Why We Must Mobilize: Every Christian is a Missionary
The first Reformation gave the Word of God to the people of God; we need a Second Reformation to give the work of God to the people of God. ─Ford Maddox
The Great Commission will not be fulfilled by somebody trying to reach everybody, but by everybody trying to reach somebody. ─John Flack
The question is how should we read the Great Commission. To be sure it Christ’s mandate to evangelize, make disciples and plant churches among all nations. But how does the Lord Jesus Christ want us to fulfill it?
The Great Commission, which appears in diﬀerent forms in all four Gospels, is more than just a command: it defines the task for which Christ has sent his church into the world. In Matthew, the urgency and priority is evident in the fact that this mission to reach others was Christ’s first call to his followers as well as his final command:
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
The significance of how well we understand the Great Commission and how our Lord wants it to be fulfilled cannot be overestimated. Perhaps the most well-known example of how in- sight into its meaning can have momentous implications for the advance of God’s Kingdom is that of William Carey’s Enquiry. In Carey’s day, the common belief, even in Reformed churches, was that the Apostles had already fulfilled the Great Commission, so there was little warrant for world missions. However, Carey pointed out that since the Great Commission’s promise of Christ’s presence is “to the end of the age,” therefore the mandate is also binding throughout the church age. It was through this insight God launched the modern missions movement using the humble English cobbler.
The question before us is “Did the Lord entrust his sacred mission to the professional missionaries only, or to the church as a whole?” If we believe the mission is the task of the professionals only, then we are right to ignore the task of mobilizing the church to participate in the mission. On the other hand, if the Lord entrusted his mission to the Church, then
every Christian has the privilege and the responsibility of participating according to his gifts and call, and the church leaders have the task of mobilizing God’s people to do so.
There are solid Biblical and practical reasons to believe that our Lord intends to fulfill his Great Commission through his Church as a whole, and not merely through the career mis- sionaries. Therefore, Christian leaders must make mobilizing the church part of their task.
Biblical Theological Basis
The Image of God Principle
God himself works as the divine family. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit work in concert in creation, providence and redemption. For example, in redemption, the Father loves, plans and sends; the Son accepts the mission of redeeming the elect from all nations and accomplishes it; he does so in humble dependence on the Father and the Holy Spirit in perfect union and concert with them. Even though our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished re- demption, he did not do so autonomously, independently or in isolation from the other per- sons of the Godhead. Since the Trinity has accomplished our redemption in unison, it is not surprising that the Church as a body, in union with our triune God, should be the instrument of propagating that redemption.
The Church as the Body of Christ
The Apostle Paul reveals the Church is the Body of Christ, and it works only in concert, with each of its parts working in a mutually dependent way. If the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” then the career missionary cannot say to the local church member back home “I don’t need you.”
The Role of Ministers and the Priesthood of Believers
God calls ordained ministers and missionaries not only to do the work of ministry, but also to equip God’s people to do so:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12, NKJ).
This view of the role of ordained teaching elders is both Reformed and biblical. The Apostle Peter proclaimed that the believer is a member of a “royal priesthood,” and the Confession of Faith of the Associate Reformed Church asserts the priesthood of the believer in relation to Great Commission especially, in this way:
…Christ hath commissioned his church to go into all the world and to make disciples of all nations. All believers are, therefore, under obligation to sustain the ordinances of the Christian religion where they are already established and to contribute by their prayers, gifts, and personal eﬀorts to the extension of the kingdom of Christ throughout the whole earth.
The Example of the Early Church
The example of the early church in obedience to the Great Commission leaves no doubt that they knew every Christian is a missionary. Consider this passage in Acts:
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him…Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” ( Acts 8:1, 4)
Notice who is doing the evangelism: everyone except the apostles. We do well when we fol- low the excellent example of the dynamic and fruitful early church, freshly filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Unity of the Body is Essential to World Evangelization
The Lord Jesus Christ prayed that the Church might be one so that the world would know that the Father had sent him. Our Lord’s Prayer reveals that the unity of the Body of Christ is essential for world evangelization. Since every Christian is essential for the unity of the church, it follows that every Christian is essential for world evangelization.
You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics. ─General Dwight D. Eisenhower
The Magnitude of the Task
There is a very practical reason to mobilize the church for world evangelization: the sheer magnitude of the task. According to the Joshua Project, there are still some 2.68 billion un- reached in some 6675 people groups. There are some 200,000 missionaries in the world, of whom some 100,000 serve in countries other than their own according to Operation World. However only about 2.5% of them are doing evangelism among unreached peoples.
This means the ratio of missionaries to the unreached is about 1:5460. However, the ratio of evangelical Christians to unreached peoples is about 1:4. Mobilizing the people of God brings the mission task within reach.
The Support Needs
In ordinary times, the support needs of missionary families are substantial. In troubled times the needs are even greater.
In a recent presentation at the Presbyterian Church of the Atonement, Nairy Ohanian pointed out that the attrition rate for career cross cultural missionaries is about 20% after four years. The cost to replace these workers is $150,000 to $350,000, to say nothing of the emotional, personal and spiritual costs. She further pointed out that 71% of those who leave the field do so for preventable reasons, such as children’s adjustment problems, mental and emotional health issues and interpersonal conflict. The proper care and support of sending churches in addition to that of specialists could resolve many of these problems.
Furthermore if each church member devoted his or her life and resources to Christ’s cause in the manner of our missionaries and after the example of our Lord himself, the impact on the advance of the Gospel would be incalculable.
God will honor our eﬀorts if we wholeheartedly seek to do what he has commissioned us to do in the way he has ordained. Wouldn’t it please the Lord to see a vast army holding up the hands of his missionaries? Wouldn’t it please him to see us as committed to fulfilling the great redemptive purpose for which he gave his own blood? It is our joy and sacred privilege to participate in what our missionaries are doing through our “prayers, gifts and personal eﬀorts.” It is also our privilege to invite God’s people to more fully enter into the joy of the task he has called them to and the works he has prepared for them to do.
In June, 2012, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church included the following in its proposed Strategic Plan:
Because we are committed to “proclaiming joyfully the gospel of grace freely to all; making disciples among all the nations” and accomplishing God’s purposes God’s way, we must be committed as a church to pouring lives and resources into the advance of God’s kingdom for the sake of his glory. We assert that the mission of the church is not merely the province of professionals and a few enthusiasts, but rather the sacred privilege and responsibility of the whole body of Christ working together according to his gifting, call and leading. We further assert that the gospel is not merely the means by which we receive redemption from God. Rather is the means by which God has revealed his glory to us in our Lord Jesus Christ, and as we gather the elect from all nations through carrying out the Great Commission, it becomes a great means by which we bring praise, glory and honor to him who loved us and gave himself for us. We believe that “the church exists by mission as fire exists by burning” and any fire that is spreading is not a fire that is going out.