What is the central mission of the Christian church? We know that we are to be a people that are to “love God” and to “love our neighbor as ourselves” as we learn from the Jesus Creed. We also should know that the community of Christ is to be a people of the Jesus Prayer.
The Jesus Creed and the Jesus Prayer are a “dream team” of discipleship, pointing Christ’s followers to the primary teaching and prayer for their lives. But what about the primary task? What is it?
Every good organization, business, school, government, and ministry, knows what its mission is and is able to make that clear to everyone. To function correctly an organization needs to communicate clearly to the insiders and outsiders, longtime workers and newbies, what the ultimate mission is. Without a good answer to the question “what are we doing?” and “What are we about?” The people within and without will be unclear on the mission.
The church is not an ordinary organization. It is not an institution but a community. It is not an organization but an organism. It’s not a building but people. The church is the gathered disciples of Jesus. We, the church, are ultimately gathered around Jesus because of who he is and what he has done. We exist because God has brought us into existence through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our Master Teacher so we obey him. He is our guide so we pray. And he is also our captain that has set our mission.
Let’s go to the Jesus Mission in Matthew 28:16. The words of the Jesus Mission are some of the last words spoken by the risen Jesus before his ascension in heaven. Except for the greetings to his faithful disciples they are his only words in Matthew after his resurrection.
The Jesus Mission is the marching orders for the church, our main ministry, our main task, our job, our mission.
The Jesus Mission:
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
A mission if it is to be worth anything must be backed by authority. If I were to declare that the mission of the Speedway (a local gas station) it to provide free gas for everyone that needs it. Well that means nothing to anyone. I would also put them out of business rather quickly if they listened. The fact is that I have no authority to declare what the mission of Speedway should be. Only someone at Speedway with position and authority can make calls about mission. This is what Jesus says in verse 18.
Our mission as the community of Christ needs to come from Jesus. We are his church, the church of Christ. If we are to be his church we must make sure we are focused on the mission that he has set for us. Our mission as laid out for us here is not unclear. Disciples follow Jesus’ lead in our life and ministry.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” The most revolutionary part of this sentence is “all nations.” Up until now, Jesus had ministered exclusively among the Jews and he taught his disciples to do the same. But now something had changed. What had changed is that he was standing before them as a resurrected savior. He had offered himself as a sacrifice for sin once and for all. He had torn the curtain and broken down any walls separating the nations from God. It was now time to go to all nations and tell them of the good news of Jesus.
He told them to “stay” before the cross and empty tomb, but now he says “go.” We as disciples are to be on the go. Like a navy ship on a mission we go where there is need. Cruise ships wait for those in need to come to them. The disciples of Jesus are to go and make more disciples of Jesus.
One of the most misused words in the church is “missionary.” We think of missionaries as those in the church who specialize in going. We have thought that professional “missionaries” are to carry the burden of going and we will just stay here. The mission of Jesus is outsources to a select few. We think of the “mission field” as some place far away from you. Local members are gathered on a cruise ship funding the work of vocational missionaries on the battle ship.
Let me get something straight I am not arguing that we should not have vocational missionaries or give money to their ministries. No. I would call for us to give even more. What I am saying is that the Jesus Mission calls all of us to “go” whether our field is a foreign land, our family, our neighbor, our coworker, our fellow student, our mail man, or our hairdresser. We are all missionaries. A missionary is to be defined as someone who works to accomplish the Jesus Mission, and that is to be all of us. All disciples are to carry out the Jesus Mission.
It is not easy to be a missionary. Do you think the disciples thought it was going to be easy? They were standing there before Jesus, we don’t know for sure what the resurrected Christ would have looked like, but we do know that he still displayed some of his wounds: holes in his hands, his feet, maybe a hole in his side, and marks on his head and back. He commissioned them to “go” from a resurrected body that was broken for this very mission.
There is only one mission: go and make disciples. All other things we do may be good works, fellowship, or worship but they are not our mission. Our mission is to be a single minded dedication to “going and making disciples.”
Our mission is also the continuation of Jesus’s mission. Jesus came calling mankind to take up their cross and follow him. Jesus said that he came to seek and save the lost. He came to bring healing to the sick. Jesus’ mission was a mission of going and a mission of sacrifice to bring salvation to people.
In John 17, Jesus prayed a prayer that mentions his mission as being our very mission:
“14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
As Jesus was sent, we too are sent.
To drive home the point, remember: Jesus was crucified; Stephen was stoned; Peter was crucified upside down; Paul was beaten, imprisoned and killed in Rome; early Christians were thrown to the lions; Tyndale was impaled and burned for translating the Bible into English; many Christians died of disease on foreign fields; some Christians have lost their jobs and family because of mission; and all of these missionaries did it because they believed in the Jesus Mission and its articulator.
The next two items of the Jesus Mission: “baptizing them” and “teaching them to obey everything” put meat on the bones of “make disciples.” Making disciples is about bringing people to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism connects the disciple with the saving work of Jesus. The Jesus ordained way to begin someone on their journey as a disciple is baptism, believer’s immersion.
Making disciples may begin with salvation but quickly moves toward the second part: learning from Jesus for the rest of their lives. Making disciples is not all about baptism. Discipleship is about the one time acceptance of Christ (baptism) but it is also about daily conversion to Jesus as we him and his teachings.
Our mission is clear: Go and make disciples. The Jesus Mission is a close partner with the Jesus Creed and the Jesus Prayer. It is the natural reaction of someone who “loves his neighbor” and seeks to have Christ’s “will be done.”
I am thankful that Christ does not leave us to do this mission on our own. He says at the end of the Jesus Mission, “I am with you.” When we participate in the Jesus Mission we have Christ himself as a co-missionary. In fact, Jesus has always been the missionary, we simply get to participate with him.