When discussing the specifics of church missions programs, it is critical to begin by understanding the motivation behind missions. A proper understanding of “God’s Mission” will result in a more deeply rooted missions program, and ultimately in a more effective gospel witness.
From the beginning of time God purposed to bring glory to his name by gathering together a people who would worship him in spirit and truth. That group of people would be composed of every color of skin, every language, and every ethnic group because the unity of such a diverse group who have little else in common but their allegiance to God brings him honor. Upon his departure into heaven, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, extended to his church the command, and the privilege, to participate in the gathering of God’s people. This mission is the great task to which the church has been commissioned and must be its primary occupation until Jesus returns.
This mission is the great task to which the church has been commissioned and must be its primary occupation until Jesus returns.
God’s Desire for the Nations
God’s Word clearly shows his interest in gathering worshipers from all people groups from the very beginning. The pinnacle of God’s creation was man, whom he created in his own image (Gen 1:26–27). From that one man came every person of every ethnic group on the earth (Acts 17:26). Though man’s rebellion precipitated the curse and brought sin into the world, God had a plan to restore what he had made. Even as God spoke of universal judgment, he also revealed that his redemptive plan would span the whole human race. The promise indicated in Gen 3:15 is fulfilled when redemption through the “he” (Christ) is extended to all the offspring of the woman.
The human race became divided as nations and ethnicities multiplied after the Flood and the incident of the Tower of Babel. Even when God selected one man, Abram, from among all those people groups, he continued to communicate his intent to redeem people from all groups. In his covenant with Abraham God promised that he would extend the blessings to all humanity. In Gen 12:3 God announced that in him “all the families of the earth will be blessed.” He reiterated in Gen 22:18 that through Abraham’s seed “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” That indicates that people from every ethnic group and every cultural context would receive the blessing that God would provide through a descendant of Abraham (Gal 3:7-14).
God caused the nation of Israel to be formed from Abraham’s descendants through 6 his grandson, Jacob. Although Israel was God’s specially chosen people, he maintained his plan to call worshipers to himself from all the peoples of the earth. An example comes from Israel’s song book, the Psalter. In Psalm 67, the people of Israel were to ask God to bless them (v. 1) so that his way would become known in all the earth, even his salvation among all nations (v. 2). At least part of the reason that God blessed Israel is so that he would become known throughout the earth (cf. v. 7). The desire God expresses in this psalm is that the nations would be glad because of his righteous judgment and his leadership (v.4). Psalm 96 likewise calls on all the families of the peoples and all the nations of the earth to worship God and submit to his rule. Solomon also, at the beginning of his reign when he dedicated to God the temple he had built, showed that he recognized God’s intent that people from all nations would worship him (1 Kings 8:41–43).
In the writings of the prophets we likewise see God’s “missionary purpose” and his extension of grace to the nations. Isaiah speaks of the ultimate trajectory of history culminating in a time when all the nations will stream to the mountain of the Lord and will learn his ways and submit to his rule (Is 2:2–4). In Isaiah 49:6, God speaks to his Servant, which we know now refers to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and says that it is too small a thing for him to only raise up the people of Israel, but that he will also make him a light to the nations so that his salvation will reach the ends of the earth. Throughout the history of Israel, God consistently demonstrated that the intent of his covenant with them was global, and not limited to the nation of Israel. This reality informs our understanding of God’s ultimate plan for history: the loving reconciliation of men and women from every tribe and nation back to a pre-Fall garden walk with Him.
In the New Testament we see the full expression of God’s intent to call people from all nations to himself. Although during his time on earth, Jesus’ focus was on the nation of Israel, he does display the same broader perspective as the Father. For example, he praises the faith of the centurion (Matt 8:10–12), grants the request of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matt 15:21–28), and calls the temple a house of prayer for the nations (Mark 11:17). After his resurrection, Jesus delivered to his apostles the task for his people on earth, what we call the Great Commission. The best known recording is Matt 28:19–20, but each of the gospel writers includes a commission to the apostles. John 20:21 records Jesus telling his disciples, “as the Father has sent me, I also send you.” In Mark 16:15 Jesus tells the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Luke records a sending of sorts in his gospel (Luke 24:47–48) but saves the direct command for the book of Acts, where Jesus tells his disciples that they will be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). The head of the church has declared his purpose for her. The mission is clear.
The head of the church has declared his purpose for her. The mission is clear.
God again confirmed his purpose to gather in people from all nations in the book of Acts. God visibly poured out his Spirit on each new group of believers to confirm his 7 hand upon them: the first Jewish believers at Pentecost, the Samaritans (half-Jews), and Cornelius and his household (Gentiles). The Apostle Paul then continued to gather in faithful worshipers of Christ across the Roman Empire, all the way to the very palace of the Emperor. The Apostle John tells us that the mission will ultimately be successful as he reveals the vision he saw of the elders before God’s throne in heaven worshiping Christ and proclaiming, “You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev 5:9–10).
By now the motivation of missions should be clear: God’s purpose in human history is to gather a people for himself from every corner of humanity. Jesus Christ’s command to his church is to be his agents to go out and do the gathering. That is the heart of missions. God has guaranteed the ultimate success of this mission, but it is still ours to perform.
This post was adapted from the booklet, How to Build an Effective Missions Program.