Click here to listen to a sermon about how Redeemer Baptist Church approaches missions.

Summary Outline:

1. Is making disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ
2. Is a present reality, the current status of missions
3. Is for believers to pursue
4. Is for believers to pursue right now
5. Is to be pursued urgently and wisely
6. Has a motivating purpose

Imagine asking a four year old to help you clean up the living room. The goal or mission is to clean up the room and put everything away. And there’s some urgency to this. You’re going to have dinner in a half hour, and it needs to get done by then. Now imagine that the four year old has all kinds of good interests, desires, and passions that in a different context are very good. Passions like playing with the toys. Passions like being tired and needing to rest. Passions like organizing the toys by shape and color. Desires like painting a picture. I’m sure we could come up with more. But imagine that the four year old tried to pursue all of those good passions while trying to pursue the mission of cleaning up the room. And imagine the the four year old even argued that pursuing his or her good passions were part of accomplishing that mission. Would you buy that? No, there’s only a half hour, and we need to get this job done. The toys just need to go in the bins and the books need to get on the bookshelf. This isn’t as much of a hypothetical as you might think. When we clean up the house there’s a lot of reminding of what the mission is. We even have songs to remember the mission: “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere. Clean up, clean up, every body do you share.” We can take this same principle and apply it to missions. There are a lot of ideas about what missions is, and we can become distracted by otherwise good things that aren’t central. Stephen Neill famously wrote, “If everything is mission, nothing is mission.”

1. Is Making Disciples by Declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ – The “What” of Missions

Matthew 28:18-20
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

When it comes to missions we can have such a broad general definition that we can lack focus and can easily get distracted from the main work that we are set apart, called, and commissioned to do in Matthew 28. The word “mission” comes from the Latin word mittere that comes from the mission of the Christian church. Eckhard Schnabel wrote, “The Latin verb mittere corresponds to the Greek verb apostellein, which occurs 136 times in the New Testament (97 times in the Gospels, used both for Jesus having been ‘sent’ by God and for the Twelve being ‘sent’ by Jesus).” [2] We aren’t all Apostles who have witnessed the risen Christ and received our commission directly from him, but we are the church that inherited the practice from Acts 2:42 as we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship. We are the church that Paul describes in Ephesians 2:20 is, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” And through the Apostles, the sent ones, emissaries, or missionaries of Christ, we have been commissioned, and now set apart and sent out to pursue their same mission. To make disciples of all nations. To preach the good news that hopeless sinners who deserve God’s eternal wrath can be saved by faith alone in the death and resurrection of Christ alone. Paul described the goal of their apostleship in Romans 1:5 was, “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among the nations.” (Cf. Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17) Obedience of the faith or the language in other texts of “obeying the gospel” simply means that they were laboring so that more and more people would hear the good news of Jesus Christ, and that they would turn from their sin and believe in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus has commissioned all of those who would follow after Him to live for the sake of His name. Mission of the Great Commission is to pursue evangelism, or “teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.[3] Christian Missions is simply taking the responsibility we have as Christians in evangelism and applying it to not only reach our neighbor across the street, but the nations with the gospel. 

Pursuing “social justice”, depending on what you mean by it, can be a good thing. Seeking to alleviate poverty and improve medical care; investing in good public education; digging wells for water; or pursuing racial or ethnic reconciliation are all good things. But we should be careful about making these a core part of Christian mission. This isn’t the reason that we send out missionaries, even though they may do some of these things as they pursue the mission of sharing the gospel and seeking to bring about the obedience of the faith. The mission of a local church is not the amalgamation of every individual members’ particular desires to pursue social justice, mercy and compassion ministries, or community outreach. All of these things are important, we want to encourage all of these things, but the mission of the church is more focused. We don’t want to be like the four year old who is constantly distracted by good things and takes his eyes off of the central mission. Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert write in What is the Mission of the Church: “We want Christians freed from false guilt – from thinking the church is either responsible for most problems in the world or responsible to fix these problems. We want the crystal-clear and utterly unique task of the church – making disciples of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father – put front and center, not lost in a flurry of commendable concerns. We want Christians to understand the story line of the Bible and think more critically about specific texts within this story. We want the church to remember that there is something worse than death and something better than human flourishing. If we hope only for renewed cities and restored bodies in this life, we are of all people most to be pitied.” [4] Then in the next chapter they define the mission of the church: “The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.” [5] We have to be focused and disciplined to not lose focus on this mission as we pursue any number of good things. We are constantly pursuing missiological triage, and the urgency that we assign to the illnesses and sickness of this world is always focused in on alleviating eternal suffering in God’s eternal wrath by praying and asking our friends and the nations to turn from their sin and trust in Christ alone.

