Christ wants you to die!

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).

While most people in our western culture have not had to consider what it might feel like to persecuted unto death, every Christian everywhere must resolve to die for the sake of knowing and possessing Christ. I hope you’ll take the time to re-read and consider that sentence.

The unmistakable call of Christ is to die. The thought of such a thing is so repugnant to us that we are naturally inclined to do anything to avoid it. I mean… who wants to die? However, in this paradoxical call, Christ beckons sinners to lose something lesser in order to gain something greater.

The life lived apart from Christ is death unto death. Sinners reap the bitter fruit of their wickedness in this life and in the life to come. But, the life given over to Christ is life unto life. The sinner who dies with Christ shall be raised with Him, and the one who lives on mission with Christ shall reap the savory rewards of a life well lived.

Whether it is long or short, may we live worthwhile lives for Christ.

Missional Living

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

For quite a while, Evangelicals in America have considered “missions” as something done by “missionaries” in a foreign context. Over the last decade or so, that perspective has adjusted to include Gospel efforts closer to home. However, many Christians still live as though they personally have no ambition or obligation to be an intentional witness to those around them.

Less than 20% of regular church attendees have shared the Gospel with anyone in the last six months.

Some Christians are remarkably equipped by God to live missionally in a context much different than their own native experience, but all Christians are commissioned by Christ to live missionally where they are. This means intentionally living in such a way as to make Christian witness a top priority (evidenced in daily activities, financial patterns, and personal efforts towards spiritual growth and development).

Jesus Christ saves sinners and brings them into new life. Where once they were living for selfish ambitions (however great or small), Christians are those who now live as happy servants of their good and gracious King.

Furthermore, Christians know that this mortal life is fleeting, and final judgment will come to all. With hearts aflame, those who love Christ and others must live as witnesses to all – especially including those who are near.

Missional living is the privilege and duty of all Christians everywhere.

May God give us love enough to motivate us to act, and may we give ourselves to living on the greatest mission of all time.

Mission in the Old Testament | A Book Review 

Mission in the Old Testament” is a fascinating read. From my perspective, dispensational theology, and its necessarily corresponding hermeneutic, has colored the lenses of American evangelicalism to such a degree that many Christians in America have become unable to see much at all in the direction Kaiser calls his reader to look in this volume. I am not a dispensationalist, and yet I still found myself surprised to learn that so much of the Old Testament reveals a gracious God who has been reaching out to Gentiles long before the days of the Apostle Paul. Kaiser points to the Great Commission of Matthew 28 as an appropriate and expanded restatement of something God had already been saying.Kaiser states his these in the introduction when he says, “It is my hope that the formative theology of Genesis 12: 3 may once again be seen for what it is and has always been in the discussion of mission: a divine program to glorify the Lord by bringing salvation to all on planet earth.” Kaiser believes Genesis 12:3 is the “formal” statement of the “Commission mandate” in Scripture. 

Summary

Below I have provided a brief summary and overview of the book. I have placed the eight chapters of the book into four sections – Foundation, Design, Examples, and Instruments.

Foundation – Chapters 1 and 2

Kaiser began to make his case by trying to demonstrate the foundational and integral nature of God’s promise to Abram/Abraham in Genesis 12. However, before he did that, Kaiser showed how the first eleven chapters of Genesis lead the reader to such a crucial and articulate promise. In these chapters, the Genesis record tells of three major crises – the fall, the flood, and failure at the Tower of Babel – and three subsequent promises of blessing from God (2). Immediately after the fall, God promised a seed or offspring that would right the wrong that had been done. After the flood, God promised to once again make His dwelling with man. After the failure at the Tower of Babel, God promised to give Abram a “great name.”

In Genesis 12:1-3, Kaiser claimed, we may find the succinct statement of promise that encompasses all three of these and more. He argues that the promise of Genesis 12 is the height of the universal promises God had already made. Rather than thinning the previously wide promises of blessing, Kaiser believes that God was designating Abram as the one through whom He would ultimately bring these wide promises to fulfillment. Kaiser stated that the key purpose of the blessing Abram enjoyed was (according to Genesis 12:3) “so that all the peoples on earth may be blessed through you (through Abram).”

