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Our Only Mission from God

Do our churches reflect God's purpose?

The following explains at length my philosophy of ministry and how I see the work of aligning our ministries with God’ mission. (see also the role of church leaders in Jesus’ mission)

Make everyone, across all boundaries, into apprentices,
by moving into their world
by enfolding them into the presence, reputation, authority and identity
of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
and
by training them to live out all that I have commanded you.
– Matthew 18:19-20

This rather unique translation of what we call the Great Commission accurately and bluntly points out God's only mission for the church. God calls us to make everyone into apprentices who will live out the commands of Jesus. Therefore, every church of Jesus Christ can evaluate the focus of their ministry by asking: “ Does our congregation effectively and consistently make apprentices for Jesus?” If not, then looking at this command can give us clues as to where along the process we have fallen off course.

  • Make everyone, across all boundaries, into apprentices…” The familiar phrasing, “make disciples of all nations” obscures several aspects of Jesus’ command.

    1. “Disciple” = “Apprentice” Some how we have reduced the idea of disciple to one who attends church… however irregularly. But the Greek word translated “disciple” literally means an apprentice, someone who is learning a trade and seeking to achieve mastery of it in reflection of the Master.

      What was and is the Master’s trade?

      For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.
      – Luke 19:10

      I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
      – John 10:10

      For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,
      but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
      – Mark 10:45

      And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
      – Luke 14:27

      Jesus came to give his life for the sake of others that they might have ransom and life. Jesus plied that trade as the Master. Any who aspire to be apprentices (disciples) of Jesus, aspire to master that same trade.

      Therefore, the first way we can measure our churches’ effectiveness in the mission of God will be, “Do we create church-goers, or do we train apprentices in the redemptive trade of Jesus?”

    2. “…everyone, across all boundaries,…” More traditionally “…of all nations…” Many years ago I suddenly realized that I was restricting this phrase. I had taken that phrase to mean “…out of all nations…”, as in, “Make apprentices of some people from each nation…” In my mind it was enough if we just got a few people from each area of the globe. This shortchanges what Jesus meant.

      The Greek indicates that a better understanding would be, “Make all the nations into apprentices…” Each Jesus wants “nation” (people grouped by language, culture or heritage) as a whole brought into his apprenticeship program. This revolutionizes our view of this project.

      • Jesus charges the church with making apprentices of the whole world.
      • Jesus calls the church to recruit beyond every boundary of culture, language or heritage.
      • Jesus indicates that this is the ultimate purpose of every church.

      Thus, our churches fulfill Jesus’ mission and God’s design for us only as we find people outside our church and draw them to be apprentices of Jesus.

  • Make…apprentices by moving into their world… The words usually translated as a command, “Go” are actually a participle, “going” or more properly, “by going”. This indicates that Jesus intends “going” to be a method by which we make apprentices. Going indicates that we move. Too often we have approached this part of Jesus’ mission like the Field of Dreams.

    In the movie, Field of Dreams an iowa corn farmer named Ray Kinsella hears a voice which tells him, “If you build it, he will come.” While the message speaks about Kinsella’s father, at the very end of the movie we do see others streaming toward Kinsella’s farm to watch (and pay for) the mythic baseball game.

    Many churches assume the same stance. “If we build it, they will come.” Jesus designed our mission differently. “Make apprentices… by going…” We are to move from our situation into their situation.

    • …by going to them physically. Before we can apprentice someone we need to get close enough to have a relationship. The title of one of Bill Hybels’ books tells the whole story, Just Walk Across the Room. Going means taking the initiative to get close to those who have not yet become apprentices. One set of enterprising apprentices of Jesus in Grand Rapids, MI moved into the poor, multi-cultural Grandville Avenue neighborhood. As a result they eventually built the state-award winning Potter’s House Schools, Christian-based education for those far from God.
    • …by going to them socially. Sitting next to someone on a subway or in a classroom does not make them apprentices of Jesus. They need to be drawn into the life of Jesus through our life. Entering into their friendship circles, valuing them as people and then friends… these lay the basis for making them disciples. Some church-goers have become so involved in the church that they have forgotten how to make deep friendships outside of a church context. For them, my wife and I have designed the Befriending and Inviting course.
    • …by going to them culturally. Here we meet perhaps the most difficult boundary. Culture is tied up with language, music, apparel, customs and so much more. Paul described the typical missionary response to this boundary.

      Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God:s law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
      1st Corinthians 9:22

      For Paul this was a relatively easy transition. He was a bi-cultural (Greek/ Jewish) individual, growing up in the Tarsus region. Many others have such advantages and others have learned how to be multi-cultural. The real difficulty comes when a person has not grown up crossing cultures.

      “But Wayne,” you say, “we don’t have any cultures to cross here. We live in a homogeneous neighborhood.” Maybe, and probably not. The culture of the church and that of our neighbor who doesn“ go to church has diverged. The language, music, apparel and customs we see inside a church often bear little resemblance to that of our neighbors. Unsurprisingly, we are mostly unaware that when we speak about and worship God we used words, actions and music which seem foreign to outsiders. This unique culture influences our personal cultures and places us at a distance from them.

      So how do we influence our personal ability to cross these cultures, and even more importantly, how do we cross cultures as churches?

      Crossing cultures as individuals reminds me of a saying about the Christian faith: “It is simple. It just isn’t easy.” We come to cross boundaries by caring more about those other people than about our discomfort. We cross boundaries by choosing to love others and curiously learn their ways. We value them so much as people that we want to understand their ways, even if they seem strange or even wrong to us. We enter into their lives and accept them, living with them and slowly becoming conversant with how they live.

      Of course, if your neighbor speaks another language, this will take more effort. As much as we might want them to learn our language, Jesus’ command to make them into apprentices by gong says that we take the initiative, even with languages.

      Crossing cultures as churches becomes a more complex event. Institutions, such as the local congregation, are built on a culture. Even the most “contemporary” or “powt-modern” church develops a culture, language, customs and traditions that become challenged in a cross-cultural environment. And, again, the culture of our neighbors who are not apprentices can present as formidable a challenge as any other.

      Some time back, Bill Hybels, lead pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, realized that their main services were aging. The worship and teaching style appealed to Baby Boomers and did not speak to many Millennial and Mosaic generation people. In order to address this issue he began a completely different worship service. He knew that at that time in his church, he could not hold one service that would speak clearly to both cultures – the church-going Baby Boomers his church contained and the more secular Millennials and Mosaics it did not.

    • Many churches take this path, providing separate worship, separate ministries, and even separate churches so that the main body of the church does not have to cross cultures. However, since our church culture and secular culture have diverged, our churches will need to modify their culture to make apprentices “…by going…”. As we do, we need o keep in mind several truths:

      1. We can never completely bridge the gap between cultures. Any church altering its culture to make apprentices will face barriers.

        The church cannot compromise the truth of the Good News of Jesus. Whatever language or symbols we begin to use must clearly communicate the never-changing truth about Jesus.

        Any church appealing across cultures in one worship service or ministry will end up with a mixture of the two cultures which will not fully represent either. Even within “church cultures” we see this happening. Someone once said that a blended worship service (mixing traditional and contemporary styles) provided something for everyone to dislike.

        Furthermore, while it is not common, there have been instances of very historic styles of worship being embraced by a different culture, such as African-American Roman Catholic churches. Even her, though, eventually the culture of the people will influence the culture of the church.

      2. We need to avoid tokenism and inauthenticity. Simply adding a song or two from another culture does not create a cross-cultural worship. And it will be difficult to design a ministry that will effectively call people from another culture into Jesus’ apprenticeship program without being guided by people from that culture. Instead, we will create what we think their culture will look like and the result will not ring true. Truth be told, I cringe at most Anglo churches when they sincerely trying to sing Black Spirituals or Latino Canciones. Without someone who has actually learned from that culture leading the singing, the results remain shallow and inauthentic.
      3. We need to have a full partnership with Christians from that culture who will assist us in the blending. Whether they are formerly secular or from another culture, only as we extend authority to those who know the culture we are trying to reach will we empower them to lead us where we need to go. Extending them authority, of course, means we give up some of our control. This loss of control causes many churches to balk.

  • Make…apprentices by… enfolding them into the presence, reputation, authority and identity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit… Baptism into the “name” represents and decrees that a person has become a part of Jesus’ body.