2. Is a Present Reality – The Current “Status” of Missions
According to the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention there are 11,490 people groups in all countries of the world. A people group is the largest group through which the gospel can flow without encountering significant barriers of understanding and acceptance. Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins wrote, “A ‘people group’ is an ethnolinguistic group with a common self-identity that is shared by the various members. There are two parts to that word: ethno, and linguistic. Language is a primary and dominant identifying factor of a people group. But there are other factors that determine or are associated with ethnicity. Usually there is a common self-name and a sense of common identity of individuals identified with the group. A common history, customs, family and clan identities, as well as marriage rules and practices, age-grades and other obligation covenants, and inheritance patterns and rules are some of the common ethnic factors defining or distinguishing a people.”
[6] 11,490 of these exist that we know of on planet earth.

More than half of the people groups of the world fall into what missiologists call “unreached”. An “unreached” people group is one where Evangelicals comprise less than 2% of the total population. There are 6,794 people groups on this earth where less than 2% of their population are evangelical Christians. There are almost 7.3 billion people on this planet and of that there are more than 4.2 billion people in the “unreached” category. And those of the 3.1 billion people in the world who are supposedly reached there are many who haven’t heard of the glorious gospel. That said, there are 4.2 billion people on this planet with less than 2% of their population who are Evangelical Christians.

Lastly, more than a quarter of the 11,490 people groups of the world fall into the category of “unengaged unreached” people groups. There are 3,080 people groups on this planet that aren’t engaged by anyone. Missiologists consider a people group to be engaged when a church planting strategy, consistent with Evangelical faith and practice, is underway. The IMB writes, “In this respect, a people group is not engaged when it has been merely adopted, is the object of focused prayer, or is part of an advocacy strategy.” [7] Of these 3,080 people groups at least 336 of them have a population that is above 100,000 people. There are 195,931,565 people in people groups without anyone seeking to bring them the gospel. There are no Christians that we know of in these people groups, no Bible in their language, nothing. Brothers and sisters, there is much work to be done. And remember, we can’t save people. Remember how we defined successful evangelism, the faithfulness to share. So it is with missions. There is much sharing left to do. And we as a church want to play an active part in taking the gospel to the city of Des Moines, but also to the nations. Pray that we would be like the apostle Paul that the love of Christ would control us (2 Cor. 5:14) for the sake of making His name known among the nations.

3. Is for All Believers to Pursue – The “Who” of Missions
Who ought to do missions? Us. Seriously, it’s us. We’ve considered this a lot, but God’s evangelism plan to reach the nations with the gospel is the local church. So, local churches are caught up in God’s plan to display his manifold wisdom to the cosmos and the nations. (Eph. 3:10) This doesn’t mean that we all ought to go to the nations for the sake of the gospel, but I think there are more of us who should go. Brothers and sisters, don’t just shrug this off. Might God use you as His messenger to another nation for the sake of the gospel? It doesn’t matter how old you are. I have a good friend whose parents went to Central Asia when they retired for the sake of the gospel. In the book Let the Nations Be Glad John Piper describes that the driving desire of missions is to see the worship of God increase, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides for ever.”
[8] This passion to see God save more and create more worshippers even controls the thoughts of how we should think about how we use the strength and vigor of our youth, but also how we think about how to use our retirement. Brothers and sisters, don’t give yourself to things that you can’t take with you. And don’t be so consumed in your friends and your hobbies, or your kids’ hobbies that you give not only your finances but your time and attention to things that distract you from worshiping Christ and pursuing to be used by God to create more worshipers through sharing the gospel. If you have the desire to pursue missions, look at your life. People don’t start doing things well just because they are sent out. If a person is growing as a Christian, and pursuing to share the gospel in his or her relationships here, they are the kind of person who would be a missionary. A missionary is basically a normal Christian who simply moves to another place, works their job there, loves his or her family well, and shares the gospel with his or her co-workers, friends and neighbors. Missions is not the Christian pursuit to fulfill your “wanderlust”. Missions not the Christianized version of tourism. It’s fine if you love to travel and see the world, but that isn’t the chief characteristic of a missionary.

Even if you aren’t the one who goes to the nations, each of us are called to be in partnership in the gospel in sending those who are. Consider 3 John 1:5-8:

3 John 1:5-8
Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.

We ought to support people who go out for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ. We may be congregationalists in the sense that Scripture teaches that the local church is responsible for it’s own discipline and doctrine, but we are not alone. Each local church is not an island unto itself. We cannot become so inward focused and isolationistic regarding our relationship with other local churches that we take our eyes off of what Christ has commissioned us to do in partnership with other churches. We cannot descend into a type of tunnel-vision in disagreements about important things to the point that we take our eyes off of our mission. There may be times and seasons when a church has to focus on other important things so that they might more healthily pursue missions in the future. That by no means is “taking our eyes off the mission”, but the question of how we might be part of taking the gospel to the nations should regularly be asked no matter what season a local church is in.

