According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of mission is:
The term mission is used in the military to define objectives and scope of operations. The term mission has also become ubiquitous in business. Companies carefully craft statements outlining their purposes and goals and call these statements “mission statements.” Entrepreneur.com says the following about mission statements.
A mission statement defines what an organization is, why it exists, its reason for being. At a minimum, your mission statement should define who your primary customers are, identify the products and services you produce, and describe the geographical location in which you operate.
Churches have recognized the value of mission statements and have adopted the practice of carefully crafting such statements. Here are a few examples:
1. Rescuing one another from cultural Christianity to follow Jesus every day – Park Cities Baptist Church
2. To become an equipping and mobilizing church that transforms our world for Jesus Christ – East 91st Street Christian Center
3. To connect the unconnected to Christ and together pursue full devotion to him – Central Christian Church
4. Helping people take their next step toward Christ…together – Granger Community Church
5. Connecting people with God, through authentic relationships to serve communities – Newbreak Church
In trying to define what they are to be doing, most of these statements have not defined their geographical boundaries or who their primary customers are. They mostly aim to define the product they are trying to produce. In the new church speak, “fully devoted followers of Christ” means “disciples.” Most of these statements contain this idea in some form or another. The idea common to all is, “We exist to make disciples.”
Our own church has the statement:
We exist to honor God by developing fully devoted followers of Christ
Let’s go back and look at the idea of “mission.”
Let’s repeat the definition:
a specific task with which a person or a group is charged.
A mission assumes a person or a group is charged with a task. In business, the corporate leadership or the head of the organization decides what that mission will be. In the military, the governing authorities decide what the mission will be. They have the authority to decide. But who decides for the Church? Do the elders? Does the congregation? I suggest to you that the decision is not ours to make.
Jesus is the head of the Church. The Church is the body of Christ. Colossians 1:18 tells us:
Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. ()
These verses could not be any clearer about who the head of the Church is. What is more, Jesus claimed the authority to define our mission when He said:
Jesus has all authority. This means He is the absolute sovereign over everything. He is sovereign over disease, aging, bacteria and viruses. He is sovereign over nations, peoples, languages and governments. From this place of absolute sovereignty, He defines our mission. He sets the scope and limits of our mission. While we are trying to craft our mission statements, He has already given us a mission statement that clearly defines “who our primary customers are, identifying the products and services we produce, and describing the geographical location in which we operate.”
Jesus’ statement that He had been given all authority is just the introduction to His charge to us. The full statement from Jesus to His disciples is:
“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” ()
The “therefore” in verse 19 of Matthew 28 tells us that the statement that follows is based on the statement that went before. I know this is obvious, but it is important to remind ourselves that the mission that Jesus gave us is based on His absolute authority. We do not have any right or authority to change it in any way.
Please understand. I am not speaking against the mission statements and phrases that churches have crafted in their efforts to capture the essence of what they are about, as long as we acknowledge that these statements are secondary to the mission statement the Lord has given us.
The statement Jesus gave us defines what we are to be doing, where we are to be doing it, and how long we are to be doing it.
First, let consider where our mission is to take place. What are our geographical boundaries?
Looking at the English, it is easy to mistake the “go” in verse 19 as the command or at least a command. However, this is a mistake. In the Greek in which this verse was originally written, the “go” is a participle. In other words, it is not the command but it is helping to define the command. Another way of translating this participle is to say, “Having gone, make disciples.” So, we see that the command is to make disciples, but the geography becomes “wherever you have gone.”
The statement continues with “...of all the nations.’ So, the statement this far is: “go and make disciples of all the nations.” Another opportunity for us to make a mistake lies in how we define “nations.” This is not a geographical definition of nations. The Greek word used in this context is the word “ἔθνη” (ethne) from which we get our word “ethnic.” Nations in this context means distinct ethnic groups, not political boundaries.
What we are beginning to see is that the mission Jesus gave us is to be to all people everywhere and it is to be done wherever we are. There are no geographical limits to the mission. The whole world is included. And, we have also defined our primary audience, everybody, or all people groups.
