Mission is far more than leaving one’s home for foreign lands. It is the task Christ committed to all members of God’s family, the sharing of the good news of salvation. To understand it better, let’s apply the six questions of basic journalism: Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?
The four Gospels and the book of Acts present the mission mandate given by Jesus in five different ways (see sidebar, “Jesus’ Instructions for Mission”). Together these provide believers with instruction regarding mission. Christ gave these different—and yet in many ways similar—sets of mission instructions to the disciples just before His ascension. On the basis of these instructions, we can answer the six journalistic questions.
The context of these five mandates does not suggest that the 11 disciples were an elite group who received the instructions to become involved in mission. Jesus included all those who were listening, and, by extension, all believers.
In the first-century mission belonged to the whole church. There was no clear distinction between leaders and so-called laypeople. With the mission activity of the whole church, the message of salvation covered the then-known world.
While in Old Testament times the priesthood managed religious affairs among God’s people, Peter in the New Testament wrote to the believers in Asia that nowthey were all part of God’s “royal priesthood,” tasked with proclaiming “the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).1 Paul noted that the “ministry of reconciliation,” a priestly function, had been entrusted to his Corinthian readers and, hence, all believers (2 Cor. 5:18-20).2
Throughout the centuries this vision of the involvement of all believers in mission was lost. With few exceptions, such as the Waldensians, only a select few shared the good news of the gospel. While Martin Luther in the sixteenth century fought against the priesthood of the few, he did not advocate a mission task for the many. The Moravians broke with tradition and sent out their first lay missionaries in 1732. Mission, they said, is an important part of one’s religion and must be exercised for spiritual health. By 1792 William Carey—a self-educated cobbler—insisted that the New Testament command to preach to all the world was binding in his days on all believers.
In early Adventism the notion of spreading the gospel became prominent. Ellen White wrote: “True education is missionary training. Every son and daughter of God is called to be a missionary.”3
Commenting on the Samaritan woman’s bringing her fellow townspeople to hear Jesus, Ellen White wrote: “Every true disciple is born into the kingdom of God as a missionary. He who drinks of the living water becomes a fountain of life. The receiver becomes a giver.”4
Who are those entrusted with the gospel commission, both at home and abroad? We are. Each individual Christian is a missionary.
The mission Jesus left His followers is clearly delineated in the texts noted in the sidebar. Believers are to (1) witness/tell what God has done for them; (2) proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins; (3) make more disciples—to do this they need to “go” and “teach” and “baptize”; (4) and perform signs and miracles through Christ’s power, which is promised to believers.
The work of the disciples was to be done in the spirit of Jesus, who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). As Jesus had given up heaven to live on earth and die on a cross, His disciples were to live for others (see Phil. 2:5-8).
Mission should come naturally, in response to salvation granted freely.
The original instructions regarding the place where Jesus’ followers would carry out their witness included “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Today we could say that mission begins in our backyard or with the neighbors across the street, and continues with those who need our service or the Savior’s words of hope wherever they are—in the next town or on the other side of the globe.
Of late we often talk about the 10/40 window—a geographic rectangle located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator and stretching from North Africa, through the Middle East, and into eastern Asia—and the need for taking Christ’s message of hope to that difficult area of the world. Millions of people with different ideologies who live in this region have not heard the name of Jesus. But we cannot forget about the next town where there is no Adventist presence, or the huge cities where the task is very difficult because people don’t want to open up to anyone.
In essence, our mission field is the whole world and all its 7 billion inhabitants—starting next door!
Jesus promised His presence with His disciples until He should come again. That would mean, I think, that all believers have the task of spreading the love and message of Jesus throughout the whole world as long as time lasts.
