September 17, 2010

Church Mission – Getting Back to the Basics

You hear the words “mission” and “vision” float around a lot. They’re part of business jargon. They’re high-flying words. They are part of the vocabulary of executives, business gurus, and capable corporate savants. They are also part of the structure of an effective church. More and more, churches are developing mission statements, vision statements, and even adding a “Vision Pastor” to their leadership team. It’s a good idea (for reasons which we’ll explain in a future post). However, in an effort to get back to the basics about mission, it is important to find out what the Bible says about our mission. What is it? And how does it play out?

The Bible does indeed have something to say. In fact, it comes from Jesus. Here it is:

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 ESV)

The Sovereign Mandate

When Jesus said this, He was issuing a sovereign mandate. This was no casual comment, made in an offhanded way to a few disciples. This was really important. Why?

  • First, it is important because it is the only message which appears in all four gospels and the book of Acts (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-20; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:21-23; and Acts 1:4-11). None of the accounts is exactly the same, highlighting the variety and nuances of this important message. Clearly, the recipients of this message is more
  • It is also an extremely important because it is the last message that Jesus delivered to His disciples. Usually, anyone’s “last words” are very important. It is no different in the case of Jesus before His ascension. He said these words last, because He wanted them to be remembered first.
  • Jesus statement is also important, because it is a command, an imperative (specifically, “make disciples”). An imperative, especially one from Jesus, demands our obedience.
  • This is an important mandate also because Jesus ties in the ministry of the Holy Spirit with the command. Whenever Jesus gives a command, He also gives the means to obey that command. In this case, the Holy Spirit is direclty associated to enable us to obey this important command. Any mandate that has the direct involvement of the Holy Spirit is really important.
  • Most importantly, this is an important statement because of the integral connection with Jesus’ Sovereignty. Before issuing the command, Jesus knew it was necessary to establish His divine prerogative. “I’m in charge,” He says. “I have all authority. Essentially, nothing is out of My jurisdiction, control, arrangement….My sovereignty. Now, based on that truth–Go. Make Disciples.” Wow. Any command based on this infinite, sovereign, loving, all-powerful sovereignty is a command worthy of our rapt attention, and total commitment.

At this point, we ought to be all ears. We should know by know that this statement–whatever it is–is an extremely important statement. It trumps any other agenda, aspiration, dream, or goal. This is ultimate. This is final. This is big. This is huge. What is Jesus saying?

He is telling us to go and make disciples.

It’s pretty simple, but it’s also incredibly vast. Did He say “all” nations? Did Jesus anticipate the population explosion of the 20th century? Did He know that in 2010 there would be nearly 200 countries? Did He realize the difficulty of reaching nomadic tribes in the harsh Sahara? Did he understand the ravaging disease that would decimate communities and weaken countries? Did He foreknow that the horrific AIDS virus would tear up the entire continent of Africa? Did He know about the gaping divide between millions of starving orphans and the lofty opulence of those who scrape food into the trash at the end of their meal? Did He know about the ghastly horrors of the sex trade, and its tragic captivity of millions of girls? Did He realize that religious extremists from false religions would actually murder His disciples? Did He know that damning philosophies would relegate His truth to the status of “myth,” in an attempt to weaken its power?

Yes. And in spite of this–rather, because of this–He backed the command with His power, promised the accompaniment of His Spirit, and said “Go.” In effect, He said, “Church, this is your mission. You don’t have to get creative. You don’t have to get cute. You just have to have faith and obedience.”

It’s a vast commission, because it is “all-encompassing.” The word “all” appears three times in these three verses. Jesus didn’t want us to miss it. This vast command is backed by His infinite power. Church, you must obey. This is your mission. It’s Jesus’ mission. It’s the most important mission. Pursue it.

The Strategic Method

For a military general to give his troops a big command, then leave them with no instruction would be absolutely foolish. For example, would any commander tell the military to “take over that country,” and leave his command at that? Probably not. Instead, that general would develop a strategy to accomplish his mission.

Jesus gave us a big command. But He also gave us a method for carrying out that command. Like the command itself, the strategic method is simple. First, we are to go. How can we carry out the command unless we mobilize? Second, we must make disciples. third, we are to baptize them. Finally, we are to carefully teach them all that Jesus commanded–the truths found in the Bible. That’s the strategy. Those are our marching orders as we obey the sovereign mandate by means of the strategic method.

The Sustaining Means

Even with a sovereignty-backed command and an inspired method for fulfilling the task, it could still be daunting. In fact, without this final consideration, all that has just been written above would be useless. It would be no more than a legalistic pep talk. But there is grace that blankets this entire command.

Jesus gives a final sentence. It is His promise of the Sustaining Means. When Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age,” He is clearly referring to the Holy Spirit. Just a short while later, presumably, Jesus ascended into heaven. But He left His Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the believer’s Sustaining Means. His power and presence in our work and ministry enable us to carry out what Jesus commanded.

This is our mission–a mission backed by Jesus’ divine command, ordered by His strategic method, and empowered by His Holy Spirit. As a church, as an individual, as the Kingdom of God, we cannot go wrong in adopting this mission and going forward–to the ends of the earth.

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