The word ‘mission’ naturally derives many thought-provoking connotations depending on certain elements of a person’s life. These may include life experience, thought processes or personal values.
Some initial thoughts of ‘mission’ may lead you to Hollywood and the vast stock of motion pictures depicting army soldiers and navy special forces going behind enemy lines to save damsels in distress. It may conjure up memories in the archives of history and the pursuit of mankind reaching to the stars, going to the moon and the dream of “boldly going where no man has gone before”.
It is true that Hollywood has glorified ‘mission’, transforming the word into a plethora of storylines, both genuine and far-fetched, showcasing both positive and negative objectives depicting a variety of motives.
The motive for ‘mission’ can vary depending on the innate value of an individual's personal desire, whether it be for self-preservation, personal gain, the moral good or in obedience to a higher authority. Humanity is driven by such motives, resulting in actions which can have consequences, for good or bad, which may only be fully comprehended with the benefit of hindsight.
When you search for a definition of ‘mission’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, you will discover two prominent meanings: ‘an important assignment given to a person or group of people, typically involving travel abroad’, and ‘the vocation or calling of a religious organization, especially a Christian one, to go out into the world and spread its faith’.
From a Christian perspective, these two definitions can be collated into one general characterisation of ‘a special assignment given (by God) to an individual/religious organisation to spread the Christian faith at home and abroad’.
The Great Commission
The term ‘mission’ is often referred to as a command, made known to us in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-18).
“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 28:19-20 (ESV)
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole 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 cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” - Mark 16:15-18
Whilst these scriptures highlight the critical need to spread the gospel throughout the world, they also reinforce the love that God has for the people of the world that is displayed throughout the Old and the New Testaments, culminating in the life, death and resurrection of his Son and the mission to spread the gospel throughout the world.
It has always been God’s heart for people to turn to him and it has always been God’s desire to use man to accomplish this task. From Genesis to Revelation, God pleads with man to turn away from sin and the path of destruction and turn instead to Him in repentance to eternal life.
“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous works among all the peoples!” – Psalm 96:3
"And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” – Isaiah 6:8
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:14
“But 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
From Abraham to Moses, Samuel to Nehemiah, through to Malachi in the Old Testament, and from the disciples to Paul and many others in the New Testament, God inspired men and women to mission for the extension of His Kingdom.
Mission should not be taken lightly and those considering the mission field would do well to count the cost. In Luke 10:3 Jesus stated “Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves”.
If you enter the mission field, you will find yourself a target for the evil one which may result in suffering. As John Piper states in his sermon, “You Will Suffer”, this may come in various forms: pain, loss of a child, disease, marital strife, tensions on the team, demonic opposition and/or martyrdom. It is our price to pay in joining in the suffering of Christ, in the proclamation and extension of His kingdom.
As Jesus Himself said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”. We may not have to lay our lives down, but we must be willing to do so if required for the glory of Christ. It may be your life, it may be your reputation or your possessions, it may be your dreams; but God is no man’s debtor and it is worth the cost.
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” – 1 Peter 4:13
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian who stood up against Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, said “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” He was sent to a POW camp and was hanged only days before the American Army liberated the camp. His final words were “This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.”
Another well-known missionary, C.T. Studd, gave up his privileged upper-class lifestyle and gave away his family inheritance to answer the call to the mission field. Others such as Amy Carmichael and William Carey sacrificed relationships and everything they had to answer the call of God.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? - Matthew 16:24-26
The true cost for the missionary is revealed in what they are willing to sacrifice to follow in pursuit of following God. The question is - if you are called are you willing to count the cost?
And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. – Luke 10:2-3 (ESV)
There are an abundance of rewards to gain in the pursuit of advancing God’s kingdom but there are few willing to pay the price. That reward is not of this world and it cannot be withdrawn until eternity. The toil of blood, sweat and tears of the labourer is often only witnessed by a select few and yet championed in heaven.
And yet, not everyone is called to go. There are those called to support, whether by finances, prayer or provision. John Piper states, “There are only three kinds of Christians when it comes to world missions: zealous goers, zealous senders, and disobedient”. If you are not called to go, you are called to support the building of God’s Kingdom through those who are sent. These are often unseen disciples who listen attentively for the voice of God, to support those who go, and yet their reward is no less than those who go. They maintain the provision and ability to continue the work.
In his inaugural speech, President John F Kennedy uttered these historic words, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,”. It challenged every American to contribute in some way to the public good. And yet how greater a challenge, how greater a task, how greater a commission is it to ask every Christian “Ask not what your God can do for you – ask what you can do for your God,”.
Regardless of the issues we face in 2021, and we face many, whether it be the coronavirus pandemic, poverty, mental health or climate change, we still arguably live in a time of prosperity. Even with the problems in the world, we live in a society where we have been blessed. And yet, why is it that in 2021, 41.8% of the global population remains unreached for Christ (Joshua Project). How is it that 51% of Churchgoers in the United States don’t know of the Great Commission (Barna)?
Are we still praying for the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest? Or have we become idle?
The mission fields may vary - the task and the challenges do not. Whether it be your street, your road, your community, your town, your city, your country or a far-off land, the commission remains the same.
You may be called to ‘Boldly go where no man has gone before’ or simply be called to keep going where you have been going your whole life. The most important thing is to be obedient to the command and GO! Our challenge is to be available and obey if and when that call comes, and until it does, support those who have gone before us to the glory of God.