Kaiser summarized his conclusion by saying:

“The whole purpose of God was to bless one people so that they might be the channel through which all the nations of the earth might receive a blessing. Israel was to be God’s missionary to the world— and thereby so were all who believed in this same gospel” (12).

Kaiser said that Israel (the people of God) were to be a “treasured” people, a “kingdom of priests,” and a “holy” people (14-15). In this way, with these designations, Israel would serve as a “light to the Gentiles” or “agents of God’s blessing to all on earth” (16). Of course, Kaiser points out that the Scriptures place Christ as the apex agent of such blessing, but this is not to separate Christ’s ministry from the ministry of the people of God. The two are interrelated – distinct, but not separate.

Design – Chapters 3 and 4

Chapter three builds upon the idea that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bring blessing to all peoples of earth, and Chapter four runs to the end or purpose of God’s promise in order to bring the full picture into view. Climbing toward the ultimate Messianic “seed,” Kaiser demonstrates incredible similarities between the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, and argues that such things draw the two together (23). In fact, Kaiser claims that David himself understood the significance of God’s covenantal language in His promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:18-19 (25). God had promised a “seed” through Abraham that would be a blessing to all peoples, and God was reiterating that promise to David. In conclusion at the end of chapter 3, Kaiser says, “The plan of God had from the very beginning the central figure of the ‘Seed’ who was to come in the person of the Man of Promise, the Messiah” (26).

The purpose for such marvelous blessing from God is His glory. In fact, Kaiser notes that the worship of God is as compelling to unbelievers as it is informative. His claim is that the Psalms are a hymnbook with a missional perspective. The psalmists call for proclamation and singing of the deeds and nature of God, and the psalmists themselves “offer to sing God’s praises among the nations” (35). Kaiser said that the inevitable result would be that Gentiles would join in celebratory song when they were exposed to such a thing, and this is exactly the form of missional approach Kaiser argues that the Old Testament calls for.

Examples – Chapter 5

In this section, Kaiser sought to show that the plan of God was the same from the beginning by demonstrating that God has been active among the “Gentiles” all along. He phrased it this way, “The ‘nations’ and ‘Gentiles’ were envisioned as equal recipients of that same good news from the very beginning of time along with Israel itself” (pp. 37-38).

Melchizedek was a “priest of God Most High” and a king (Genesis 14:18), and yet he was also a Canaanite or Gentile. This is compelling, because it not only informs the reader of Gentile believers during Abram’s day, but it also strongly implies that there were a number of believers represented by this singular (though admittedly enigmatic) character. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, was a “priest of Midian” (Exodus 18:1). Jethro praises the name of Yahweh (the covenant name of God) and offers a burnt offering to God, both of which were specific things that only believers in the promised blessing of God actually did. This too is a demonstration that Gentile believers were in existence outside of the focus of the Old Testament narrative.

Rahab the prostitute is also added to the list of Old Testament Gentile believers, but she provides us with both a Scripturally supported example (she is listed in the Hebrews “chapter of faith”) and a more general example (many people, like Rahab, would have likely come to “fear” God in light of His demonstration of power during the days of Joshua). Ruth is another unlikely and seemingly quite unimportant convert to belief in the covenantal God of promise. While Ruth enjoys the benefit of being grafted into the physical line of king David and the Messiah, she also serves as a simple example of Gentile exposure to Yahweh’s missionary people and subsequent trust in Yahweh. It is impossible to deny that there would have been at least some number of others like Ruth and Rahab (probably many), and it is likely that there were even others like Jethro.

