What if missions, like discipleship, is for the Church – the whole Church – to be involved in?
Matthew 28:18-20 records for us:
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
If we are not careful, there is a real danger today of disciples of Jesus Christ missing the essence of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 when we separate discipleship from missions. For example, it is often emphasised that “making disciples” is the main imperative instead of the verb “go”. While this assertion is true, discipleship (i.e. the following of Jesus by obeying His commands) inadvertently becomes anaemic when it is distilled and divorced from the context of which Jesus originally commanded His disciples. That context is the scope and breadth for which Jesus’ good news of salvation is intended – all nations (or in Greek, all ethnicities or people groups)! There is a familiar saying: “If Jesus is not the Lord of all, He’s not the Lord at all.” Paraphrased and applied to the context of global missions, it would be: “If Jesus is not the Lord of all nations, He is not the Lord of the whole world at all.”
But missions itself suffers from another kind of deficiency when we interpret the Great Commission with the lens of our own individualism and modern culture. The result is that “going to the nations” becomes totally subservient to our mere personal choices, individual preferences or solo engagements. By default, missions easily gets left to a few “spiritual commandos” crazy enough to risk it all for Jesus. This is clearly not what Jesus meant when He commissioned His disciples before His ascension to heaven.
A reading of the Great Commission in its original context will immediately bring out the exact opposite effect. Jesus was speaking to the first prototype of a disciplemaking community, albeit a narrowly-minded one. The Jews were unmistakably the most ethnocentrically exclusive people of their times. A commission for them to bring the gospel to others outside the confines of their own culture and worldview would have gone over their heads (as much as it goes over ours today!).
Yet, in spite of their inability to grasp the cross-cultural dimension of Jesus’ mandate, the Jewish Christians would have at least gotten the Great Commission right in three ways: (1) They did not perceive the Great Commission individually as personal assignments, but together as the singular mission of the whole community. (2) They did not see the Great Commission as a personal option to be deliberated, but a sacred trust to be lived out. (3) They did not view the Great Commission as if it were a personal calling to be further discerned and explored, but the Lord’s clear and urgent mandate to be immediately obeyed.
Ultimately, when it comes to exploring missions as a calling for our own lives, we must first get outside of our own cultural and hermeneutical entrapments (especially our modern way of reading and interpreting Scripture), and go back to the biblical context and framework in which God sets up His story of salvation for the world and calls His Church to join Him in this grand adventure of being His witness to all the nations.
This is of utmost significance for us Christians disciples today. Can you imagine the alternative scenario of church history and world evangelisation today if, right from its inception, missions had been done inextricably and unitedly as one community – the Church?
Written by Pastor Tan Siang Hon
Below are some recommended resources to further your understanding of the Church and missions. We encourage you to check them out and pray that you will be blessed by them.
“The Purpose of Your Life”, by Francis Chan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtzGtO3pC7c
“Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions”, by David Platt: https://t4g.org/resources/david-platt/divine-sovereignty-the-fuel-of-death-defying-missions-2/
ARTICLES & VIDEOS
“Into All the World: Count Zinzendorf and the Moravian Missionary Movement”, by Winfield Bevins: https://gcdiscipleship.com/article-feed/2013/01/16/into-all-the-world-count-zinzendorf-and-the-moravian-missionary-movement
(This is a short article on one of the worlds’ greatest missionary movements in Protestant history that had its origin in a local church.)
John Piper on “How Does a Missionary Know He is Meant to Go?”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xj6cI1jIgJg
(This is a 2-minute excerpt from a sermon by John Piper on capturing a sense of the call of missions.)
John Piper on “The Missionary Call”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp6q5PTki8w
(An interview of John Piper regarding the missionary call. Duration: 14 minutes.)
“Biblical Basis of Missions / God’s Heart for the Nations”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmtfBZyO_hI
(A short video clip presenting an overview of God’s story. Duration: 6 ½ minutes.)
“Shine – Psalm 67”, by Prayercast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4sAgASKLxE
“Days of Elijah”, by Robin Mark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca9LnzJnpjQ
“A City on a Hill”, by The City Harmonic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2kl7tqpnY4
“Be Thou My Vision”, by Audrey Assad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Optrm7lF16s
“O Lord, You’re Beautiful”, by Keith Green: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVgPQm06g2c