While people today may be vague about the mission of the church, Christ’s apostles were very clear about it. From a Roman prison Paul urged the Ephesians “to walk worthy of [their] calling” (Eph. 4:1),1 which, as Peter explained, is to “proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Loren Mead wrote that during the Apostolic Paradigm of the church, mission was just outside the believer’s front door, even in hostile neighborhoods. But when the church apostatized Christianity was mistaken for the Roman Empire. Being a citizen of the Empire was the same as being a church member because the church’s mission became the responsibility of professionals, whether clergy moving across the countryside or soldiers fighting in the Crusades.2
It is time we recover a personal ownership of the mission of the church.
Biblical mission is always personal—my business, my time, for the sake of my Jesus. Mission is so rare among Christians today that for many faith is but a religion on the periphery of life. It allows them to believe in evolution during the week while being Adventists on Sabbath; or watch films as entertainment that they would never dare to watch in church. Religion affords a certain hypocrisy, a dichotomy between church words and street behavior. Many see it as a traditional phenomenon with no relevance to one’s personal living. Perhaps it helps one feel better about oneself in relationship to what is true, or better, or worthy.
Only a Christianity in which Jesus is the center of a follower’s life will make a difference, whether to the Christian or to his or her other friends and acquaintances. Jesus saves; religious institutions cannot.
Come and see; then go and tell!
Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell gave up sports to serve 20 years as a missionary in China and die in a prison camp. He said: “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.”3
This personal mission concept is actually a personal matter of life or death. Ellen White states: “The same intensity of desire to save sinners that marked the life of the Savior marks the life of His true follower. The Christian . . . is moved by an inexpressible desire to win souls to Christ. Those who have nothing of this desire might better be concerned for their own salvation. Let them pray for the spirit of service.”4
Appreciation for Christ’s sacrifice leads saved sinners to prioritize the saving of souls. We sometimes think that soul winning is not our spiritual gift. But while Christ did tell His followers to witness (Acts 1:7, 8), nowhere in the New Testament is witnessing listed as a special gift of the Spirit. Witnessing is sharing with another what we have seen and heard. It is not a special gift. It is the result of a personal experience—simpler than we think, though harder than we expect.
Everyone, it turns out, witnesses. Fans of the Seahawks football team witnessed the day after Super Bowl XLIX about their disappointment, defeated by the Patriots in the last quarter of the game. Some used their mouths, words, and tone of voice. Some used their cell phones to text friends. Some said nothing, but their body language revealed just how badly they felt.
When a chemistry student gets an A– instead of the expected C, she finds a way to witness. When she hears a marriage proposal from the man she is in love with, she witnesses. When doctors declare that grandpa’s tumor has miraculously disappeared, he, and those close to him, witness!
If it is real in your life, you give witness of it, even when you try not to! And if I know Jesus, I cannot help witnessing for Him. There is only one solution if I have no witness to bear for Him: I must get to know Jesus.
The angels at Jesus’ tomb gave the women a simple formula for success in witnessing: “Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen” (Matt 28:6, 7). The formula? Come and see; then go and tell.
That’s exactly what missionaries do each day, abroad or at home. Every morning they come to see Jesus through the study of His Word, through communion with Him in prayer. Then they have something to share.
Appreciation for Christ’s sacrifice also inspires the spirit of sacrifice. The Christian will “make every other interest subordinate to the work of saving souls,” and will delight “to consecrate all that he has and is to the Master’s service.”5 The more clearly I see the enormous sacrifice Jesus made for me—not just for a generic “world”—the more convicted I become that I must give whatever I have for the sake of others.
Evangelist Leonard Ravenhill’s tombstone asks the following question: “Are the things you’re living for worth Christ dying for?” How about that for perspective? Are my life’s choices worth the death of God’s Son? Did Christ die so I could be more self-righteousness, self-centered, or drown my sadness or pain with food indulgences?
Christians who truly know the Savior do not count the cost of service for Him. No amount of personal sacrifice will ever make up for God’s sacrifice on their behalf. All they have, are, and do will be for Jesus.
One more lesson from Ellen White’s words: “Those who have nothing of this desire might better be concerned for their own salvation. Let them pray for the spirit of service.”6 My own soul is in jeopardy if I have no interest in the salvation of others. This is not salvation by works—giving Bible studies to earn my place in heaven. This is about our heart. It makes perfect sense: not caring about others’ salvation is not knowing Christ. I am lost if I do not know Christ. If my heart is not sensitive to the plight of others, it is also insensitive to the heart of God; for God’s heart is for the lost (see John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9).
But there is hope for me. Hope in prayer “for the spirit of service.” Give me, O Jesus, a love for others as You Yourself have. Lead me, Lord, to put others first in such a way as to love them, think of them, consider their needs, and be willing to meet those needs in Your name. Give me the courage to volunteer for ministry to others even though my soul is so reluctant to do it. Make me, O Lord Jesus, a servant, for Your name’s sake!
Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, will answer such prayers. He will move heaven and earth to place us where we can serve others instead of ourselves. He will instill in us His own loving heart. We will find that leading people to Him is the most joyful, meaningful, fulfilling experience of our entire lives. We will have found our mission in fulfilling the church’s mission.
Ron Clouzet is director of the North American Division Evangelism Institute, and professor of Christian ministry and pastoral theology, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.