Instruments – Chapters 6, 7, and 8

This last section, and nearly the second half of the book, delves into the various individuals and groups God has used in the Scriptures as witnesses or missionaries to the peoples of the earth. Kaiser argues that Israel, generally, was to be God’s missionaries to the world. He includes both a plural and a singular object of focus in the “Servant songs” of Isaiah (especially 42 and 49). On the one hand, Kaiser notes (along with the majority interpretation) that the Servant songs of Isaiah are speaking of the Messiah. However, Kaiser also shows that there is a relationship between the Messiah and Israel (God’s people) that cannot be brushed aside. The Messiah does not replace Israel, Kaiser argues, but the Messiah brings the missionary task originally given to the people of God to its ultimate fulfillment.

Next, Kaiser points to Jonah as an example of God’s instrumental use of an individual to bring His message to Gentiles. God’s message was reluctantly delivered by Jonah, and the Gentile people of Nineveh were repentant. These Gentiles stood in stark contrast to the people of Israel of that day, for they heeded the word of the Lord and submitted themselves to Him. Additionally, the prophets Joel, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah all speak of God’s extended blessing to the Gentiles (the peoples of earth) as well as Israel. Therefore, not only were God’s people (Israel) supposed to be “lights to the peoples of the earth,” but God also sent prophets from among them to the “peoples” in order that they would “hear the good news of the coming Man of Promise and the blessing that God intended for all to hear” (74).

Lastly, Kaiser looks to the Apostle Paul as a case study in both missional efforts as well as a missionary with Old Testament grounding for such efforts. Kaiser said that Paul believed himself to be no innovator of missionary strategy or targets. He said, 

“The case for evangelizing the Gentiles had not been a recently devised switch in the plan of God but had always been the long-term commitment of the living God who is a missionary God. This is the same case that is consistently, even if at times only rudimentarily, found in the entire corpus of the Old Testament” (81-82).

In this concluding statement, for both the last chapter and the entire book, Kaiser summarizes his main point throughout. He did indeed work to demonstrate a divine program, spanning from Genesis to Revelation, to glorify the Lord by bringing salvation to all peoples on planet earth.

Critical Interaction

This book was an eye-opening and interesting read. I believe that the author successfully argued his case, and I believe that his thesis is accurate. I was impressed and humbled by the sweeping and deep knowledge of the Scriptures (especially the Old Testament) the author demonstrated. I was also quite surprised by the significant scholarship interaction that the author made available in the pages of this book. 

The walk through the various covenantal promises of God and the plethora of Old Testament examples of God’s active work to bless “to the ends of the earth” was great. I believe the grand narrative of the Scriptures was mapped out well. The numerous citations of the biblical text, and the detailed interaction with them was marvelous. No reader could argue that the author merely invented a system to superimpose upon the text. The author’s mention and critique of scholarly deviations from his own view were interesting and important to the discussion of the topics at hand.

However, I have one negative to mention here. In my opinion, the book is not easily accessible for the average reader. There were a number of instances that the author went into greater scholarly depth than necessary to argue his point. On the authorship and dating of Jonah, for example, the author did not need to prove the historicity of this prophetic book in order to argue the remainder of his point. Jonah was a prophet to Gentiles, and this is evident from the text presented by the author. Another example is the discussion on “justice” and “judgment” (59). It was quite technical, but that was not necessary in my view.

Conclusion

I am glad to have read this book, and glad to review it. It has been an enlightening walk through the promises of God and the reality that God is a missional Savior for all peoples from the beginning. I believe this subject needs more time and investigation, but I may simply be unaware of the greater body of work available. I hope to read and think more on the topic in the future.

What does “Life on Mission” mean?

Christians are notorious for having a vocabulary that sometimes confuses the non-Christian world. Christians may talk about the time they “walked an aisle” or how they “feel led” to do this thing or that thing. As curious or confusing as phrases like these might be to someone who doesn’t know the lingo, there is a term that has become increasingly more popular (and potentially more confusing) in recent times: MISSION.