The basics of mission appear in the gospel commission. Yet the “how” of mission can be summarized under three main headings:
a. Proclamation or preaching goes far beyond public evangelism, whether in a church or on the Internet. It includes the humble witness of a life lived in tune with God, as well as giving out literature. It also includes dialogue and everyday conversations between believers and their unbelieving friends or family.
b. Service helps people with health, education, finances, and social relations. Community Services and ADRA are service-oriented organizations. So are Adventist hospitals and educational institutions. But service is also the sharing of a meal with someone who has less than we do, or driving a person to a doctor’s appointment. Jesus said He had come that human beings might have life in abundance (see John 10:10). His followers are to foster health and well-being.
c. Fellowship brings people together and allows for proclamation and service to happen. The breaking of bread in the early church was not all Eucharist; it included eating together just for the sake of fellowship (see Acts 2:42-47). And this fellowship was leaven to the growth of the church.
All believers have spiritual gifts they can use to accomplish the mission of Jesus (see Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4). Yet not everyone has the same gift. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 Paul puts together a caricature of a body that is all hands or all ears! God’s gifts are given generously and with great variety—even beyond the lists in the New Testament.
Obviously there are many different ways of sharing the good news. We all need to find our own way of doing it. And be accepting of those who don’t do it our way!
I see two main sets of reasons for each and every church member to be involved in some form of mission. The first focuses on listeners; the second on missionaries.
People have to hear the good news in order to be saved. Paul wrote (quoting Joel) that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He then queries: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:13, 14).
Ellen White quotes this passage and asks: “Do you realize that every year thousands and thousands and ten times ten thousand souls are perishing, dying in their sins? . . . Souls are going to ruin because the light of truth has not been flashed upon their pathway.”5
Before accepting the idea that preaching is indispensable to salvation, however, read Romans 2:14-16: “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
Ellen White has some interesting things to say about the salvation of the “heathen,” whom today we would call “non-Christians”:
“Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished His principles. Through the influence of the divine Spirit they have been a blessing to those about them. . . . Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required.”6
In Prophets and Kings White notes: “Heaven’s plan of salvation is broad enough to embrace the whole world. . . . Constantly He is sending His angels to those who, while surrounded by circumstances the most discouraging, pray in faith for some power higher than themselves to take possession of them and bring deliverance and peace.”7
Putting Romans 2 together with what Ellen White says, we have a picture of a loving God who can save to the utmost. Then why do we need to do mission, to share our faith? The Bible clearly points out the importance of proclamation. Isaiah 61:1, 2 notes the proclamation of good tidings and favor. Ezekiel was told that he was to be a watchman so those who listened to his message might be delivered (see Eze. 3:16-21; 33:1-9). Paul understood that his preaching was essential to the salvation of his hearers (see 1 Cor. 1:21). He was willing to become a slave so “that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:19, 22). Peter boldly preached that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Evidently, mission enhances the possibility of eternal salvation.
It appears that preaching is plan A. God’s plan B allows for exceptions—those whose lives show the graces of the Spirit, unbeknown to them. Thus, whatever we do to facilitate their ability to listen to the “still small voice” is worthwhile.
Although God can grant ultimate salvation to those who have never heard of His love and power, there is no way He can provide to them all the benefits of being a Christian in the here and now. Abundant life here and now is for believers in Christ and those to whom they bring the joyful news of eternal life.
The five texts quoted in the sidebar tell us clearly what God says we should do. There is no hint that there is any other instruction on the topic.
Mission should come naturally, in response to salvation granted freely. One who is full of Christ will naturally bubble over with love to God and others. Those who have experienced salvation will share what they have received, thus they will share their faith. Mission—at home or abroad, personal or public—is necessary to the believer. It is tantamount to exercise; it keeps us in good spiritual health.
There is a reward for doing mission. Jesus said: “Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42). When we put our talents to work for the Lord, we can look forward to hearing the words of Jesus: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). All this is beyond the present satisfaction of serving the Lord of the harvest!
Enough pondering! It’s time for me to check on how my neighbors are weathering the storm we’re having. Perhaps I will share something hot from my oven. Then I’ll pray with them . . . n