What is the mission of the Christian?

I’ve just started reading (rather belatedly) What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin de Young and Greg Gilbert. From what I have read so far, and from the reviews I’ve seen, it promises to be an excellent book on the relationship between disciple-making and social action.

One of the interesting challenges for thinking about the mission of the church, of course, is that in the New Testament it is not the church that is ‘sent’ so much as the disciples (the word ‘mission’ comes from the Latin missio meaning ‘to send’). I suspect this will be only a minor quibble in reading de Young and Gilbert, because what they are basically asking is ‘What is the church’s focus or priority? What should the church be getting on with? What has Jesus commissioned or told the church to do?’ And the ‘mission’ language is a traditional and convenient way of framing that question.

But it does make me think: What is the mission of the disciple?

In a passage that is sort of John’s version of the ‘great commission’, the risen Jesus says to the gathered disciples:

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  (John 20:21-23)

The disciples are sent by Jesus in the power of the Spirit to bring the gospel of forgiveness to a lost and dying world. It is as if they carry in their hands the precious antidote to a fatal pandemic, and people will be cured/forgiven only by receiving and responding to this gospel. (It’s in this sense that the disciples have the power to give or withhold forgiveness—it is still God who does the forgiving, but the only available access to that forgiveness is through the gospel that only the disciples have.)

Is that how we envisage our lives as disciples of Jesus? As medical missionaries bringing with us the only possible cure to a disease that afflicts and will eventually kill everyone on the planet?

For what is a missionary? Someone who is ‘sent’ to a particular place with a view to bringing the gospel there. There is always a huge commitment involved—not just in training and preparation, but in getting to know the culture, spending time there, building relationships, being involved in the community, having people into your home, and then using every opportunity, formal or informal, planned or spontaneous, alone or in partnership with others, to share the gospel of forgiveness in Christ.

It’s long-term, it’s intentional, it’s an all-of-life activity, and it is costly. When you’re a missionary, you don’t have time or resources to plough into big houses and careers and possessions. You’re on a mission after all, and every dollar you get is given to you to support you in this mission.

Is that how we think of ourselves? As missionaries sent by Jesus into our streets and neighbourhoods and workplaces to make disciples of all nations?

If we don’t, then the first piece of ‘training’ we need is a re-modelling of how we think about the gospel and ourselves. We need a change of heart and mind about who we really are and what our lives are about. We need a revolutionized vision of what it means to live as a missionary-disciple of the crucified and risen Ruler of the world.

This little article is supposed to be a ‘resource talk’, so I guess I should get to the point! It was for all the reasons above that I wrote The Course of Your Life. It’s a framework for taking this first step in training ourselves and the people we’re in ministry with to be missionaries. It addresses these fundamental issues of heart and mind, of what we think our lives as disciples of Jesus are really about.

We need to have this revolution in thinking about our own discipleship, and help others to have it too, so that we think about our lives following Jesus as a long-term, intentional, all-of-life, costly mission activity. The task is urgent and we lack missionaries. Why not grab 12 people and start to train yourselves?

3 thoughts on “What is the mission of the Christian?

  1. Hi Tony

    Please excuse the pseudonym, but I live and work in a closed country and really want to comment on this post.

    I’ve read the book and enjoyed it. I agree with it’s thesis and remember vividly the many arguments in Bible College over this issue.

    But while I agree with it, I wish someone would delve into real life scenario’s. I will use my own as an example.

    I agree that the greater priority is the spiritual, not to the neglect of the physical of course. But in my country, I cannot enter as a “missionary”. No such visa application exists. So what do I do? How do I maintain integrity on this issue?

    Our team has established an NGO, focused on clean water sanitation, which is a major need of our area. It’s a great blessing and previledge to be a part of, and gives us a solid visa platform in an area that would otherwise chew up and spit out the typical missionary.

    But there’s the rub! We have visa obligations to stay here. Our time is prioritised to that visa, and although we have church planting training and approaches, it is not our full time job. We can only do that after hours, so to speak.

    So how do we balance this? To be in this area, as the only light to lost people, and yet attempt to keep the biblical emphasis the main thing? I really struggle with this.

    The ‘good-ol-days’ of arriving on a foreign shore with Bible in hand is gone. We cant just walk into these places and preach the gospel. I love a good theological argument, but I really feel that our theology needs to start interacting with missiology better. You asked, “what is the mission of a disciple?” I think we agree on the answer, but what does it look like in practice, in a closed country, a hostile city, a place where you fear for the safety of you wife and children? Being a good humanitarian is easy, being a true disciple is difficult.

    Oh, how I wish someone might write on this issue. Perhaps Matthais Media in the future?

    God Bless

  2. Hi Toppo

    Thanks for the comment and the question. As I’m sure you know, there is no simple set of rules on this — you shall spend 47% or your time on helping people (through your work or otherwise) and 24% in prayer etc.

    But this is also the case in pretty much every moral decision-making moment we are confronted with every day. What is the right thing to do here and now? And if there is more than one right course of action, which would be better or best? This involves assessing what is in front of us, seeking to discern what is the ‘good’ that is to be done here, and doing it. This can only be done ‘in the field’ not in the classroom. (Mind you, the ‘classroom’ is where we build up the moral framework from the Scriptures to bring to each situation. If you’d like some more ‘classroom’, here is a link to the first part of a two-parter I wrote with Tim Chester a couple of years ago: http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2005/01/social-involvement-and-evangelism-part-i-two-strong-cases/)

    Thanks again.


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