For the last few years I’ve been doing quite a bit of processing. Specifically I’ve been thinking about mission. What’s my personal mission? What’s my family’s mission? What’s my small community’s mission? What’s my Sunday School’s mission? What’s my church’s mission?
What’s the mission of a follower of Jesus?
And, to be honest, for a follower of Jesus the answer to all of these questions is relatively straightforward: to make disciples (Matthew 28.19-20). The rub, of course, comes with how one defines these things. What is a disciple? How is one made? And what does it mean that our mission as a follower of Jesus is to make disciples?
What would this look like? How would we get from the places where we find ourselves to the places we think we should be?
Honestly, however, there are a ton of people who have written or spoken about this. Most, if not all of them, will do a better job than me. And most, if not all of them, will probably have more experience.
However, I still think there’s some wisdom to be found in simply following the ways of Jesus as we see them in the Scriptures, whether lived out in Jesus’ own life or in the lives of his earliest followers.
Mission: What Are We Aiming For?
As I was doing some of this self evaluation, I ran into some common denominators. Here they are:
- Comfort — At a really core level I want to aim for things that won’t rock my various boats too much. I want stability and safety. And other things I’m involved in appear to be bent toward this end as well. I mean, really, who wants to intentionally do something that might be uncomfortable? That’d be crazy, right?
- Autonomy — And not only do I want to be all cozy, but I want to have choice in how I make myself cozy. And if I don’t have choice, I want to at least feel like I have choice! I want to be the master of my own destiny. And as I look at the things I’m involved in, the organizations and the people within them all want autonomy too.
- Accumulation — Lastly, I will tend to accumulate stuff that I choose to make me comfortable. I have this gadget and that gadget and the other one too. Each one supposedly makes my life better, but the gadgets are building up. And this desire toward hoarding stuff shows up in the programs, buildings, etc., etc. that our churches accumulate.
These are the things that we tend to aim for. And doing so seems to place us right in line with typical American/Western behavior. But are these things the things we should be aiming for? Or are we way off?
Mission: Perception vs. Reality?
But before we answer the question of what our mission should be, we have to honestly take stock of what our mission appears to be. How would we figure this out?
- Time — How do I spend my time? What takes precedence? It seems to me that I spend an awful lot of time trying to make cool things that will attract people to me or to the communities I’m part of. If I build it, they’ll come…right?
- Money — On what sorts of things do I spend my money? Where do the material resources I have go? All too often my money is spent on maintaining my comfort and on stuff that does so. And all too often the money in our Christian communities goes toward the big gathering on Sunday, programs, salaries, and buildings.
- Dreams — What do I dream about? What kind of vision is cast? It seems to me that in my life I dream about my immediate future and the happiness and peace that can be had there. And in communities our dreams tend to be about the glory days that we’re so sure are right in front of us if we just tweak this one thing, have an expert speak into this one area, or focus on a particular market audience.
Mission: Jesus’ Way
It’s not my way or the highway…it’s His way is the HIGH way! And what is Jesus’ way?
- The Kingdom of God — Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). He did this preaching through the use of his words and by embodying it for the sake of others. And what is the kingdom of God? Much ink has been spilled trying to define this phrase. But I think we’ve overly complicated things a bit. The kingdom of God is what happens when God is in charge. So, when God’s in charge people repent from their sins and follow Jesus. When God’s in charge people begin to live like Jesus did, centering their lives on the kingdom of God too. When God’s in charge his clear desire to reach out to the most in need will be lived out in the lives of Jesus’ followers. When God is in charge Christians won’t look, sound, and behave just like their neighbors; they’ll be different. It will be obvious; it won’t be subtle.
- Loving God and Loving Others — Jesus was asked once what it’s all about and he said loving God and loving others (Mark 12.28-31). So love God by praising him, praying to him, learning about him, spending time with him, obeying him, etc., etc. No brainer. And we love others by putting their interests above our own (Philippians 2.3-4). Hard as all get out; but a no brainer too. Jesus’ way is all about love!
- Being Agents of Reconciliation — Lastly, Jesus’ way is to turn us all into his ambassadors of divine reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.18-21). Jesus didn’t take on our sin so that we can be saved but live like we’re not! He did this for us so that we would be set free to live the lives he made us to live — lives of reconciliation. This reconciliation, which is just a fancy word for the mending broken relationships, is dual-directional: up toward God and out toward other people. In other words, it’s our job, all of our jobs!, to help people have their relationships to God mended and to help folks mend their relationships with one another.
Mission: Make Disciples
So the summary of what it means to live out the fact that Jesus is Lord can be stated like this: make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.
- But what’s a disciple? A disciple in the first-century world was a student of a teacher, especially a traveling teacher. Carried over into our context a disciple is a life-long learner of the ways of Jesus. A disciple is centered on the kingdom of God. A disciple loves God and loves others. And a disciple is an agent or reconciliation.
- How is a disciple made? Well, in the first century a disciple was made by literally walking behind the teacher, imitating what he does, learning from what he says, and emulating his attitude. Today this process is a bit different since the risen Jesus, though alive and real to us through the inner working of the Spirit, is not tangibly present. So we have to learn what he does and says in Scripture and imitate it. And we have to watch as trusted disciples exemplify the ways of Jesus for us and then do what they do. And we have to help others meet and follow Jesus in the Scriptures and in our lives. Making disciples can’t easily be accomplished through programs or preaching. It has to be life on life, apprentice-style. Think about how a blacksmith trains an apprentice. He teaches him what to do with his words and actions. That’s what we need to do. Person to person, all throughout the body of Christ, teaching one another how to follow Jesus.
And that’s it. Our mission is to make disciples. As we examine our behaviors and see that our mission appears to be something else, then we must change it to THE mission! There are no other choices. There is no getting around this. This isn’t just for the super-Christians or the paid church staff.
Making disciples is the call on the life of each and every follower of Jesus. That includes me. And that includes you.
What do you think about the mission of your life as a follower of Jesus? As a community? As a church? Let me know in the comments below!