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,
by training them to live out all that I have commanded you.
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
phrasing, make disciples of all nations obscures several aspects of
- Disciple = Apprentice Some how we
have reduced the idea of disciple to one who attends church
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
What was and is the Masters trade?
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
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.
And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
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?
everyone, across all boundaries,
of all nations
Many years ago I suddenly
realized that I was restricting this phrase. I had taken that phrase to mean
of all nations
, as in, Make apprentices of some people from each
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
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 Gods design for us only as we
find people outside our church and draw them to be apprentices of Jesus.
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 Kinsellas father, at the very end of the movie we do see others
streaming toward Kinsellas farm to watch (and pay for) the mythic
Many churches assume the same stance. If we build it, they will
come. Jesus designed our mission differently. Make apprentices
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 Potters 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 dont 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 isnt 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
As we do, we need o keep in mind several truths:
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- From unbelief to belef
- 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
The Name designates Gods 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
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 Gods 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 Gods 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 Gods reputation. Pagans are assulating Gods name
and thus undermining Gods reputation as the Savior of his people. Anyone we
baptize takes possession of Christs 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 Gods identity. Peter notes in 1st
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.
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
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 churchs
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: