That’s what it’s all about. It’s often said that churches need mission statements. It’s sometimes said more perceptively that the church has a mission given by God which it needs to discern. A few go beyond that to realize that it isn’t that God’s church has a mission; rather, God’s mission has a church. We invoke that mission each Sunday when we pray, “Your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” At the beginning of this series, we saw what that looks like from God’s end, when all the heavens and the earth are finally made new. In that video, we see it from ours: all peoples, tribes, nations, and languages, and every region and landform on this planet, gathered together to pray and praise the Lord with one voice. As of now, it’s just a vision; but it will be a reality, because God has already done it. In the Great Commission, we see the road he has laid out before us to follow him in obedience as he makes it happen. The only question is, will he do it through us, without us, or despite us?
As we read Matthew, we should remember that Jesus is addressing a group of failures. We can be champions at preventing people from growing by chaining them to their failures. When they get up to try again, or come up with a new idea, or try seriously for the first time, we ask things like, “What took you so long?” or, “Why are you only just now figuring that out?” or, “Why should I think this time will be any different?” We even look for them to fail, and blame anything that goes wrong on them because, after all, they’ve failed before. Jesus doesn’t do any of that—no blame, no skepticism, no recrimination. Instead, he comes to them to reassure them, he speaks to them to restore the broken relationship, and he calls them beyond their failure, entrusting them with a mission far greater than anything they’ve messed up in the past.
Right from the start, then, this mission is an act of grace on Jesus’ part, and depends on his grace. It’s rooted in his authority over everything that exists, which is unlimited and absolute. By that authority, he has the right to command; by that authority, he ensures without any doubt that we will accomplish what he sends us out to do—because he’s actually the one who will accomplish it, not us. It’s about his ability, not ours. For us, what matters is simply that we are faithful. The rest is up to him.
This is also an ordinary mission, not an extraordinary one. By that I mean that Jesus doesn’t command us to do remarkable things every once in a while, he calls us to a way of life in which we do what he tells us along the way as we go about our normal business. You see, despite the way our translations make it sound, “Go” isn’t the command here. There’s only one command: “Make disciples.” What Jesus says is, “As you are going, make disciples.” It’s assumed that the disciples will go—they aren’t going to stay on that mountain for the rest of their lives. It’s assumed that we will go. We will go to work, we will go to the store, we will go to school, we will go visit family, we will go on vacation—much of life is about where we go and when. And as you go, Jesus says, wherever, whenever, whyever, and however, make disciples.
The implications of this are vast; I want to highlight a couple here this morning. First, Jesus says that as we go, we are to make disciples of all nations. Now, no one here will even visit every nation, though sometimes I think Dr. Kavanaugh is trying to. This is a command to the whole church. But Jesus doesn’t say, “Make disciples in every nation I send you to”: he says, “of all nations.” We are all to be involved in the “all nations” part, even though we can’t be involved in every nation. This means that we need to be connected with the mission of the church at every level. We need to be as involved as we can be in making disciples of Jesus Christ in our community, and in our state, and in our nation, and then we also need—all of us as a congregation, and each of us as disciples of Jesus—to be connected with other believers who are making disciples of Jesus in other parts of the world. We need to have that global vision.
Second, this is the mission statement Jesus gave the church, which means that the mission of the church is focused out there, as you go through life. He didn’t create us and he didn’t call us together primarily to take care of ourselves, but to serve the lost. As far as God is concerned, this church doesn’t exist for any of us; we exist to make disciples of all nations, beginning the minute we step out the door. Each of us is, above all else, a missionary: our primary calling is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This church is, first and foremost, a mission station: our money, our time, our efforts, our skills, and all our resources have been given to us to invest in the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ, and especially in the community to which he has sent us. Everything we do has to be understood in light of that reality.
Now, does this mean that we aren’t supposed to spend time and money and effort on those who are already here? No. We are the body of Christ on earth; how did Christ treat his body? He took care of himself. He ate and drank; he got enough sleep; he spent time praying and worshiping God; he went to parties; and he took regular time away from lost people, and even away from his disciples, to rest and pray. He understood what a lot of preachers forget, that good ministry is only possible if it’s founded on good self-care. You can’t give others what you don’t have yourself.
In the same way, we as the church will be no good to the world if we aren’t spending time in worship and prayer, providing for those among us who are in need, caring for those who are sick, in pain, lonely, or down in spirit, and enjoying time together. We can’t make disciples of Jesus if we don’t have others around us who are making us disciples of Jesus. But we need to understand that none of this is primarily for our sake. Our worship is for God; to the extent that it’s for us at all, it’s only to inspire us and equip us to teach others to worship God. Everything else is to strengthen us and prepare us and train us to be witnesses for Jesus Christ to a world that doesn’t see him much of anywhere, and to make disciples of Jesus of the people with whom and around whom we live our most ordinary lives.
No doubt it would be bad if a congregation started focusing so much on outreach and evangelism that it began to neglect the care and discipleship of its members; but I’ve never run across one that was in any danger of that. That would be directly against the pull of gravity in the church. As Ken Priddy, who’s leading the EPC’s church-revitalization movement, has pointed out,
The lost are not physically represented in our planning sessions, in our board meetings, in our Session meetings, in our committee meetings, and it’s very easy to lose sight of [them]. . . . If we’re not careful, we can pour 100% of our ministry into our own congregations and let a lost community simply remain lost. . . . We have to give advocacy to the community inside of our churches, because they don’t have a voice of their own. Someone has to speak on behalf of the lost.
Honestly, we have to make ministry to the lost, in our community and around the world, our primary focus just to keep it from being relegated to the back of the budget.
John Stott was right: we must be global Christians with a global vision, because our God is a global God. We’re called to something far, far larger than our own needs and concerns and agendas, and we have to put them in the proper perspective. The car doesn’t exist so we can wash it and wax it and put air in the tires and sit in it and listen to music—it exists to be driven, so we can go where we need to go. Everything else is to support that one purpose. When we stand before the Lord and he calls us to account for our stewardship of the money and time and abilities he has given us, he’s not going to ask if the car got a new paint job every year, or how good the tires were, or even if we took care of the rust spots around the edges. He’s going to ask if we drove it where he told us to go. Our God is the God of all nations, who sent his Son to seek and save the lost, and he’s called us out of the garage. Let’s put it in gear and start driving.