In 3 John we see a helpful picture of local churches partnering together for the sake of the gospel. One of my former pastors described that this passage is our Scriptural mandate and example of what it looks like to truly be Together for the Gospel. Local churches who spend their energy and resources together for the sake of supporting those who go out for the sake of the name. We cannot outsource our responsibility as a church to a missions to board somewhere. That said, the International Mission Board is a great way to use our resources to send out and support missionaries, without replacing the local church. We must pray for and support those who go out for the sake of the name. But also, we don’t only support those whom we know well. Notice how John describes them in verse 5, “strangers as they are.” They didn’t know these brothers well. How are they to support brothers in Christ whom they don’t know? The implication seems to be that they have relationships with other faithful churches who do know these brothers well. Also, they had a mutual relationship with the Apostle John. Supporting “strangers” in 3 John should be tempered with 2 John 1:10 not to support missionaries who are unworthy: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting.” Missionaries are supported, not because they are our best friends, because they are cool, because they are really nice and extroverted. No, we support them based on the trustworthiness of what they are “teaching”. We should be discerning in whom we help support, we should be discerning in what they are doing as they go out, we should consider other wise considerations regarding their qualifications, but if we are in an association with other local churches or agencies that we can trust we should partner together to send people who go out for the sake of the name of Christ, even if we don’t know them or if they are strangers to us. This is one of the main arguments for the biblical nature of church associations. This is what we are pursuing to do together as a church. This is one of the reasons why we are in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. The International Mission Board is a great mechanism for pursuing missions in our generation, and they share our same doctrinal convictions and our understanding of the gospel. The IMB is a way that we are pursuing to support people going out for the sake of the name of Christ in ways that we couldn’t do by ourselves. Some are strangers and some we know well. This is one of the reasons why we are part of the Southern Baptist Convention, to support seminaries who teach pastors and missionaries, but also to support missions itself. We partner with other churches for the sake of the gospel. And the families that we regularly pray for are supported through the our association. If it weren’t for our partnership in the gospel with other churches we wouldn’t be able to provide for all of the needs of those we are supporting. I am so encouraged by the way that we set aside missions to be a significant portion of our church budget. It’s my hope that over time we can only grow in this. As a local church we are about something much bigger than ourselves in pursuing the supremacy of God in missions to all nations.

4. Is for Believers to Pursue Right Now – The “When” of Missions
There is an urgency to share the gospel, because we don’t know when Christ is coming back, and God is saving His people through what we preach before Christ’s return. In Matthew 24:14 Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Cf. Mark 13:10) Now is the time and we are the instruments God is using to proclaim the gospel throughout the whole world before the end. In Romans 9 we read of the meticulous sovereignty of God in the judgment of sinners and in the salvation of His people, but that is followed by Romans 10:13-17:

Romans 10:13-17
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 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? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Brothers and sisters, now is the time. Not only for sharing the gospel with those whom we live around, but those among the nations who are perishing. It doesn’t matter if it’s the hardest or most closed people to the gospel. It doesn’t matter if it’s illegal to share the gospel. It doesn’t matter if they try to kill us, we don’t serve our “best life now”. We aren’t here to sit in comfort. We are sojourners longing, not for our house or to live in the perfect Utopia here in this world. We are sojourners with a message. We are refugees given good news to proclaim to the world of refugees who think they are home and safe and sound. We hear the words of Christ, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd,” (John 10:14-15) and we are in awe that in His sovereign power to the praise of His glorious grace that we are His sheep, and that we have heard His voice; but friends, Christ has more sheep who have not yet heard His voice, and we are the ones that Christ has called out, set apart, and commissioned to go out and share the gospel so that He might fulfill the prayer that we often sing in the hymn How Sweet and Aweful, “Pity the nations, O our God; constrain the earth to come, send your victorious Word abroad, and bring the strangers home.” Brothers and sisters pray this; feel this longing to see Christ’s sheep come in. The time is now.

5. How and Where Ought We to Pursue Missions? – The “How” and “Where” of Missions
Again, unlike the four year old who can get distracted while cleaning up the living room we want to be focused on the task, and we want to do it well. So, far we have focused our support to only a few families. If you support friends who are missionaries, or friends who serve in para-church ministries that is a good thing. But we as a church want to corporately own or have a vested interest in those whom we support as a church. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pray for or even support missionaries individually, but God has put each of us into each other’s lives to partner together for the gospel. It seems wise that we should also consolidate our focus to support a few well, as opposed to supporting a lot poorly. I was a member at a church who came to this conclusion the hard way, and had to go through the process of deciding who they should continue to support, because they were supporting a lot of missionaries, but it was only in small amounts of money, and not focused prayer support or financial support. Instead of giving $100 dollars to 20 missionaries what would it look like to give $1000 to 2. We can better focus our prayers and financial support to fewer. 

