But what does that mean, exactly? Well, some clarifying definitions are in order. Seeing the following as distinct and yet related in a synergistic way is crucial. Think of these as a three-legged stool of a church’s missionary identity and life
First, the church has a mission. It is Jesus’ primary assignment to His people until He returns: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given 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.” (Matt.28:18-20) It is called Great because of who gave it and the vastness of it. It is a Commission because we are a people sent by our Risen King, empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) bearing a message of reconciling life, joy, peace, and hope (2 Cor. 5:17-21) that enables people to become more like Jesus now and live with Him forever.
The church’s mission is disciple-making: leading sinners in all places to Jesus and the transforming good news of His saving death and resurrection life, and then helping them grow like Jesus to where they also lead sinners in all places to Jesus and the transforming good news of His saving death and resurrection life, helping them to grow like Jesus to lead sinners….Disciples of Jesus is who we are (Identity), and there is a sense in which disciple-making is all we do (mission).
Second the church engages in missions. There are specific activities –locally and globally – in which the church invests time, people and resources to reach and make disciples of people who do not yet know Christ. This may be what most that grew up in church think of when they hear the word. There are missionaries sent to other places (away from “home”) to share Jesus with people there. We pray for them, knowing that the Lord’s power is necessary. They need to be supported so, we join with others to give to special missions offerings. There are real people needs around us, so we organize mission projects in the local community. There are people in other parts of the country or around the world who need to know Jesus, so we organize mission trips for members of our congregation to go for a short time to serve.
So, a segment (not all or even a majority) of each local church is faithful to pray for, give offerings (above our tithe) to and learn about missionaries, unreached people groups and the like. We may participate in mission projects or go on mission trips organized by our local church. And there has been a remarkable shift away from denominational dependence back towards the local church in all of these activities. All of this is important and crucial aspect of a church’s living out the mission.
But surprisingly, it is all incomplete – and strangely hollow without the third leg of the stool: individual Christians who live every day as missionaries. In recent years, this has been referred to as “missional living” or in the helpful phrase Jamie Dukes uses in his powerful book, Christians are to “Live Sent” (New Hope, 2011). That is, we live every moment, wherever we are, as a message sent from the loving heart of our heavenly Father to the people in the part of the world in which He has placed us.
Your relational circle (the people in your neighborhood, community, school, job, etc) is the unreached people group to whom God has sent you to love like Jesus and spread His gospel. Their language is the one you must learn to speak. Their needs, hurts, dreams, joys, tears and questions are the stuff of your prayers. The places you go in your ordinary life (work, school, day care, coffee shop, soccer field, grocery, bank) are the primary sphere of your mission. This does not take away from or reduce the responsibility for the global spread of the gospel. But this is where it starts.
What does such living look like? Dukes provides (p.148-157) a helpful series of questions to help us consider how missional we are, how like missionaries we are actually living. May I ask you to join me in prayerfully considering each question?
+ When you speak of church, what prepositions do you use?
(“Don’t use to and from and in and at when you speak of church. or other words that refer to church as a place or an event. The New Testament doesn’t. Why should we?”)
+ When you think of missions, do you think of a missions trip to a distant city and a service project in your own community, OR do you think of daily life among your family, neighbors and co-workers?
+ What is your common declaration about lost people around you? “Can you believe how these people act?” OR “When can you come over for dinner?”
+ Is my tendency to disengage from culture and retreat into safer, more distant Christian environments, OR is it to engage culture even amidst discomfort and danger?
+ When you hear “make disciples” do you think of a classroom OR your relationships?
+ Do you spend a lot of time wondering whether you should quit your job to surrender to ministry, OR do you simply live to minister to anyone and everyone where you are currently?
+ When you think of a friend who needs help, do you think “I need to get him to see the pastor” OR “I wonder what I can do to help?”
+ When you think of heaven, do you think “kingdom come” OR “kingdom is here”?
(“The purpose of living isn’t just ‘pie in the sky by and by.’ It’s to give people a taste of the God who came near…a glimpse of what is to come.”)
+ Do you think godliness is measured with a mirror OR within community?
(“In Jn. 13:34-35 Jesus told his followers they were to love one another as He had loved them, and that people watching them would know they are learning and living His ways by their love for one another…it is a safe conclusion that without love for one another in transparent, united, mission-centered community, we cannot live sent as letters of God’s love and hope)
AND TOUGHEST OF ALL….
+ Do you have a lost friend who would actually introduce you as his or her friend?
We have a mission, our church does missions, but the missing energy of Jesus’ Great Commission’s command to “make disciples of all” rests with individual disciples becoming missionaries in their everyday, ordinary lives.