A Mission is an assigned task to be carried out for a particular purpose. This is certainly in focus when a Christian refers to “missional living” or “life on mission.” However, in Christian circles the term “mission” was once reserved for specific people who crossed ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and/or geographical barriers for the sake of the Gospel.

In other words, mission is what missionaries do. This perspective has changed, and I think this is generally a good thing.

Since mission is no longer attached only to missionaries, it is helpful to define what we actually mean by the term now. In order to help further the conversation and to encourage active participation in the mission, I would like to offer the following as a brief introduction to the terms, phrases, and concepts that now set the parameters of the wide discussion about MISSION.

MISSION

The Father’s Mission: Mission, in its broadest sense, encompasses all that the triune God is and has been doing in the world to bring about His intended purpose of creating a people for Himself and for His glory. From Genesis 3:15, God has been revealing His mission and displaying His glory in the rescue of sinners by the means of a Savior who is both God and man (King of glory and ‘offspring of woman’). This mission culminates in the eternal glory of the new heavens and new earth, addressed in Revelation 21-22. John wrote, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1–2). The intimate and glorious relationship between God and man is restored through the outwork of God’s mission in real human history.

Christ’s Mission: Mission, in another sense, focuses upon Christ’s person and work in redeeming sinners. Of course, as I stated above, God’s mission to redeem sinners did not begin with the miraculous conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. And yet, the focal point of Christ’s person and work in human history is the apex of God’s missional work on earth (Col. 1:21-22). Jesus Christ is the supreme Prophet (revealing God’s majestic character and holy nature), He is the perfect Priest (mediating peace between God and man), and He is the most gracious King (providing benevolent authority and making perfect provision for His people). As Prophet, Priest, and King, Christ’s mission put human flesh upon the mission of the triune God; and Christ continues to operate in this three-fold office in His mission to redeem sinners to the glory of God (Jn. 6:38-40; cf. Heb. 8:1-2; Col. 3:1-4).

The Spirit’s Mission: Mission, in still another sense, focuses upon the Holy Spirit’s work of applying the work of Christ, as well as completing the mission of the Father. The word or message of God is proclaimed in the world, and it is the Spirit of God who applies that word to sinful humans (Eph. 1:13, cf. Jn. 3:3). The Holy Spirit makes dead sinners live, and brings them into the universal (spiritual) body of Christ (Eph. 2:1-10; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). Initiation into the body of Christ is not the end of Christian living, it is the beginning; and the Holy Spirit continually sanctifies the Christian (shapes him/her into the likeness of Christ’s character) throughout his/her mortal life (1 Cor. 6:11). This process of progressive sanctification is perfectly complete when the Christian enters into the glorious life to come (1 Thess. 5:23; cf. Rom. 8:29-30).

The Christian’s Mission: Mission, in relationship to the the individual Christian and the collection of all Christ’s disciples on earth, refers to the involvement of Christ’s followers in the mission of God. This concept is quite broad, and the term “mission” (as applied in this sense) may include a whole host of things (anything that embodies the concept of “lights in the world” [Phil. 2:15]). However, it is important to note that all of the things that may be included under the heading of “Christian Mission” must necessarily be accompanied by the qualifying mark of Gospel motivation and proclamation.

The Christian’s Mission is not primarily to make a better world, but to engage the world for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of Christ.

As the Gospel motivates Christian engagement with the world, so too should that engagement produce positive results in the world. But when the positive results are the main goal, then the Gospel loses its primacy and the mission is no longer Christian, and, therefore, no longer participation in God’s Mission.

MISSIONS

This term is probably most familiar to those who have been involved in Christian community for some time. “Missions” has been used, nearly exclusively, to refer to short and longterm missionary engagement across ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and/or geographical barriers. Professional missionaries (those who are financially supported by others and sent for Gospel engagement) and average churchgoers have been involved in missions for a long time now. Missionary families and individuals have relocated for significant periods of time in order to make a Gospel impact on a certain people group. Average families and individuals have left home for short periods of time in order to support and compliment the efforts of missionaries.

