A couple of days ago, a friend and former student of mine asked me for my understanding of missions. He acknowledged that the question was a bit vague, but it was his intent to leave the question in broad terms.
When I considered the question, I realized that it was probably best to respond with broad principles rather than get into specifics. I base my understanding of missions on Matthew 28:19-20, which is commonly referred to as “The Great Commission”. While I believe the passage has been somewhat misunderstood (with too much emphasis on the word “go”), I do believe it summarizes the purpose of the Church (i.e. to “make disciples” through “baptizing” and “teaching”).
Here is my response to my friend:
– The mission of the Church (i.e. all believers) is to baptize (i.e. evangelize) and teach (i.e. disciple) – Matthew 28:19-20.
– I do not believe that missions is supposed to be done solely by “professional” missionaries, but every believer as he/she lives their daily life. We should all be witnessing to those around us in word and deed every day.
– Missions is not just about evangelizing the lost, but also discipling new believers to Christian maturity.
– Biblical mission is not concerned with sending people somewhere else to testify about Christ, but about having the people of God testify right where they are.
– I believe that mission is more inclusive than only being concerned with the souls of people. We are to care for the entire person – physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs. As we do this, we demonstrate Christ’s love in action and gain an opportunity to tell of Christ’s love in word.
I admit that my responses are not exactly thorough, but when you ask a vague question you have to expect a vague answer! My greatest concern is that we talk a great deal about missions in our churches today, but we seem to talk about it as something that others do and that we support through financial gifts or periodic “mission trips”. Do we think of missions as the heart of what every church and every individual believer is supposed to be doing? How does your local church think of missions? How do you think of your role?
Does your church have a mission strategy that includes care for the entire person or is it only concerned with the spiritual?
So, does this seem a scary, self-incriminating question, or does this just show our apathy (that no comments have been entered yet?) Possibly both.
I have to admit that I’m not sure what our practice as far as “traditional” missions go. I have just started here at my new church as an associate, but I suppose even that is a sort of cop out. I do agree that we are rather apathetic as a whole when it comes to missions. The attitude that I have seen is that if we just throw money at them, other people will do the work and we can simply sit in judgement of their efforts and fruit or lack therof. I’m not saying this to mean that I think its wrong to finacially support missions and missionaries, I do question our motives at times.
As far as my thoughts on what “missions” is all about, from what I can tell Jesus was concerned about the whole person, not just spirituality. Yes, He had the goal and purpose of bringing salvation, but he met people where they were and ministered to their physical needs as well as the spiritual. He was concerned about their hunger, their loss of loved ones, their physical ailments, etc.
This is a huge part of “mission” work that I have realized wasn’t in my personal definition. Attend to the physical, use that as a springboard to the spiritual.
A question I have is, can we do this too much? Can we become focused so much on physical needs and so neglect the spiritual? If so, how do we maintain the balance?
I agree that we can go too far the other way and create what has often been called a “social gospel”. How do we maintain a right balance? I think part of it is taken care of by making sure that there is a well defined plan in place for whole-person care (physical, emotional, spiritual). I am sure this can even be tricky, but it seems like that is what true mission work is supposed to be about.
By the way, nice to have you stop by my blog. Is this your first time? Hope you are enjoying your new ministry.
On the corporate/church level, I think that having a sound and well defined plan is essential and will help alleviate the “social gospel” issue that was mentioned. But what about on a personal level. What are your thoughts on our individual responsibility/planning with regards to maintaining the balance mentioned above. I dont know if I need to systemitize every relationship, but I do struggle personnaly with how to minister to the whole person and not focus on one area over the other without becoming legalistic in my approach to that person.
In answer to your question, I have checked out your blog a few weeks ago when I saw a link on FB. I thought it might be fun to get in on the discussion to stretch myself and sharpen/be sharpened.
I am really enjoying my new position here, and I am very excited about what the Lord is doing. It seems like the church as a whole is ramping up to a new level of ministry and opportunity in the community so this mission discussion is great!
How are things with your new ministry?
You make a good point. It is easier to have a formal plan in place for corporate missions work, but if missions is also (and perhaps primarily) an individual responsibility, we must also be careful not to concentrate too heavily on either the “soul winning’ side or the “social gospel” side. Perhaps a corrective to the issue is to have a correct biblical understanding to begin with. We need to realize that God is not just interested in redeeming our souls, but all of us (soul and body). That is why the Christian hope is in the resurrection of the body, which Jesus represents the firstfruits of.
Thats a really good point regarding the resurrection. I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective. That does give a powerful argument for whole-person missions.
I just noticed something from your blog. You defined the mission of the church as having two parts; baptizing, and teaching. From what I saw, you understand these to be a how to of the first part “make disciples.”
I have always understood the commision to be three parts, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Part 1- Spread the gospel and see people saved. Part 2- Baptize them as a personal and public commitment of what spiritually has already occured. Part 3- Teach them the doctrine that Jesus has given to us for life and Godliness.
How would your interpretation differ? (if at all, just curious)
As a side note, I think there is a tendency to try to do part 3 first and convince unbelievers to live for Jesus before they ever know Him as their savior. What are your thoughts on this?
You are right. I do define missions as having two parts (or one, depending on how you look at it). As you stated, I see baptizing and teaching as the how to of the first part “make disciples”. I see it like this because I believe that, grammatically, this is what the writer meant. If you look at the passage, there is only one imperative verb. It is “make disciples”. As I am sure you are aware, the imperative form is the command form. The words “baptizing” and “teaching” are actually participles, which are verbal adjectives. So “baptizing” and “teaching” actually are there to modify the verb “make disciples”. We could translate the passage as “As you are going, make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching them…”
I see “baptizing” as incorporating all of evangelism (spreading the gospel and seeing people saved) and “teaching” as incorporating all of discipleship (helping those who are saved grow to Christian maturity).
I agree that we have a tendency to try to get people to act like Christians before they are. While I agree that all people should live by God’s instruction (because he is Lord and his ways are best), we should not expect those who have not submitted to his authority to live as though they have.
By the way, I did not intentionally avoid your question about how things are going here. I just forgot as I was typing my initial reply. I am really enjoying our new church. I am still trying to learn people’s names and all of the different things the church is doing, but it is coming slowly. I am excited about what God has been doing here and the potential for ministry in the future.
Very interesting. I went back and checked my Greek NT and you’re right. I’m kinda rusty with my greek at times. I think that your translation would be a much more accurate way of putting that verse into english. (Especially the “as you are going” I agree there is too much emphasis placed on “go”) I don’t think that this will affect my overall application of the passage, just perhaps a modification of how I look at it and teach it.
I do wonder, in your understanding is this the only place in scripture where you would see the idea of baptisim or baptizing as encompassing the whole salvation process? I can understand based on the sentance contruction why you have come this conclusion (and I agree with you), but are there any other instances that you know of?
This sort of stuff is fascinating to me, and I am really appreciating your imput.
Primarily, I come to this conclusion based upon the immediate context of Matthew 28:19-20 and how it is restated in Luke 24:46-48 and Acts 1:7-8 in different words. However, 1 Peter 3:21 seems to use the word “baptism” as an all-encompassing term.
Thanks, I appreciate the info. Good blog