What is missions? This is a question that 50 years ago would have gotten a very clear response, but now could get any number of replies. It’s feeding the hungry, isn’t it? It’s helping the less fortunate isn’t it? Oh yeah, I’ve done missions, we visited an orphanage in Guatemala, and the year before we painted a fence in the Congo. Is that missions? Many would even say that the era of missions is over. That the job is finished and that national workers are now flying the missions flag. Is that true?
The question regarding the essence of missions also begs the question What pattern of ministry should we be seeing in missions? Again, this would now receive any number of answers. Do prospective missionaries need training? Is there a place for long-term missions? Is there any need to learn the culture and language of the receptor people? Is there a need for Bible translation? Is literacy important to being discipled? When is the church ready to be left to stand on its own feet?
Lack of clarity regarding these important questions, mainly due to current mission practices that carry on unquestioned, has led to confusion and a lack of direction in missions. So we should ask what missions is, but the wisdom and clarity we need will not come from humans, even missionaries. Our questions need to be directed at God’s master plan for missions, which is clearly laid out in the Scriptures – Yes, it’s clearly laid out! There are a number of passages that speak to this topic, but the ‘no brainer’ passage we need to allow to shape our thinking is the Great Commission that Jesus gave to His disciples, most fully recorded in Matthew 28:18-20:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to 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.”
We are going to look at this passage in more detail at REgen, but for now, soak in the clarity that this passage brings.
The first aspect of this passage we need to understand is that there is just one command in Greek, make disciples of all nations. This is the core of what missions needs to be! It is our God given command to see that all nations become followers of Christ. Wherever we go as Christians we need to be nice to people, to care for the poor, to love our neighbour – That is basic to who we are – but it is not our Commission. Our Commission is to lead them to Christ. Relief work is a wonderful way we can carry out the Great Command (Matt 22:39), but unfortunately, in recent years this has become ‘Missions’ in the minds of many – A good thing has led to great harm. What harm is that? The harm that occurs when we see someone’s temporal needs as more important than his eternal need. This is tragic! Without hearing and believing in the gospel, people are facing an eternity separated from God and punished forever in hell. Did it matter that they were well fed and educated? The greatest thing we can do for a person is to make them a disciple of Jesus Christ and in many cases the freedom and comfort and strength of character that accompanies their salvation, makes an enormous difference to their station in life and opens their world up to include the Body of Christ. Making disciples is our Commission.
Another important aspect of this Commission and therefore to Missions, is that idea of going. This has been much misunderstood in recent years, where many have taught it as meaning as you go. This is unfortunate, as it’s a misunderstanding of a common Greek construction. Without going into detail, when this particular form is used next to a command, it takes on the form of a command, in the sense of something that needs doing, that is essential to the carrying out of the main command. To make it easier to understand, we will never make disciples of all nations if nobody leaves home – No, not even through social media!
So who are these nations and who still needs reaching? Well, to begin with, New Zealand is one of those nations. Evangelism and discipleship in New Zealand is part of the Great Commission. But we are not the only one – Let’s not forget the all. Let’s get a feel for the job left to be done by using some Joshua Project statistics. This is a very helpful site, that if anything, understates the need. Their page in New Zealand gives the following information:
You can see here that New Zealand is considered reached, but still has significant room of evangelism. To put it in user friendly terms though, if someone wanted to hear the gospel, or get hold of a Bible anywhere in New Zealand, they could.
Let’s look now at the statistics relating to the reachedness of the world:
These statistics are far less kind. Is the job done? Looking from red to orange to yellow and so on, you can see that 41.5 percent of the world’s population currently have no opportunity at all to hear the gospel. If you add to that minimally reached and superficially reached, it takes you well over half of the humans on this planet. Look below at the description of terms and you will see this is no exaggeration. There is still a massive job to do and very few are currently GOing.
Finally and briefly, there is a very clear method set out here as to how to make disciples. It’s in verse 20: teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Where do we find all that Christ has commanded? In the Bible – This is our tool. How much to we need to teach them? All – This is our task. Is it important just that they know? No, they need to be taught to obey – This is our tone. If that is our task, it makes no sense to send missionaries out with minimal training. Would we expect a pastor here to be well trained? Why would we want anything different in a missionary? If this is how Christ said missions is to be done, why would we think of sending someone out for just a few years to try and do this? And that’s not even taking into account the crucial need for culture and language learning, that is required in most of these unreached areas. Christ is calling us to make disciples and He has told us how to do it – Are we willing to lay down our lives to do it the way He said? That’s the real issue.
So this Great Commission, our Commission, brings clarity to this important subject – and I haven’t even scratched the surface of how we need to apply it. Come and join us at Regen 2018. I would love the chance to talk more with you about missions.
 See Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p.645 – This book is generally considered the standard for Greek grammar.