What’s your mission? What’s the organizing principle of your life?
Maybe your mission is to get straight-A’s and graduate with honors. Maybe your mission is to get married and have children. Maybe your mission is to have a big happy family where everyone gets along! Maybe your mission is to rescue and adopt animals. Maybe your mission is to be one of the top practitioners in your field. Maybe your mission is to make enough money to afford a house down by the water. Maybe your mission is to retire and spend a lot more time at the golf course after you retire. Maybe your mission is to make the world a better place … but the specific details are still a little bit fuzzy. (Maybe your mission is to spend less time on Netflix and more time figuring out how to change the world!)
Stated or not, we all have an organizing principle. We all have a Big Picture goal in life. We all have a First Love. And we’re all willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve that desired goal or outcome. As the great Bob Dylan once sang, “It may be the Devil or it may be the Lord … But you're gonna have to serve somebody!” (I think he’s right. We’re either going to serve God and have our goals aligned with his goals … or we’re going to serve ourselves and have our goals aligned with the Devil’s goals. That’s the essence of idolatry, which may very well be the root sin behind all other sins. That was Martin Luther’s theory, and when you look at the history of Israel in the Old Testament, I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue with him.)
Here’s the question: What is the church’s mission? Jesus tells us in Matthew 28. If you’re a Christian, I’m sure you’re familiar with these words … but I think they’re worth considering. Given our limitations as human beings, we all lose focus from time to time. We are all, in our fallen state, forgetful beings.
Matthew 28:18–20 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Given the authority of Jesus … the authority to change hearts, the authority to forgive sins, the authority to determine the final destiny of all human beings … we’re to go and make disciples of all nations. If God calls us to make disciples of our neighbors, we go. If God calls us to make disciples in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, we go. If God calls us to leave one part of the United States and go to another part of the United States, we go. If God calls us into the prisons, we go. If God calls us to the homeless shelters of our city, we go. If God calls us to the pregnancy clinics of our city, we go. To be a disciple is to become an ambassador of the king. To be a disciple is to accept God’s marching orders … to deploy wherever he sends us. To be a disciple is to give up our prejudices and sense of superiority over “those people” … whoever “those people” might be.
That discipleship process begins with evangelism. To make disciples, we have to talk to people about who Jesus is and what he came to do. We have to talk about heaven, hell, sin, and salvation. We have to talk about grace. We have to talk about hope. We have to talk about joy!
But I don’t think it ends there. I think the next step in the discipleship process is church-planting. (We see that in Paul’s efforts to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28. Paul didn’t just go from town to town handing our tracts and leaflets … he would stay in a town for an extended period of time, leaving only after he had planted a church and ordained elders to lead that church.) Beyond Paul’s example, I think the idea of church-planting is bound up in the idea that we’re not just to make disciples, but we’re to baptize disciples. Baptism is a sacrament of the church. When someone is baptized, they are baptized into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … but they’re also baptized into a local church.
In baptism, God claims us for his own, and we renounce the world. To be baptized is to say, “I have a new God now. I have a new mission. My mission is now his mission. The old me is dead. My life is now hidden with Christ in God.” But that’s not all! After our initiation into the family of faith, we learn to observe all that Jesus commanded us. That’s a lifelong task. It requires pastors, elders, deacons, and teachers who are willing to invest in people over an extended period of time. In other words, disciples are made by churches. We learn to observe all that Jesus commanded us in the context of a local church.
That’s a daunting task, which might be why Jesus assures us with the words, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” God is with us! In other words, “Don’t give up! You’re doing my work! I’m going to make disciples through you … which means that your strength comes from me. Your words will be persuasive because when I call people from death to life, my call is effectual and grace is irresistible! If my mission is your mission … you literally cannot fail!”
Here’s the second question: Is your personal mission aligned with God’s mission?
I’d like to say, “Yes! Of course it is! All I care about is making disciples! All I want to do in life is to advance the Kingdom of God!” Then I pull out the mirror of God’s word and begin to see that I often suffer from mission creep. Mission creep (according to military experts) is what happens when you begin to lose focus on the original mission by expanding it into all sorts of secondary, extraneous things.
Instead of building disciples, we begin to build buildings. Instead of feeding the hungry, we provide pizza and soft drinks for every event … because if we don’t nobody will come. Instead of drilling down on Jesus and exploring the bottomless depths of the gospel, we begin to argue about when and where Jesus will return. (Which is, ironically, exactly what Jesus told the disciples NOT to do in Acts 1!) Instead of saying, “How can I serve God?” … we begin to ask, “How can God serve me? How can I use God to accomplish my goals in life? How can God assist me in building my kingdom?”
John Piper once said, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” I think he’s right. Every single person on earth was made to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Sadly, there are many places in the world (including our own nation and our own city) where people don’t live to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The mission of the church is to go and reach these people with the good news that we can have peace with God, the forgiveness of our sins, and a new life of joy through Jesus.
So why does our Missions Conference exist? I think it exists because of mission creep. I think it exists because we (as finite, sinful human beings) need to remember who we are, who Jesus is, and why it’s so important for everyone to receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation as he’s offered in the gospel. I think we need to be inspired by stories of young campus ministers reaching students with the gospel. I think we need to hear something other than the litany of bad news we hear from our TV’s, our tablets, and our phones. I think we need to see that the mission is going forward – at full speed! – and that we have the opportunity to grab hold and take the ride of our lives!
I hope you’ll join us for our annual Missions Conference. It’s taking place the first weekend of March. (You’ll find the details in this newsletter, on our website, and in the announcements of your Sunday morning bulletin.) This year, we’re going to be thinking about how we can be missionaries to the next generation of young people. Have you ever thought about missions like that? Have you ever thought of the next generation as an “unreached people group?” I sometimes think of “missionary work” as something you do in jungles and deserts … places with exotic names and terrifying insects! But that’s not the full picture! We can be missionaries to kids in our own church. We can be missionaries to students in our own city. We can be missionaries to the students who come to Pensacola to attend West Florida University. And that’s only scratching the surface. The young men and women who will be speaking at our conference are passionate about reaching young people … and I think they’re going to ignite that same passion in our church.
What’s your mission? Is your mission God’s mission? By the end of the Missions Conference, I hope you’ll see that whether you’re a giver, a goer, a sender, or a pray-er (or maybe all of those things!) … you can align your life with the life of God … and in so doing … find peace that surpasses all understanding!
We’ll see you at the Missions Conference!