Also, how we think about short-term missions is important. Again, missions isn’t a sanctified version of tourism. We want to emphasize relationships. So, we aren’t sending our kids to a place on the other side of the world so they can see poverty and learn how good they have it. We aren’t sending people out so they can figure out how to import western culture and consumerism around the world. No, we want to support the work we know is already going on. So, we may have short-term mission trips where people simply babysit workers in the field for a week, so they can go to a conference and be fed so that they can be refreshed to persevere in the work in their city. We may do mission trips to pursue evangelistic contacts that we can then pass them along to the people there more long term. We don’t want to exasperate the missionaries that we support by sending a bunch of unqualified people to build buildings, so that they can feel like they did something good, only for them to have to stay up after the short-term missionaries go to bed and redo their work because it was so poorly done. [9] Are the mission trips that we take serving the missionaries that we support, or are we hindering their work. We ought to go, not to serve our selfish desires to feel like we did some good, and we should go to serve what would most help the missionaries at their request and on their terms.

Image is from the Joshua Project. Last accessed October 6, 2016: http://bit.ly/2dW7NPM

And we as a church have focused particularly on the 10/40 window. This doesn’t mean that we will never support missions in other regions of the world, but right now we want to focus on the region with the most unengaged unreached people groups, and those people are mostly in the 10/40 window. The 10/40 window spans Western and Northern Africa through the Middle East, Central Asia to Southeast and Eastern Asia. According to the Joshua Project, approximately 62% of the people in the 10/40 Wind
ow live in an unreached people group. [10] But the answer to the question of where we ought to do missions is everywhere. The love of Christ controls us, and Christ’s love is for the nations.

6. Has a Motivating Purpose – The “Why” of Missions
We were sought. The one God who exists in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sent the Son, Jesus Christ, to live the perfect life that none of us have lived and die the death that His people deserve. Someone shared this news with us. The only difference between us and those in the nations around this world is that someone told us the gospel. This is the task of missions. Simply having Christians who live as Christians and talk about Jesus Christ like a Christian does with those around them all over the world, so that God would powerfully save through His word. In the prayer Gift of Gifts in the Valley of Vision it describes this mission of God that saved wretches like us, “Herein is wisdom; when I was undone, with no will to return to him, and no intellect to devise recovery, he came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost, as man to die my death, to shed satisfying blood on my behalf, to work out a perfect righteousness for me.”
[11] We know the love of God in Christ, and it’s our desire not to just keep this to ourselves but to make His sovereign grace to sinners like us known among the nations in the certain hope that God uses His Word to save.

This phrase keeps popping up in passages that I’ve already read, “for the sake of His name.” The chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God forever and part of enjoying Him is sharing your joy with others. This is the heartbeat of missions. Pray this for our church that God would give us the desire to see His name proclaimed among the nations, and that our love for Christ because of His sovereign sacrificial love for us would cause us to unashamedly praise Him and invite others to worship God through Christ with us: Isaiah 12:4, “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.” Psalm 105:1, “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” Psalm 96:2-3, 7, 10, “2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! 7 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! 10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.” Psalm 9:11, “Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” We consider Jesus Christ worth living for and dying for.

John Stott wrote, “The highest of missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God…), but rather zeal – burning and passionate zeal – for the glory of Jesus Christ…. Only one imperialism is Christian…and that is concern for His Imperial Majesty Jesus Christ, and for the glory of his empire.” [12] God’s desire is to build a people from every tribe, tongue, and language. It is our longing to see more reconciled to God through Christ. And we must be willing to suffer for the sake of His name. This is one of the reasons that we give sacrificially to the ministry of a local church so that we can support men and women like this, and so that we can support teachers who might build us up for the work of going out for the sake of His name. Missions is all about the glory of God. I’ll close with this quote from Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” [13]

[1] As quoted in DeYoung, Kevin and Gilbert, Greg What Is the Mission of the Church? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 15.
[2] Schnabel, Eckhard Paul the Missionary, Realities, Strategies and Methods (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008), 27-8. 

[3] Stiles, Mack Evangelism, How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 27.
[4] DeYoung, Kevin & Gilbert, Greg What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 22-3. 
[5] Ibid., 62.
[6] Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins as quoted by the International Mission Board. Last accessed May 7, 2016: http://public.imb.org/globalresearch/Pages/PeopleGroup.aspx 

[7] All of this data is according to the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Last accessed May 7, 2016: http://public.imb.org/globalresearch/Pages/default.aspx 
[8] Piper, John Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 17.
[9] See Mack Stiles, and “When Helping Hurts”, etc.
[10] Last accessed October 6, 2016: https://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/10_40_window
[11] The Gift of Gifts in Valley of Vision, Ed. Arthur Bennett (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 16.

[12] Stott, John Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1994), 53. As quoted in Piper, John Let the Nations Be Glad! (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 9.