In more recent years, this term has also gained a new usage for geographically localized Gospel engagement as well. Local Missions efforts may be distinguished from the Global Missions strategy, but it has been helpful (in my opinion) to understand these two as significantly related. Therefore, it may be helpful to define “missions” as any Christian effort to engage a people group, for the purposes of Gospel proclamation and instruction, that is culturally or linguistically distinct from the active Christian effort.

MISSIONAL LIVING or LIFE ON MISSION

Like the term above, the phrases “Missional Living” and “Life on Mission” are applied in a very broad way in Christian circles today. The differentiating element of these phrases from the term above (missions) is the reality that all Christians everywhere are intended to live as “missionaries” in the world. Too long, Christians have comfortably left the job of evangelism and disciple-making to “professionals.” Pastors, missionaries, and evangelists have been commissioned by local churches, and many of the Christians who have commissioned them have imagined that their part of the missional task is complete.

And yet, in recent years many Christian have come to realize that they too are responsible for making disciples. This rediscovery of biblical truth, commonly understood among Christ’s followers at various points of human history, has sent rippling effects throughout the Christian communities in America. Christian moms and dads are realizing their responsibility to disciple their children. Christian young people are grasping their obligation to evangelize their schoolmates. Christian employees are taking the initiative to engage their coworkers on spiritual and biblical matters. Christian business owners are looking for ways to sow Gospel seeds into to those under their influence. Christian families are opening their homes and lives to their non-Christian neighbors in order to make opportunities for Gospel conversations. All of this, and more, is Life on Mission.

Missional Living (1) the understanding that Christ has commissioned all Christians to be about the task of disciple-making, and (2) intentional and active participating in that task.

 

These definitions are not authoritative, but I believe they are accurate and helpful to those who participate in any conversation about mission. The most important takeaway from this article, however, is not what terms we use or how we use them. Rather, if you are a Christian, you must ask yourself, “Am I a participant in the mission of God?”

May God cause every Christian to be ignited by a passion to participate and live Life on Mission, for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of Christ.


 

How are you living a life on mission? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.

T4G Reflections: David Platt – Martyrdom & Mission

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Together for the Gospel 2016. I have also enjoyed reflecting upon some of the messages I heard over those three days, and I have posted some brief articles on a number of them (see my “T4G Reflections” articles).

In a general session address, David Platt spoke about martyrdom and the lessons we can learn from some Protestant Reformation era martyrs about mission. Below is a recap and my own considerations concerning the speaker and the topic.

As I mentioned in another “T4G Reflections” post, I do enjoy the ministry and focus of David Platt. His intense approach suites him well to address the topic of Martyrdom and Mission. While Platt has not experienced martyrdom (I thank God that he is still alive as I write these words), it seems that his Christ-exalting commitment and intensity is just the right recipe for him to exhibit the kind of faithfulness that remains – even unto death. I pray that he is able to avoid such an end, but more conscientiously I pray that Platt will remain faithful.

In a way that only David Platt can, he asked two questions, one for Protestant Reformation martyrs and another for us today.

First, “Why were they willing to die?”

Men like John Rogers and Rolland Taylor went to their death reciting the 51st Psalm. While there might be many other ways to assess their motivated resolve to maintain their commitment to Reformation beliefs, such a specific and recurring recitation is and was fascinating. Platt suggested that this similar performance for many of the martyrs is indicative of their frame of mind, both prior to and during their own executions. From this passage, Platt surmised that these men and women believed at least three things that motivated their willingness to die for what they believed.

One, they believed their depravity deserved damnation. This, at first, seemed an odd place to begin. However, it quickly became apparent that this was exactly the right place to begin. For such a beginning would afford these martyrs the proper perspective as they faced such dreadful opposition. One is very often disappointed and frustrated by adverse circumstances, but these men and women were able to face them with steeled conviction and transcendent contentment because they knew that anything less than eternal hell was gracious on the part of God.