This becomes difficult when we realize, for example, that we are located in Clearwater, Kansas and we are an English-speaking church. However, the Lord’s command does not excuse us or make any allowance for this stopping us from making disciples of “all nations.”
Paul serves as an example here. He said:
Since our mission involves “all ethne,” it follows that we will have to find ways to communicate with those of different languages and cultures. We have examples of this with foreign missionaries who learn different languages, but what about those from other cultures and languages that live here in our community?
This brings us to another aspect of our mission. The job is making disciples, and Jesus breaks it down into baptizing and teaching. He is defining our product or service. Baptizing and teaching represent two aspects of disciple-making.
Baptizing represents the conversion aspect of disciple-making. Unless a person accepts Jesus as Savior, they cannot be a disciple. Baptizing involves repentance and confession. If the Church were a business, baptizing would fall under the responsibility of the sales department.
We call this department “evangelism.”
We must be careful to define evangelism. Our name “Clearwater Evangelical Free Church” includes the term “evangelical.” So, part of our identity is the “evangel,” which simply put means “the good news.” Evangelical in the world today has come to represent conservative values and has become a catchphrase to represent a block of voters with conservative values. THIS IS NOT WHAT “EVANGELICAL” MEANS. Evangelical has as its core the “Evangel,” the good news. We have identified ourselves as Evangelical because the good news is the foundation upon which we are built. Evangelism is the spreading or proclaiming of this “Evangel,” good news.
When I say evangelism, you may think of someone like Billy Graham or D.L. Moody, and certainly these men were great evangelists. However, they do not represent the totality of what evangelism is.
Evangelism is what we do when we talk with an unbelieving friend or family member about Jesus. We do this in structured settings where we purposely invite someone to our home to share with them, and we do it very informally when we are walking with friends on the way. If we want to become technical and proficient at evangelism, we can break it down to its component parts such as preparation, introduction, truth or content, decision, confirmation and follow up. But, all of this has to do with the product we are selling, which is the good news about Jesus.
Baptizing is only the first of two instructions. The next is teaching. This also is an essential part of making disciples.
At this time, it would be helpful to define what a disciple is. What did Jesus mean when He said “disciple?”
Again, the Greek word used was “μαθητεύσατε” (matheteusate). This word literally means “a learner,” and is defined as follows by Strongs:
helping someone to progressively learn the Word of God to become a matured, growing disciple (literally, "a learner," a true Christ-follower); to train (develop) in the truths of Scripture and the lifestyle required, i.e. helping a believer learn to be a disciple of Christ in belief and practice.
This definition of a disciple is where the mission statements of churches get the idea of “fully devoted followers of Christ.” However, even this is not enough of an understanding of what a disciple is. Jesus said:
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. ()
The goal of our discipleship is to be like Jesus. Romans 8:29 puts it in these terms:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. ()
In short, the goal of discipleship is to be conformed to the image of Jesus. The way this is accomplished is to:
Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.
Teaching to obey all that Jesus commanded and taught is the work of a lifetime. Doing this teaching requires all the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given to the Church. This teaching requires: “...the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” ()
The apostles and the prophets both have definite articles. Thus, they are speaking of definite people. The apostles are the twelve chosen to be with Jesus who witnessed His resurrection and through whom we received the New Testament Scriptures. The prophets are those through whom we received the Old Testament Scriptures. This is why the Bible is the source of all our teaching and the final authority on all matters concerning our faith and practice. It is why we spend time every week learning from the Word of God and why every Christian should spend time in the Word of God every day.
This is where people like me come in. I am a shepherd and a teacher. Under the authority of Jesus Christ and in obedience to His commission, it is my job to help equip and lead the church in our obedience to our mission.
One more question remains. How long should we be doing this?
Let’s look at what Jesus said.
We are to be doing this until the end of the age. The end of the age is of course when He comes back.
I submit to you then our mission statement, the mission which we have been given by our master.
“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. ()