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?