Two, they believed their salvation was found solely in God’s mercy, and separate from their merit. This may also be a less than immediately recognizable motivation for death-defying resolve, but here we may see the humble unwillingness for these martyrs to take any glory for themselves. Not only would they refuse to raise their own merits to God as justification for themselves, but they even refused to acknowledge any contribution among others who may demand such an admission. God alone is worthy of glory, and Christ alone saves guilty sinners apart from any effort or work they have done.

Three, they believed that love like this was worth losing their lives to proclaim. Platt was adamant to remind us that a silent message is no message at all. These martyrs could have avoided their untimely demise by simply believing truth and keeping quiet about it. None of them died for simply believing that salvation is exclusively through Christ and apart from any merit of their own. They died because they proclaimed this Gospel of grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone. This lesson is certainly a potent one for us today.

Second, Platt asked, “How shall we live?”

Again, he listed three principles we might implement, based on the convictions of those who have gone before us. One, Platt argued for prioritizing theological precision among God’s people. He pointed out that several of those Reformers who were martyred went to their death over a disagreement with the doctrine of transubstantiation (the teaching that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, though there is no observable change to the elements). Such theological precision is hardly common among many church leaders today, and rare indeed among the laity. While secondary and tertiary doctrines may be handled with grace, charity, and some liberty; no doctrine of Scripture is unimportant.

Two, Platt argued for the mobilization of God’s people for sacrificial mission among all people groups. Because faith alone in Christ alone is the exclusive Gospel that saves, then it is imperative that Christians proclaim that good news to all peoples everywhere. Platt (in his characteristic exasperation) lamented, “When will ‘unengaged people groups’ be an intolerable category for us?” To this I say, Oh, God help us! God forgive us for tolerating such a thing, and God help us to remedy this unbearable reality.

Three, Platt challenged us all to live, lead, and long for the day when “reformation” will be “consummation.” The Church must continually reform, regularly going back to the Scriptures for recalibration, but one day it will not be so. Church leaders, and Christians everywhere, may and should live in such a way that this posture is made visible. We are truly looking for a better country, with those listed in Hebrews 11. Pastors ought to be those who lead on this front by exemplary lives in pursuit of Christ and the spread of His Kingdom – through the Gospel. Finally, all Christians can demonstrate a longing for that day when our faith shall be sight. To this I say, Come quickly Lord Jesus!

T4G Reflections: David Platt – Church & Mission

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Together for the Gospel 2016. I have also enjoyed reflecting upon some of the messages I heard over those three days, and I have posted some brief articles on a number of them (see my “T4G Reflections” articles.

In a breakout session address, David Platt spoke about the local church and its participating in global mission. Below is a recap and my own considerations concerning the speaker and the topic.

My introduction to David Platt was about seven or eight years ago when I read his popular book, Radical. I came away with mixed thoughts about the book, but I was certainly compelled by the author. Any man with such deep convictions must be a man worth watching and hearing (maybe even following). Over the years, I have heard Platt speak a small number of times, and I have appreciated the “Christ-Centered Exposition” commentary series, in which Platt is a contributing author. Honestly, I am not a huge fan of his delivery style (he always seems to be right on the verge of crying), but his content has yet to disappoint me.

In this talk, Platt made an important early statement. He said, “A passion for mission is characteristic of all Christians.” After he said that, he expanded upon it for just a bit and pressed it a little as well. Such a statement has big implications, and Platt directly applied them to the local church context. While some implications are negative (for example: lack of passion signifies an unregenerate heart), his talk was primarily focused upon the things a pastor (or pastors) can do to stimulate missional passion among the local church congregation. Below are some of the stimuli Platt listed as essential.

Platt first talked of presenting God as “God-centered.” The glory of God, the holiness of God, and other attributes which inspire awe, are coming to the forefront in many churches as long-neglected doctrines like these are revived in our day. Whatever one might say about the causes, it is beyond debate that the churches in America have had a very low view of God for some time. God is underwhelming to churchgoers everywhere, and this is simply incompatible with a true (even if only introductory) understanding of God. Platt argued that presenting a man-centered God is much to blame for uncommitted and underwhelming Christianity, but presenting a God-centered God (the God of Scripture) is the antidote.

