When viewing ourselves as God’s missionary people who live into His story of redemption, how should we understand of our role in His mission? Are we called to change the world? Is it our responsibility to open people’s eyes? Or should we just focus on “getting people saved?”
In my study of the New Testament, as Jesus is transitioning from earth to heaven, He gives three mandates that inform how we are to understand our role in His mission.
1. We are sent. At the end of John’s gospel Jesus’ disciples are in hiding. They’re fearing for their lives thinking the Jewish leaders might try to execute them next. They have heard reports that Jesus has raised from the dead, but they have yet to see Him. While hiding out, Jesus appears to them and immediately says these words,
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
Just like the disciples, we too can live in fear of the world – fear that the world may hurt us or negatively influence us – and therefore remove ourselves from the culture. We then mistakenly view the church as an enclave meant to protect the people of God.
Jesus, however, explicitly tells His followers to go into the world. He was sent, so therefore we are sent. And truth be told, at times it can be dangerous.
In Luke 10 when Jesus sends out the 72 to on a mission venture he tells them,
“I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3)
That doesn’t mean we are to be foolish in our going. In other places Jesus will tell the disciples to be wise and shrewd. We need to be mindful of where we are vulnerable and susceptible. But it doesn’t mean we live in hiding or disengage. In order to reach our world we have to understand our world. We have been sent to live amongst the people in our neighborhoods and cities.
But with being sent into the world what are we to do? How are we to live?
2. We are called to bear witness. In the opening pages of the book of Acts, moments before Jesus is taken back to the Father he says to the disciples,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit come one you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
We are sent into the world to be a witness to the world.
This verse always reminds me of Lebron James. That’s right, LJ. Let me explain. For the last 12 years he has been the most talked about and watched player in the NBA. Coming right out of high school he was dubbed the “Chosen One.” Early on in his career people were comparing him to Michael Jordan. Since then he’s also received the title “King James.” He’s received numerous awards and has won 2 NBA championships.
In 2005 Nike rolled out an ad campaign known as the “Witness Campaign” featuring Lebron James. There were magazine ads like this:
And commercials like this:
Regardless of whether or not you’re a Lebron James fan or a basketball fan, what Nike has tapped into is that, yes, we are all witnesses. The question is of what?
Whatever has most captures our heart and our imagination will be the thing to which our life naturally points. In Jesus’ call to be His witness, he’s not saying force people into awkward conversations about Christianity, the church, religion or heaven and hell in hopes of converting people. But allow your life to bear witness that you’re living into an alternative story not centered on the value system of our world but on the value system of God’s kingdom.
And then lastly…
3. We are called to make disciples. Again, the call is not to for decisions but for disciples. Jesus’ final words in Matthew’s gospel are.
Therefore go 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 I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).
In reading my first post, you may have noticed that my initial approach to mission was more about leading people to make decisions than it was about making disciples. In that chapter of my journey, whether out on a college campus, a beach trip with our campus ministry or in my every day path of life, I would randomly select people with whom to share my “gospel pitch.”
By “random” I mean those who awkwardly made eye contact with me long enough so that I didn’t approach them as some creep or stalker.
But in showing up unannounced in someone’s life with no real relational context, I always left the interaction asking the question, “How do I know who?”
Essentially, how do I know if this person is someone to approach and/or whether or not this is someone with whom I should seek to develop a relationship?
When Jesus sends out his disciples in Luke 10 He gives them 3 relationship signs that indicate someone might be open to the gospel and the kingdom. First, He says look for those who welcome you. (v6, 10). Second, He tells them hang around people who serve you. Are they hospitable to you? Do they feed you? Do they invite you into their home (v7)? Lastly, look for people who are willing to listen and learn from you (v16).
Ultimately He says if these people aren’t present don’t waste your time. It’s not our job to convince people, to change their hearts or open their eyes. That’s God’s job. Our job is to identify the people in whom God is already at work a focus our energies there.
As you have participated in God’s mission, how have you seen being sent, bearing witness and making disciples expressed in your life?