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.” Matthew 28:18-20, ESV
I’ve been a full-time “missionary’ or even technically a “minister” (whatever that means) to Peru for almost 4 years now. Yikes, it feels like I just got here a few weeks ago! But I’m just going to go ahead and be honest and admit something: I almost always have a lump in my throat when answering a specific question I get asked frequently that I think comes with the territory of the path I’ve gone down in my life:
“How many people are coming to Christ as a result of your ministry?”
I’m not writing the following entry to be defensive against this question, but I think a lot of the Church has the idea that a missionary, literally a “sent one” is synonymous with “evangelist”. I always get that lump in my throat not because I’m nervous of how to answer–I am evangelistic by nature, no matter the setting you drop me in.
However, when I read the Great Commission verses, I see words like “go” and “make disciples”. I don’t actually see “go lead people to Jesus” specifically or “go get people to make a decision for Christ”, or “make converts of the nations”.
Called To Stay or Called to Go?
In the Body of Christ, we have such an emphasis—a healthy one at that–on the idea that wherever one goes, they are bringing the kingdom of God with them. This is true and I’d never do anything to pour water on the flames of that notion. However, just because I’m able to give advice and be pastoral to people, doesn’t make me a pastor. I can teach also, but that doesn’t necessarily make me a teacher. I can evangelize as can any other believers, but that doesn’t make me the specific gift of an evangelist (Ephesians 4:11). I can prophesy, but that doesn’t make me a prophet. You get the point.
Likewise, many in the body of Christ are mission-minded or they’re at least bringing the kingdom of God to their sphere of influence at jobs, schools, or in their circles of friends. But does that mean every single person who is a disciple of Christ is a “missionary?”
No. Well, yes. Sometimes. But my ‘yes’ is qualified: we are all supposed to be. As I stated in a previous post entitled “Missionary or Glorified Tourist“, just because you’re breathing air in the same vicinity as an unbeliever, does not signify that you are making any impact whatsoever on them.
I don’t pretend to have the specific answers about all these things, but I also want to challenge you that the Great Commission talks of going, not staying. The emphasis is on making disciples in ALL nations, not specifically just our own culture. And in order to make disciples, they need to actually be saved, or following Christ, first, right?
Let’s think about that for a moment. When did Jesus pick His disciples? Before or after they made a commitment to lay their lives down and follow Him?
So in a sense, my mission to make disciples of Christ, in any and all nations, is successful according to God’s standards if I’m actually making disciples, not just filling pews or stadiums. However, many people I come across, whether individuals or corporate fellowships, have absolutely no missions focus whatsoever. I’m not even necessarily referring to overseas or cross-cultural, but in their backyards. I’ve had sincere Bible school students look me in the eye and tell me they avoid having unsaved friends because they don’t want to get contaminated by the world. I’m sure glad someone was willing to get contaminated to share the Gospel with them!
This is unfortunate, but I’m not on here to beat any sheep, just stating an observation.
Some other churches are successful at reaching their neighbors or communities and impacting them in some way, but more than 95% of church growth in North America is actually transfer growth where people change churches and start going to another one better suited to them. I heard this statistic about 7 years ago–only a small fraction of church growth in North America is actually from leading first-time converts to the Lord.
Are You Making a Difference?
I have some friends who refer to themselves as evangelists or missionaries to their school campuses and workplaces. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that per se–IF you really are serving as a shining light in a dark place. I’d never do anything to pour water on this flame because I think this is healthy and a great attitude–and I’d rather fan that into flame in people and equip them and help, and encourage this in every way I am capable.
I am concerned that we (myself included) often say things like that to make others think we’re doing more than we really are. Or to convince ourselves we are really doing more than we are. Or try to impress someone.
One time I posted the following quote by Tony Campolo that addressed that:
“Too often, I hear Christians in mainline denominations saying things like, “I don’t have to talk about my faith. I live it! My witness is the life I live before others, and I believe I so live out what it means to be a Christian that words are not really necessary.”What arrogance! Do any of us live out our faith so compellingly that anyone merely observing us will be swept into giving himself or herself over to God? Of course not!”
What I am not saying is that you are a failure if you’re not overseas, or standing in a pulpit–by no means am I saying that. In fact, the entire Body of Christ is called to the Great Commission. Probably 95% will never do “ministry” in the tradition form of ‘pastor’ or clergy or whatever our old wine skins look like.
Jesus DID say Go
“But Steve, Jesus was speaking to His disciples”.
I state that because I’ve heard it said to me quite often. Many who say it to me borrow and live out other things Jesus said “only to His disciples”, but then other commands are disregarded on the same basis. Jesus also said to them He would be with them to the end of the age, but the disciples all died off in the decades to come, and this ‘age’ is not over. The command to go make disciples was not specifically directed at just the 5% who would enter pulpit or traditional minister.
If Matthew 28:18-20 was only applicable to his disciples, then why don’t many of us say the same thing about Mark 16:
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. ((Mark 16: 15-20, New International Version)
We charismatics like to borrow this verse to justify why believers are to operate in signs and wonders, speak in tongues, heal the sick, cast out demons and so forth. However, I notice we easily forget these signs are to accompany believers as part of the manifestation of the great commission, not just signs and wonders so we can have Holy Ghost goosebumps in our meetings.
We Don’t Get to Tell God How Much We’ll Punch on the Time Clock For His Kingdom
I worked at a camp once when I was a teenager and heard an older co-worker refer to her summer that year as “the next several years of her missions service to God rolled into one summer.” She was making that remark in reference to how challenging this summer was working with under-privileged youth. Isn’t it odd how WE tell God what we will give Him and how much of ourselves and our lives we are willing to give?
Similarly, I remember a friend of mine after getting engaged, telling me the same sort of thing; explaining to me how maybe her and her husband will spend one year on the mission field ‘at the longest’, before doing other things with their lives–because somehow God would be happy that “they are doing more than many”.
Better to do this sort of stuff while young, yes. But when I challenged her on the idea God was in charge of what HE wanted to do with her life, and not her, she got very offended with me and thought I was being pushy and judgmental. This was years ago, before I ever knew I’d be a missionary, mind you. And probably before I had as much tact and patience as I do now.
I hate to break it to anyone reading, but if you are a follower of Christ, your life is not your own. Period. If we are disciples of Christ, then that means HE OWNS YOU. He is the one who determines what He wants with your life, and I think as soon as about 80% of the Body of Christ in North America finally yields WHOLLY to Him, we’ll probably see a rise in foreign missions in particular, and probably see things like the entire world have the Bible translated in their own languages in just a few decades or faster.
Dare I say the biggest thing slowing us down is much of the Western Church not being as concerned about it, while the Gospel explodes in other areas of the world where people aren’t as distracted by the same materialism and comforts.
“But Steve, not everyone is called to foreign missions.”
You’re right, not everybody is. But I don’t believe the number of people called to stay is anywhere near as large as it looks like. Something like 90% of all the Christian resources in the world, such as Bibles, Bible colleges, Christian books, television, etc… is in the West, but Church attendance in this part of the world is declining. Does it not concern us then that over a billion people in the world have never even heard the name of Christ at all, let alone gotten saved, lazy and complacent with the message?
With that in mind, I have a hard time understanding why all sorts of people don’t feel called to GO.
But there IS a generation rising who are radical and hungry and doing the works of the supernatural gospel…without necessarily knowing where they should invest their time and resources. These are comfortable getting out of their comfort zone whether that takes them to another culture or another part of town.
I say just go for it!
Eternity is forever, and this lifetime is too short to build our own little empires and ways of life. Leonard Ravenhill said this life is but a dressing room for eternity. What will you do with it?