“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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matt 28:19-20, NRSV)
I was recently reminded of a rather “spirited” meeting I attended many years ago of the church Missions Committee. The main objective of that particular meeting was to create the prioritized list of missions that church would focus on in the next calendar year. Many very good options were raised and captured. But when it came time to identify the top contenders, a rather heated debate ensued. The gist of the disagreement centered around the distance from the church that was required in order to consider an idea a true mission. Some felt that it was not truly “missional” unless it required travel to a foreign country. Others were fixed on doing “mission” work locally to keep mission dollars in “our own back yard.” Sadly, the meeting ended with many hurt feelings with some people eventually dropping off of the committee.
Reading this, you may be curious as to which side ended up “winning.” As well, I suspect that many of you have already concluded that no one really “won.” Missions in that church took a major hit that day. But what saddens me the most, is that they were not even arguing about “missions” in the first place—at least, not the “missions” that Jesus was talking about when he spoke the Great Commission to his disciples …or possibly better written, the Great Co-Mission.
What I have come to understand in all my studies and experience, is that Jesus was actually relating God’s mission to his disciples with that statement. Further, he was telling them that, as Disciples of Christ, they were to adopt and embrace God’s mission as their own. But even more, while his statement of mission did mention “all nations”, the major emphasis was on making more disciples, i.e., going, baptizing, teaching, etc. … and then, to do that everywhere, in every nation, our own and abroad. In other words, the real debate should have been around whether some proposed “missional” activity might ultimately help others to experience, in some way, the teachings of Christ, that they may ultimately consider accepting Christ as the center of their lives … i.e., become themselves disciples of Christ. Actually, arguing location has little relevance to whether something is really “missional”, and really more to do with opportunity and capability; for, all places and people are on the candidate list of valid “missions”, at least from God’s point of view.
Of course, the question still remains: so what is “missional”? Well, the specific answer to that question really depends on the gifts, graces, and passions of the person, group, or congregation asking it. And as you might suspect, that means the answers vary greatly. Which should be no surprise, as both the gifts, graces, and passions of any group and the needs and opportunities of the world vary so much. But one thing for sure, the ultimate litmus test is whether others may be able to experience the teachings of Jesus in action, that they might ultimately come to follow those teachings themselves. The specific activity, or location, is not nearly as important as is its connection to tangibly exhibiting the living presence of Christ in our world. I think this may be some of the genesis behind that oft mentioned quote, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.”
May you take your place as a disciple of Christ, adopting and embracing God’s mission as your own, sharing what you know and know how to do, to help others see why discipleship to Christ is so good, for them and for the world. And remember you/we are not alone, for Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Peace and blessings to you always … Pastor Bob