General Superintendent J. B. Chapman’s 1947 address “All Out for Souls.” This speech at the Superintendents' Conference was part of the “Mid-Century Crusade for Souls” that emphasized visitation and personal evangelism. It became the focal point of the 1948 General Assembly.
The Board discovered, though, what all leaders eventually do—campaigns are hard to sustain. An attempt to extend this theme into one more quadrennium (1952-56) was not very successful, according to Dr. Purkiser.The 80s
A more recent look at the attempt to define mission shows the language changing again while trying to keep the essence the same.
by the Board of General Superintendents in the 1980 Manual
refers to the “achievement of our great objective; namely, to advance the Kingdom of God on earth.”
A few sentences later we find more new phrasing:“…we have a definite commitment to proclaim the doctrine of Christian holiness.”
Shortly into the 1980-85 quinquinium a retreat was held with the Board of General Superintendents, officers, and directors of International Headquarters (now Global Ministry Center).
At this off-site gathering, led by a professional facilitator, a three-part statement of purpose and mission was developed and approved by the Board of General Superintendents.
The first part of the statement reads as follows…“The mission of the Church of the Nazarene is to respond to the Great Commission of Christ to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ ”
(Matt. 28:19, NIV).
Those at the retreat defined making disciples to include everything from holiness evangelism to holiness higher education.
The remaining two parts of the statement referred to “Key Objectives” (“preservation and propagation of Christian holiness”)
and “Critical Objectives" (“holy Christian fellowship, conversion of sinners, and entire sanctification of believers…”).
In April 1993 the Board of General Superintendents reaffirmed the one-page statement of purpose and mission created in 1980.
In 1997 Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Drucker Foundation, brought up the importance of a short and memorable statement during The Columbia Project with the Board of General Superintendents.
In February 1999 the church added another component to vision and mission—core values. Three Nazarene “core values” define the denomination as:
• A Christian ChurchRecent Times
• A Holiness Church
• A Missional Church
in the 2005-2009 Manual
, drafted by the Board, leads with these sentences…“‘The mission of the Church of the Nazarene is to respond to the Great Commission of Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations”’
(Matthew 28:19).”“The primary objective of the Church of the Nazarene is to advance God’s Kingdom by the preservation and propagation of Christian holiness as set forth in the Scriptures.”
Dr. Jim Bond, elected to the general superintendency in 1997, had been using the term “Christlikeness” as another way to explain holiness to a new generation of Nazarenes, especially young people and college students.
Referring to the “mission” in the 2006 General Board report, Dr. Jerry Porter used the phrase, “Making Christlike disciples in all the nations,”
thus incorporating Dr. Bond’s idea of “Christlikeness.”Manual Preamble
There is also a reference to the church’s mission in the 2005-2009 Manual Preamble to Local Church Government
. The 2005 and 2006 General Board reports incorporated this language as another way to link the holiness message with the mission:“The task of the Church of the Nazarene is to make known to all peoples the transforming grace of God through the forgiveness of sins and heart cleansing in Jesus Christ.“Our mission first and foremost is to…
• ‘Make disciples’ “The ultimate goal of the “community of faith” is to present every person perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:28) at the last day.”
• To incorporate believers into fellowship and membership
• To equip (teach) for ministry all who respond in faith
In December 2006, nearly three decades after the previous statement was developed, the Board crafted and approved the following…
Statement of Mission
Church of the Nazarene
To make Christlike disciples in the nations.
The term “Christlike”
(the essence of holiness is Christlikeness) and the phrase “in the nations”
as opposed to “of all nations”
makes the statement unique—not an exact quote of Matthew 28:19.
The refining, clarifying, and adjusting of language to define mission during the past 100 years represents a normal pattern of organizational behavior, even among faith groups.
Note that with all the variances in statements over many years, the articulated mission at any given time has been tethered to at least two things: evangelism and the holy life.Why a Decision Now?
With some of the biggest changes in 60 years facing the church, the Board believed the time had come to update language expressing the centrality of its mission.
Keeping in mind this transition, the General Superintendents felt now more than ever there is a reason to have a clear, overarching statement of mission. The intent is to provide the church with an understanding of mission that will be communicated widely and often.
Since the denomination has a presence in 156 world areas, there is also a need for something succinct and translatable.
After 10 years of review the decision to change the statement was made in part to capture what is now taking place in the church—a renewed desire to lift up Christ and be more like the Savior.
This is especially so among the church’s youth and young adults.
To summarize, there are three reasons for this decision…
• Timing. Going through major generational and cultural change is the time to clarify, renew, and revitalize something, including the mission.
• Simplification. In a 24/7, over-communicated society, it's an over-simplified (but not (but not simplistic) message that has the best chance of getting through.
• Stewardship. The church, and especially the General Board, cannot attempt everything and remain viable. There must be focus and priorities of mission in order to properly allocate limited financial and human resources.