What if the word missionary didn’t just mean people that leave everything behind to share the gospel with people in Africa, India, or somewhere else around the world? What if it also meant that you died to yourself and shared the gospel with people right where you are? What if we lived as missionaries in our neighborhoods, communities, and workplaces?
According to the New Testament, that’s exactly what we should be doing already.
Authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne point out that many of us put the emphasis on the wrong words in the Great Commission. They say the command (or the main verb) of the Commission is not “go,” but “make disciples”:
And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20 ESV)
Getting the command right makes a very important difference, as Marshall and Payne write in The Trellis and the Vine, because the misunderstanding,
“…can lead local churches to think that they are obeying the Great Commission if they send money (and missionaries) overseas. But the emphasis of the sentence is not on ‘going’. In fact, the participle is probably better translated ‘when you go’ or ‘as you go’. The commission is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple.”
They aren’t the first ones to suggest that “go” is better translated as “as you go.” The Christian Worldview Journal has written on the topic. And this is a more technical explanation of the Greek if you’re interested.
The command of the Great Commission, then, is to make disciples, and the context is everyday life (“as you go”).
As you go
As you go about your life, make disciples. As you go to work, make disciples. As you go to the park, make disciples.
The question isn’t what has God called us to do, but where has He called us to do it. He’s called all of His followers to make disciples as they go throughout their life. The question for you and your group is where does God want you to do that right where you are?
For followers of Jesus, this is the most important question to ask ourselves. Because if we aren’t making disciples, then we aren’t obeying His commands.
Charles Spurgeon’s famous statement on this rings truer than ever in this context:
“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”
Every Christian is called to live as a missionary wherever they are. Which brings us to your group.
Meeting as missionaries with your group
Part of the normal rhythm of any community group should be to meet as missionaries in its community. That means each group should be spending strategic time at specific places in their community with the goal of sharing the gospel and making disciples.
For example, let’s say you’re in a group of young families. you probably go to the park with your kids at least a couple times a month. What if you started going to the same park at the same time with the goal of forming relationships with other families in your community?
My family has started doing this over the last year and we’ve seen a noticeable change in how we relate to our community and the people around us. We go to the same two parks usually, and while we’re there we try and talk to the other moms and dads there. Sure, some people don’t want to talk to you. But others are almost desperate for a connection and they’re tired of parenting on their own all week. We just talk to those people and get to know them. Since we started doing that, we’ve already had two other families reach out to us to get together for play dates. Our hope is that those connections turn into opportunities to share Jesus with them, and we’re ready to help them follow Jesus if that’s where it goes.
Think through what your group normally does and see if there are more strategic ways to do it. Or think about different ways to spend your time in order to live on mission. Here are 25 ways to do that (and here are 25 more).
Meeting as missionaries doesn’t mean you go someplace and just start street preaching. It means you go into a place and become part of the fabric of the community so that you can build relationships with people and show them the love of Christ in tangible ways, and then invite them into that love.
Finding the time
Meeting with your group like this is something you can do at least once a month, but doing so every other week is probably ideal because it keeps mission at the front of everyone’s mind.
Most people start groaning at the “level” of commitment at this point, but that’s because they misunderstand what it looks like to find time to live in community. They also misunderstand the importance of it. As we saw above, making disciples isn’t something that’s optional for followers of Christ. It’s the last thing the resurrected Jesus told us to do before going to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.
As always, the point is not to make things into a checklist, but to intentionally work mission into your life to make disciples and be obedient to Jesus’ call on your life. Remember, the question isn’t if we should make disciples, but where we should make them.