Platt then argued for a “Word-saturated” ministry. God’s Word is that medium through which God regenerates, renews, and refreshes His people. Since this is true, then all aspects of local church ministry should be saturated with the Word of God. Scripture should permeate everything the local church does. Additionally, Platt contended, we should present a Gospel that is more than mere superstition. Of course, we should expect the Gospel to change lives, but we should not neglect to speak of the Gospel in such a way that we provide sufficient ground for the transformation. If we merely invite people to add Jesus to what they are already doing, then we have left them with no expectation or desire for life-change. But, if we invite people into the Kingdom of Christ, by way of His sacrificial life and death, where they may participate in Kingdom expansion (both personal and communal), then we have opened them up to a whole new world – a “Life-changing” Gospel.

Platt also made things very practical by claiming that pastors are obligated to create and implement a “Disciple-making” strategy. Platt did not seek to reinvent the wheel here, nor did he suggest that any pastor do so. Platt did, however, lay out the simple and biblically-exemplified task of taking others alongside you through spiritual cultivation and growth. The daunting task of discipling others is made more manageable when it is viewed as an ongoing and multiplying process. One man cannot disciple 1,000 others, but he can disciple 5-10, who in turn can disciple 5-10, who in turn disciple 5-10 more, and so on. By the 4th generation removed from the first individual, there would be between 625-10,000 disciples. This kind of discipleship strategy is important to missional living in the local context as well as the cross-cultural context.

I appreciated Platt’s talk tremendously. These overarching principles and practical application were helpful as reminders of what we are truly supposed to be doing on the ground in our local and cross-cultural contexts. I pray that God would bless my own efforts to apply these things, as a Christian and as a local church pastor. I also pray that others among my own congregation will see the tremendous benefit and the biblical mandate to live in this way.

Coalescing Churches and Missionaries

The Church – the universal body of Christ – is a unique institution made up of people rather than materials or mechanisms. Established and sustained by God Himself, the Church acts most like she should when she fulfills the role for which she has been created. The oft-quoted passage at the end of Matthew’s gospel contains the commission of the Church – her purposeful assignment and the promise of her providential Lord. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says to His disciples,

“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.”

Mark Dever (commenting on this very passage) says, “Jesus’ command to go ‘to the ends of the earth’ [or ‘all nations’] reminds believers that Christ is Lord over all, that he loves all, and that he will call all to account on the great day. Therefore, Christians today have a responsibility to take the gospel around the world.” Dever also understands that congregations (local expressions of the universal Church) are bearers of this same responsibility, because congregations are made up of individual Christians. “Christians together can pool wisdom, experience, financial support, prayers, and callings and direct them all to the common purpose of making God’s name great among the nations…” Dever leaves no room for individual Christians or assembled groups of the same to remain unengaged from this Great Commission when he says, “Witnessing the glory of God proclaimed around the globe in the hearts of all his people should be an end and purpose for every local church.”[1]

Involvement in this intentional activity is no peripheral matter for any local church, and many congregations have been purposefully working at it for a long time. However, recent research and contemporary conversations are revealing that a disconnect may have developed over time between the two prongs that have formed the spearhead of this Christian commission. Local churches in America seem to have been allowed to understand missions as something that is done over there – anywhere but here – by someone called a missionary. Many local churches support “missions efforts” with their financial backing, giving a portion of their budget to some kind of cooperative program that distributes funds to local and international missionaries. Sometimes local churches may even call a special prayer meetings with a “missions” emphasis, but taking ownership of particular missional efforts appears to be lacking at best. In addition, the perceived distance between missions and local church ministry has permitted most American Christians to remain personally unengaged from the Great Commission. This is a tragedy.

