Who is responsible to carry out the mission of global salvation? To whom did Christ give his Great Commission in Matthew 28?
That’s a more complicated question than merely asking who was there when Jesus spoke the words recorded in Matthew 28:18–20.
In one sense the commission to missions was given to every individual Christian. But in another sense it was given primarily to local churches.
Why would I say that?
Each of us individually is called to obey Christ’s command to make disciples who know and obey his Word. But how does he intend us to do that? His Word is clear: normally we’re to pursue obedience, build up disciples, and plant other churches through the local church.
The local church makes clear who is and who is not a disciple through baptism and membership in the body (Acts 2:41). The local church is where most discipling naturally takes place (Heb. 10:24–25). The local church sends out missionaries (Acts 13:3) and cares for missionaries after they’re sent (Phil. 4:15–16; 3 John 1–8). And healthy, reproducing local churches are normally the aim and end of our missionary effort (Acts 15:41; Titus 1:5).
The Local Church, for His Glory
Why is God so committed to accomplishing this great work of redemption through his church? Because he is passionate for his own glory. He has determined to act through history “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). God is committed to using the church to accomplish his work of redemption to display the glory of his wisdom to the universe. The church was God’s idea. It is his one and only organizational plan for world missions. Most of all, it is his Son’s beloved, blood-bought bride.
The church was God’s idea. It is his one and only organizational plan for world missions. Most of all, it is his Son’s beloved, blood-bought bride.
Consequently, any human-invented organizations that assist in missions must remember that they’re the bridesmaids, not the bride. They’re stagehands, not the star. That position, honor, and responsibility has been given by Christ to his church and only to his church. Organized cooperation among churches for the sake of missions is a wonderful thing, but those who organize that cooperation must remember that they’re coming alongside—not supplanting—the local church.
The local church is the engine of world missions. Even as we consider our own individual commitment to the global mission, we should do so in the context of our roles as church members. If we’re to understand how to pursue the mission faithfully, the local church must be central to identifying, training, sending, and supporting. The mission has been given to Christ’s church for Christ’s glory.
How to Approach Missions
But how does God want his mission to go forward? It’d be cruel for God to know what he wants but then leave us to figure it all out. God would never treat his children that way.
Throughout his Word, God has given us a treasury of instructions on the global mission of the church—what it is and how to approach the mission in faithfulness and joyful confidence. We love and honor him not merely by working toward the final goal he’s given—worshipers from every language, tribe, people, and nation (Rev. 7:9)—but also by using the means he has decreed. And he has told us that his global mission will advance through holy lives, faithful prayer, gospel proclamation, and healthy reproducing churches.
The local church is the engine of world missions.
The Bible tells us what the mission is: the church’s mission is to display the glory of God by declaring the gospel to all peoples, by gathering churches in every place, and by filling them with disciples who obey God and will praise him forever for his grace (Isa. 56; Matt. 28:18–20; Rom. 15:7–13; Eph. 3:8–11; Rev. 7:9–10).
The Bible tells us how the mission will go forward: through prayerful dependence, gospel proclamation, biblical discipling, and church planting (Ex. 6:5–8; Rom. 10:17; Col. 4:2–4; 1 Thess. 5:11).
The Bible tells us what kind of missionaries we should support: biblically faithful, methodologically patient, gospel proclaiming, church-loving missionaries (Acts 16:1–3; Rom. 10:14–15; 2 Cor. 8:23; 2 Tim. 4:1–5; 3 John 1–8).
The Bible tells us what the end goal of missions should be: transformed individuals in biblical churches who will ultimately join a heavenly multitude praising the Lamb of God forever (Rom. 8:1–11; Heb. 10:19–25; Rev. 7:9–10).
That’s just a tiny sampling of what Scripture has to tell us about missions. We’re not left alone to lean on our own puny resources to figure out the mission of the church for the nations. God is much too kind and serious to have done that.
Andy Johnson (PhD, Texas A&M) serves as an associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.
Editor’s note: This is an adapted excerpt from Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global by Andy Johnson, ©2017. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.