The Local Church and The Great Commission: One Mission, Two Contexts

Note from B21: We are excited to announce that the author of this post, Paul, is a new B21 contributor. Paul serves on staff at the Church at Brook Hills. Paul and his family just returned from serving the Lord in a context overseas that was primarily Muslim. He will release two blogs over the next few days that have been influenced from his time spent overseas and conversations with Brook Hills Global Disciple Making Pastor Jonathan B and Lead Pastor David Platt. Please welcome Paul to the B21 team.

The Church is the primary agent ordained by God to accomplish the Great Commission. Yet, after 2000 years, many churches neglect this fundamental truth. For many churches today, global mission is something that happens once a year, sometime between VBS and the youth summer camp. It seems that the local church hasn’t always lived up to the example that we see in the book of Acts. Obviously, there is no perfect church that has it all figured out.  What I want to do is begin a conversation that helps us think through how the church can most effectively proclaim the gospel, make disciples, and plant churches for the glory of God in all nations.

Unfortunately, many churches today have decided to pass off their role in the Great Commission to mission organizations and campus ministries.  Engaging unreached people groups, training missionaries, and sending them out is something many churches allow the IMB, Campus Crusade, and the North American mission board to do.  And as helpful as those organizations can be in serving the church toward her mission, my fear is that we have decided that the responsibility is not ours and have passed it off to these Para church organizations. I am convinced that this strategy is not good enough for the church of Jesus Christ.

All churches have been given one mission, “Make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28).  The word “nations” is best understood as ethno-linguistic peoples, not geo-political nations, but people groups with their own language and culture.  The church has one central mission and that is to make disciples among all people groups. We are not commanded to build buildings, start choirs, or have the most dynamic children’s ministry.  We are called, commissioned, and commanded to make disciples and that command is global in scope (“all nations”).

We have one mission, but we strive to accomplish that one mission in two contexts.  First, we strive to make disciples in “reached” contexts.  Reached contexts are areas around the world where the church already exists. Our primary role in reached contexts is to help strengthen the existing church. In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas are described as returning to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch and “strengthening” the souls of the disciples (Acts 14:22).  Based on that text and others in Acts (15:32, 41; 18:23) the role of the church in reached contexts is primarily to help strengthen the existing churches.

Second, we also strive to make disciples in “unreached” contexts. Unreached contexts are areas around the world where the church does not yet exist. Our primary role in unreached contexts is to help establish and plant the church. In the book of Acts and Romans, the apostle Paul is regularly taking the gospel into unchartered territory and laboring to help establish the church (Acts 13-22 and Romans 15:20-24).  Currently, in our world, there are many areas where the church does not yet exist. There is much work to be done in the unreached contexts.

The majority of local churches are involved in global mission in the reached contexts.  That is good. We need to continue to go to those areas and help strengthen the existing churches and assist them in making disciples, caring for the poor, widows, and orphans. At the same time, more churches need to place a higher emphasis on the unreached areas and people groups around the globe. The church does not exist or is very weak among the Tajik’s (Tajikistan/Afghanistan), Yemini Arabs (Yemen), Somali (Kenya/Ethiopia/Somalia), and Malay (Malaysia). It is not enough to shuttle a group of people to Central America once a year, build some houses, and say that we are doing global missions.  Fulfilling the Great Commission involves evangelism, disciple making, and church planting.  This is a mandate that involves every Christian, and every Church, for 365 days a year.  There is one mission, but we strive to accomplish this mission in two different contexts.  Let’s get active in strengthening and establishing the church for the glory of God among all nations!