What is worse is that missionaries, having such a strong commitment to go and tell, are continuing to do so without an essential and healthy attachment to a local church or churches. “The problem is that there are now missionaries all over the world with virtually no connection to local churches to love and care for them, shepherd them, and join them on mission.” To compound the loss, “there are also local churches full of laypeople talking about being ‘missional’ without the benefit of learning from those who are actively crossing cultures with the Gospel. They are talking about mission without the input of missionaries (emphasis added).”[2] If one is to understand what it is to be missional, it is imperative that one understands what it is to be a missionary.

Ed Stetzer helpfully defines the term “missional” in his standard-setting work on the subject of “missional churches.” He says, “Missional means actually doing mission… adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound.”[3] With this definition in mind, it is helpful to consider that missional living may only realized in the local church context as missionaries and their efforts are appropriately known and celebrated in the local church.

The bringing together of missionaries and the local church is a combination that regains the benefits of the multi-membered body of Christ. If the missionary is the extended arm of the local church, then the local church is the core, which lends stability, resources, and strength to the missionary. Just as the arm needs the core to function properly, so the core needs the exercise, reach, and functionality of the arm in order to remain healthy. There are many more aspects of local church ministry that may not include a direct relationship to missionary efforts, but all of what the local church is and does should center around the idea of living missionally in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – both in the context of its own community and in the world at large. These two distinct branches of missional engagement (missionaries and the local church) are so intertwined that each compliments the other in multiple ways, particularly when they are both functioning healthily.

The pervading goal of the missionary is the same as the local church, namely the Great Commission – make disciples, baptize them, and teach submission to Christ to the glory of His great name. If this directive is embraced and acted upon, the result will inevitably be a plurality of baptized disciples who will be life-long learners who grow in their submission to Christ. This plurality of Christians, if the missionary is properly focused on the task, will be formed into a local church themselves. “The result of [the missionary’s] work should be biblical, local, independent churches that reflect the soil in which they are planted.”[4]  Therefore, the missionary is most effective when he is planting local churches with those baptized disciples who have benefitted from his proclamation of the Gospel.

These locally planted churches will be better churches if they resemble the same kind of local church(es) that have cultivated a quality relationship with the missionary who facilitated their own rooting and grounding. If missionaries and local churches work in tandem (as it seems they were designed to do), then the cycle will simply continue. Aubrey Malphurs says of church planting and its ultimate goal,

“We are not to start just any kind of church; they should be Great Commission churches. These are churches that take most seriously Jesus’s command to make disciples! Making disciples begins with evangelism and continues with edification or the building up of the saints in the faith with the ultimate goal of their attaining spiritual maturity (Col. 1:28–29; Heb. 5:11–6:1).”[5]

Malphurs’ statement brings us back to the beginning; the Church acts most like she should when she fulfills the role for which she has been created. The goal of newly planted church is the same as the missionary, and it is the same as the established local church congregation. When the established local church is healthy, she will serve her role well as a support structure for the missionary and a model for the church plants that (by God’s grace) result from his efforts. When the missionary is healthy, he will serve his role well as an evangelist and facilitator for the eventual indigenous church plant(s) as well as a motivation and inspiration for the congregants who support him. When the indigenous church plant is healthy, she will repeat the cycle with new missionaries and fresh groups of newly converted Christians.

There are so many benefits to this relationship that a brief work such as this cannot explore them all. Suffice it to say that the coalescing of churches and missionaries is a recipe for enjoying vibrant, Great Commission assemblies of vigorous, missional disciples of Christ – both locally and globally.

 

[1]Dever, Mark. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012.

[2]Crider, Caleb, Larry McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Wade Stephens. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. Portland, OR: Urban Loft Publishers, 2013.

[3]Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

[4]Crider, Caleb, Larry McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Wade Stephens. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. Portland, OR: Urban Loft Publishers, 2013.

[5]Malphurs, Aubrey. The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting: A Guide for Starting Any Kind of Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.