This essay examines some of the reasons why missions are important for the church. For many the concept missionary conjures up an image of someone clad in khaki dungarees and a pith helmet, slashing through the jungle with a machete. While people may have many perceptions of what missions are, the final arbiter of truth must be the Bible. This essay therefore seeks to examine the role of missions from scripture.
The establishment of the Church was a sovereign and deliberate act of God. It was not done arbitrarily or with little forethought. It was established with care, tenderness and devotion. One of the primary reasons the church was established was to grow, that is to grow toward maturity and to grow numerically.
It is Gods desire that all people would seek and acknowledge him, as we see in first Timothy:
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved
and to come to a knowledge of the truth. . 1Timothy 2:3,4
The mandate that the Christian church has to evangelise is summed up in the Great Commission found in Matthew 28.
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." Matt 28:18-20
The importance Christ attached to these words is reiterated in the context it was given in. Following Christ’s death and resurrection the disciples are told to go to a certain mountain, approximately two days walk from where they are, to receive a message from Jesus. Two days of walking, wondering what could be so important that Jesus would bring them here to tell them. The disciples are left in no doubt this was to be a message of some importance. After receiving this Great Commission the disciples had a further two days walk to contemplate the words Jesus spoke.
Note that Christ’s command is to make disciples, not converts. There is a perception that evangelists are here just there for altar calls, not the long process of growing followers of Jesus. The call goes out not to make commitments but to make disciples Discipling is implicit in the call to missions.
This is further expanded upon in the book of Acts.
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the
dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached
in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these
I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the
city until you have been clothed with power from on high." Lk 24:45-49
He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father
has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit
comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and
Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Ac 1:7-8
The key element in these verses is hidden. The tense for the latter part should read "and in" Jerusalem "and in" Samaria etc. Rather than a progression outward beginning at the centre and moving outwards the irresistible march of the gospel is to happen everywhere simultaneously. What does that mean for us as Christians. Simply this, that we are to have equal concern for the gospel to be spread in Mongolia as in our own back yard. We are to pray for God to move sovereignly and mightily in those areas where there is little gospel witness. Our desire should be to see the kingdom message preached to all people everywhere.
And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Mk 13:10
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a
testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Mt 24:14
Some churches have therefore drawn the distinction between missions and evangelism. For them those activities which are focussed overseas are called missions, whilst those activities which emphasize local ministry are classed as evangelism. In reality this is a pragmatic distinction rather than a biblical one. A similar distinction is drawn between evangelism and edification, although these would appear to be inseparable in Christ’s teaching.
In John we see that it is God who draws the new believer to Himself, not us.
"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise
him up at the last day." Jn 6:44
Yet he has mandated us to minister and preach the gospel in partnership with him through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:8 above) We are called to be salt and light to a world that desperately needs Christ. The weapons in this war are not only the word of God, but also the testimony of how that word has changed and transformed our own lives, as Christlikeness is shaped and formed in us. It is the formation of this Christlikeness which should be the aim of every Christian, every evangelist and minister. Paul talks about this formation as adoption or sonship. (Romans 8:19,22-24).
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth
right up to the present time…. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the
firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as
sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Ro 8:22