A few years ago two students at Stanford, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, wrote the following mission statement: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The result was Mission accomplished.
Fortune 500 companies, the armed forces, and scores of churches regularly use the term mission to describe what their organization is to be about. South Woods is no different. However, as much as churches use the term, you won’t find it anywhere in the Scriptures.
Mission comes from the Latin word translated “to send.” Therefore historically, when churches have sent believers to other countries we’ve inevitably called them missionaries. When those missionaries gather believers into communities, we’ve historically called them missions. The church, typically cross–culturally, engages in mission.
However the mission, or sending, doesn’t begin with the church. God, by his nature, is a sending God. God the Father sent the Son. The Father and the Son sent the Spirit. The Spirit of God sends the church. David Bosch writes, “There is church because there is mission, not vice versa” (Transforming Mission, 390). The mission begins with God.
We, by the gracious purposes of God, joyfully participate in God’s mission. Therefore, His mission prescribes ours. In John 20:21 Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Clearly a connection exists between the way God sent the Son and the way the Son sends mankind into the world. Andreas Köstenberger notes, “ . . . the point seems to be that the mission of Jesus’ followers is to be guided by the same kinds of parameters that determined the sender–sent relationship between Jesus and the Father” (Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, 221).
South Woods’ purpose statement concludes, “We purpose to make disciples who joyfully serve Christ together in ministry and missions.” Does mission include the sending of individuals and families from our fellowship to places where entire cities and regions know nothing of the gospel of Christ? Anything less would be less than biblical. Jesus implores the church to make disciples of all nations in Matthew 28. We joyfully watched only a few weeks ago when one that we’ve sent shared a video of one of the first believers being baptized in his Central Asian city. In a few weeks, we’ll commission another family to an unreached people group. Rightly so, South Woods’ DNA includes this regular pattern of training up and sending out.
But does mission only include those we send out geographically from our fellowship? Again, this forced dichotomy finds little biblical precedent. Peter expects believers to keep their conduct before Gentiles honorable so they might glorify God (1 Peter 2:12). Earlier, he describes the nature of these elect exiles as “ . . . a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Paul describes the Philippians shining as lights in the world among a crooked and twisted generation “ . . . holding fast (or holding forth) the word of life” (Phil 2:16). Paul commends the Thessalonians after the “word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, . . . your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (1 Thess 1:8b). Biblically we observe God sending these Thessalonians to Thessalonica, these Philippians to Philippi, and to make an application, Memphians to Memphis for the purposes of His mission.
Jesus instructed the early church to be His witnesses in Jerusalem as well as to the ends of the earth. Both/and answers remain more faithful than either/or. Without demeaning the cross–cultural work our foreign missionaries do, we believe their faithful example in those contexts should spur zeal within our own. C. T. Studd says it well: “The light that shines farthest shines brightest nearest home.”
South Woods purposes to do missions together, both at home and abroad.
Mission begins with God. He determines what is and isn’t mission. As Stephen Neill quipped, “If everything is mission, then nothing is mission.” But not only does mission begin with God, it culminates in Him. In a world where major companies, and a few churches, engage in “mission” for personal gain or notoriety, John Piper’s famous quote, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t,” redirects our motivation (Let the Nations Be Glad, 17). The aim of mission, whether that be the making of disciples in Central Asia or Cordova, remains the glory of God manifested in the Christ–centered joy of more and more redeemed people.