    For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body…
    1st Corinthians 12:13

    The reality takes longer. In most instances people become well invested in the people of a congregation and integrated into the life and ministries of a church long before they commit to baptism. And whether or not this occurs before baptism, for apprenticeship to take hold it must happen afterward.

    Therefore, this second method of Jesus’ mission spans two transitions:

    1. From unbelief to belef
      and
    2. From outsider status to insider status.

    We go out to bring them in to the belief and the body. Both must happen. Entering belief without entering the body prevents the third part of Jesus’ mission. Any ministry that creates believers unattached to the body actually undermines the mission of Jesus. Thus, many times large-scale events where people “go forward to accept Jesus” do great harm by leaving believers without a body that knows and cares for them. And we need to go deeper.

    “The Name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit” indicates more than the words we speak over them. The Name signifies a powerfully close relationship with God.

    The Name designates God’s presence. When God spoke of the Temple in Deuteronomy 12:11 he called it

    “the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name.”

    To come to the Name of the LORD means to come into his presence. To be baptized into the name of the LORD – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – means to enfold that person into a body where the presence of the LORD may be found.

    The Name designates God’s authority. Jesus lays the foundation for this by noting in Matthew 28:18, just before this passage,

    “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

    Indeed, Jesus tells us to pray by asking the father “in my name” (John 16:24-26). This clearly refers to asking God for something in the authority of Jesus. To baptize someone is to enfold them into a body where the authority of Jesus reigns.

    The Name designates God’s reputation. In Isaiah 52:5 God complains,

    “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock…
    And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.”

    Clearly the issue here is God’s reputation. Pagans are assulating God’s name and thus undermining God’s reputation as the Savior of his people. Anyone we baptize takes possession of Christ’s reputation. By their life others will evaluate the truth of the Good News about Jesus. Furthermore, to baptize a person is to enfold them into a body which takes seriously the reputation of God.

    The Name designates God’s identity. Peter notes in 1st Peter 4:16

    “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed,
    but praise God that you bear that Name.”

    “Christian” means “Little Christ” Anyone baptized into the Body of Christ carries with them the identity of Christ, as does the church as a whole.

    This indicates an immense responsibility. As we enfold someone into the local congregation, the local physical extension of the Body of Christ, we enfold them into the presence, authority, reputation and identity of God in Jesus to carry that into the world. This lead us to Jesus’ final stage in apprenticeship.

  • Make…apprentices by… and training them to live out all that I have commanded you. In our culture teaching and training often designate very different practices. Teaching evokes images of classrooms and discussion of “head knowledge”. Training pictures hands&45;on experience. Teaching becomes academic education while training calls us to vocational education. Apprentices are trained, not taught.

    My father apprenticed into his work as a mold-maker machinist. ery little classroom work was demanded of him, and that after he became effective at his trade. Rather, he watched another tradesman who knew the work. Then he was given simple tasks to learn on. Watch and do, watch and do. Slowly the tasks became more complex and difficult. Eventually my father became a Master Craftsman. You may well have seen his work in certain large Little Tykes toys.

    In the same way Jesus calls us to take the relationships we have built as we enfolded the new apprentices in Christ to train them in the life of Christ. Yes, this will entail Bible study. If it proceeds no farther than that we will have done no more than hand a person a book on welding and expect them to learn the craft themselves. As Cloud and Townsend note in How People Grow it takes others to draw us into the new behaviors of our life in Jesus. In small-group and one-on-one relationships we will draw them to reform their lives into the life and mission of Jesus.

    This means that intentional small groups and new members mentors and coaches will play a key role in any church that wishes to complete the circle of the Mission of Jesus. Note I mentioned the “circle”. We have not completed the apprentice- training until our apprentice becomes an active and effective part of the church’s outreach – both individually and as a part of the Body of Christ. Jesus’ apprenticeship program does not end when someone expresses belief, or attends church, or becomes a congregation member, or even becomes a church leader. Until we – all of us – grow into people who draw others to Jesus, we have not completed our apprenticeship. We have not mastered Jesus’ craft. The fact that many churches can be satisfied that they have not made any new Christians in recent years shows just how far we are from understanding the Mission of Jesus.

For more information on improving our effectiveness in Our Only Mission see: