Posted by: Veroni Kruger | March 3, 2021

What is Mission?

Last week I wrote about what mission is not.  This week I want to focus on what mission is.[*]

MISSION IS THE RESPONSE OF THE CHURCH TO THE MANDATE GIVEN IT BY JESUS CHRIST IN MATTHEW 28.19, 20.

This verse is known as the “Great Commission,” because it is a concise formulation of the command of Christ to his followers (who were to become his Church), of what they should do with the Gospel.  The first part of the Scripture contains specific instructions (verses 19 and 20a), and the second part a promise that implies authority (verse 20b, see also verse 18).  This is characteristic of a mandate:  it contains both a command and delegated authority.

The instructions Jesus gives his disciples centre on making disciples.  One implication of this command is that they will have to be proactive – this is entailed in the fact that Jesus adds the thought of “going” to the command.  The element of “going” as early missionaries sometimes understood it, is not really central.  Colloquially, Jesus is saying, “Get moving, don’t just sit, start making disciples!”      

Jesus guarantees his presence with the disciples in the work of making disciples in the second part of verse 20.  This also lends authority to their enterprise.  They will have authority, because the One who says of Himself that He has all authority “in heaven and on earth” (verse 18) assures them of his abiding presence with them.  There is tremendous assurance in this, as when Paul says “you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15.58).  The Good News rendering is more to the point:  “nothing you do in the Lord’s service is ever useless”. 

MISSION IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE PROMISE IN ACTS 1.8    

Acts 1.8 does not contain a command, but a promise.  Receiving the Holy Spirit will have two consequences for us:  we will have power, and we will be witnesses of Jesus.  Both of these are presented as unavoidable consequences of receiving the Holy Spirit.  It is almost as if Jesus is saying:  with the Holy Spirit comes power; and once you have received that, you will not be able to help being a witness, it will just happen!

Of course, this is exactly what happened on the Day of Pentecost.  Suddenly the fearful disciples were transformed into powerful witnesses.  Peter, who a short time before had still behaved more like Cephas (his name before Jesus gave him a different name) than Peter (the “rock”, the name that Jesus gave him) suddenly became a fearless (and effective) preacher.

In this same way then the church of the Lord becomes Spirit-filled, the (super)natural outcome is unavoidable:  there will be a desire to reach out to those who do not yet know the Lord.  

“MISSION IS THE CHURCH-CROSSING-FRONTIERS-IN-THE-FORM-OF-A-SERVANT” (Bosch, David J, 1980. Witness to the World. Atlanta: John Knox Press, p248).

Attempting to arrive at a conclusive definition of mission, the formulation by David Bosch seems to give one of the best options.  It contains the element of being pro-active (as seen in Matthew 28), as well as defining the basic attitude.  This attitude is best exemplified by Jesus, and therefore should be characteristic of all who want to be his witnesses.  He said He did not come to be served, and in the same way, missionaries should not come as wanting to lord it over anybody, or to impose their own culture or personal habits.  Rather, we should come as servants.  

Frontiers that need to be crossed are any kind of barrier between the Church and non-believers.  These may be social, cultural, political, religious, historical, and language.     

The actual frontier is Rom 3.23.  Wherever there are people who have not yet come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, there are frontiers that have to be crossed by the Church. 

IS THERE A DISTINCTION BETWEEN “MISSION”AND “EVANGELISM?

The Church has basically two types of unbelievers to deal with:  those belonging to the same group as the membership of the Church in general, and those who are from a different grouping altogether.  These can often only be pictured as being on a continuous spectrum, with the boundaries very difficult to discern.  Extremes would be e.g. the children of church members on the one hand, and people who are removed in all aspects, even geographically.

In light of this distinction, the following formulation makes sense:

Mission “ is whatever takes place from the local Church out beyond its boundaries as opposed to ministry that happens within the local Church” (Unpublished Policy Document, Gauteng South Africa Association of  Vineyard Churches January,1998)


[*] Much of the material in this blog comes from my book “What Has Your Church Become” and from the notes on Mission in the training material for TWFTW Diploma in Bible Translation


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