At TMS Global, we talk a lot about “joining Jesus in his mission.” But what, exactly, is that mission? Maybe you’ve wondered that, too. In recent decades, parts of the church in North America have watered down the mission of Jesus until anyone who is doing anything even remotely helpful or is simply being nice to others is thought to be on mission.
From its inception, however, the actual mission of Jesus has been about one thing: making disciples. Jesus spent the entirety of his earthly ministry making disciples. And as he gathered with his disciples on the evening before he was crucified, he prayed to his heavenly Father: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).
It is essential to note that Jesus had not yet been to the cross, much less risen from the dead. He had much remaining work to do. But he had made disciples. And it says something about the importance the Lord places on disciple-making that he would indicate that this was the work his Father sent him to do, and that by doing it, he had brought glory to his Father on earth. How remarkable that Jesus would now entrust this God-glorifying mission to us! Yet, that is exactly what he does.
The final words in Matthew’s gospel have come to be widely known as the Great Commission. It is understood by the church that in these words Jesus is giving marching orders to those who would join him in his mission.
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in 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).
There is a command in these verses, and only one. I have had the opportunity to share with communities of believers in dozens of countries around the world, and I commonly ask them: “What is the command in the Great Commission?” Nearly 100 percent of the time the immediate and enthusiastic answer is: “Go!”
Many years ago, the late Christian singer Keith Green recorded a song entitled “Jesus Commands Us to Go.” It is a beautiful song, and the song’s sentiments are shared by many passionate believers. It is, however, also theologically incorrect. The Great Commission does not command us to go. We know this because the text is handed down to us in Greek, a language in which command verbs have their own form. When looking at this passage in Greek, it becomes clear: the only command in the entire passage is “make disciples.” In fact, Jesus seems to assume that those who follow him would not need to be commanded to go. Movement is more or less implied in the act of following. A better translation of this passage in English would be something like: “As you are going … make disciples!”
The mission of Jesus is to make disciples. Period. And while there are thousands and thousands of ways to make disciples, and we can utilize many platforms to accomplish this vital work, not everything that is nice and helpful is also disciple-making. It is essential that those who would live lives worthy of the calling of Jesus be about the work of making disciples. It is the only mission that ultimately matters, and the one that brings glory to God on the earth.
The good news is that we are not on our own as we live into this mission. Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonica that it is the power of God that makes the mission possible. These outcomes are both accomplished “by his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
At TMS Global our mission statement calls us to join Jesus in his mission, but we understand that mission to be making disciples. Thus, all TMS Global cross-cultural workers are engaged in disciple-making regardless of their platform for ministry.
Max Wilkins is the president and CEO of TMS Global. This column is adapted from his latest book, Focusing My Gaze: Beholding the Upward, Inward, Outward Mission of Jesus. To learn more, visit seedbed.com/focusingmygaze, or inside cover.