We all know the Great Commission given to the Apostles, right? Matthew 28:18-20 is a very famous passage that is the framework for mission work that the church today attempts to carry out.
Our current mission tradition comes from great men of God of the past – William Carey, Adoniram Judson, George Müller, and many more. However, their context was very different from ours. Their way of thinking, and their way of missions, took many influences from colonialism. Their methods were based on the needs of the time, and as mission work was generally a new enterprise, they were figuring things out as they went along.
Thanks to their hard work, suffering and persecution, we now have a wealth of knowledge in cross-cultural ministry and Bible translation.
However, as the world shifts to a new paradigm, we see a new way of thinking which includes a global focus and at the same time emphasizes strong local communities. This change forces us to reevaluate our own traditions in many areas, and it seems to me that this has to encompass the way we do mission work.
Of course, I do not mean that we need to change the gospel or change our Christ. I mean that every generation needs to search the Scriptures and do some self-assessment. If we are stewards of our time and place, we must make sure we are being as effective as possible.
A great read on this subject is by a man named Jeff Reed. His article, “Church-Based Missions: Creating a New Paradigm” is well worth the time if you are interested in reading more about this transition.
For us today, though, let’s first look at what the Apostles actually did, and then we’ll talk about how this should impact our mission work today.
The Apostle Paul
And this is what Paul did everywhere he went. Now, in the book Acts, it is clear that Luke recorded more details about a specific step in the cycle than in others, and some places have less details. It just depended on the situation.
But it doesn’t change the fact that Paul viewed this cycle as the basis for all his missionary work, and to him, it was the correct way to obey the Great Commission.
And what exactly did Paul do? Paul planted churches.
Therefore, Paul viewed the Great Commission, as a command from Christ for the leaders to plant churches – strong churches with established local leaders who could continue the establishing process for the church after Paul left. Then the new church would continue the work of service (taking care of the needy, evangelizing the rest of the city, etc.) after Paul moved on to a new region.
So what does this mean for 21st century Westerners? Many missionaries and missions organizations do not focus on church planting. Does this mean they are illegitimate? Absolutely not.
But perhaps our missionaries and missions organizations need to reassess the extent to which their work supports the planting and establishing of local churches worldwide.
Wycliffe Bible Translation does not directly plant churches, but their work certainly supports the churches as they are being planted in new unreached societies. This is an excellent example of an organization that has an accurate view of the Great Commission in its end-goals.
Moreover, as we consider doing mission work as individuals and as churches, we have to remember that church planting was at the heart and soul of Paul’s work.
Do you have a spiritual gift-set which is similar to Paul? If you are currently a missionary or are considering it, you probably do. And if so, consider if your work supports church planting. Even better, consider directly doing church planting.
A friend of mine once said to me, “I believe church planting is a branch of mission work, but it’s not all of what missions is.” Well, I agree to an extent. Any love we show to people, any help we give them, anytime we share the gospel with an individual, that is all mission work, and it is good for God’s Kingdom. However, if we want the Great Commission to outline the focus and thrust of our work, we must follow Paul’s model and plant and establish churches.