Editorial Comment: This post is the first of 10 articles explaining Reaching & Teaching’s 10 Missiological Distinctives. These distinctives present our core missiological convictions and address important questions about what it looks like to be faithful to the Great Commission in our day. This list isn’t intended to say everything that could be said about missions. Rather, it serves as a guide to keep us on mission and to help others understand what Reaching & Teaching believes and practices.
What is the mission of the church?
At first glance, this may seem like a simple question. But historically, God’s people have struggled to reach a consensus about how to best answer it. Behind the question is the recognition that the resurrected Jesus gave his disciples a job to do—a mission to accomplish on earth while they awaited his return.
So what was that mission? Our first distinctive answers that question:
We believe the mission of the church is to glorify God by preaching the gospel among all nations, making disciples and establishing churches of believers who worship God, obey Christ’s commands, and grow to maturity.
The Sent and the Sender
The simplest form of the Great Commission is found in the Gospel of John when Jesus, on the evening of his resurrection, tells his disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). That word “send” is important for our understanding of missions because our word “mission” comes from the Latin verb missio, which means “to send.” So literally missions is about being sent.
Furthermore, Jesus indicates that the mission he’s giving them is an extension and continuation of his own mission. The Father sent Jesus into the world on a mission. And now, as he departs, Jesus commissions his disciples to continue that mission. Luke 24 provides an expanded version of Jesus’s commission that evening and explains the connection between his mission and that of his disciples. Jesus says, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things”(Luke 24:46–48).
Luke’s account is clear: these missions fulfill Old Testament Scripture. But what’s the connection between the two? Simply put, Jesus’s mission is to accomplish redemption through his death and resurrection while their mission is to bear witness to Jesus’ work by proclaiming the message of salvation throughout all the earth. In other words, his mission is to continue through his ambassadors’ mission as they represent him among the nations.
A Global Witness to Global Supremacy
The global nature of the disciples’ mission was further emphasized by Jesus on the day of his ascension. In Acts 1, he tells them that they will be witnesses from Jerusalem to all of Judea and Samaria and ultimately to the “end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Through their testimony, the message of God’s saving grace through Christ’s cross and resurrection will cover the earth!
But what does Jesus plan to accomplish through his disciples’ global witness? What will happen when their message is proclaimed in Jesus’s name to all nations?
The answer to that question is found in Matthew 28:18–20. Meeting with his disciples on a mountain in Galilee shortly after his resurrection, Jesus lays out for his disciples the details of their mission strategy.
Strikingly, he begins by announcing his absolute lordship over all creation: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” As the divine Son of Man, Jesus has been granted supreme authority over the cosmos. He has been given “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Dan. 7:14). God’s eternal plan is that every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:11).
So what does this have to do with the disciples’ mission? Jesus explains the connection in the next sentence: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Jesus is sending his disciples to the nations not only to bear witness to his death and resurrection but to proclaim his global supremacy and lordship!
The call to the nations to repent of their sins and believe the gospel is a call to renounce their rebellion and self-proclaimed autonomy and to bend their knee to King Jesus. When people do this—when they respond to the disciples’ testimony in repentance and faith—they become disciples. When they “confess with [their] mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in [their] heart that God raised him from the dead,” they are saved from their sin (Rom. 10:9) and become followers of the risen Christ.
Jesus’s command to make disciples of “all nations” ties the disciple’s mission to God’s promises to bless “all nations” through Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 18:18; 22:18). Jesus has ransomed people from every tribe, language, and nation (Rev. 5:9), so unlike the disciples’ earlier mission that was restricted to Israel (Matt. 10:5–6), the mission of the church is global. This means that many will need to cross geographic, ethnic, and cultural boundaries to bear witness to people who have no access to the message of Christ.
Jesus summarizes the process of making disciples with two words: “baptizing” and “teaching.” Baptism is an initiation rite. By submitting to baptism, disciples publicly align themselves with Jesus, declaring their faith in him and their intention to follow him as their master. Baptism is much more than a religious ritual. It’s a public announcement of one’s faith in Jesus and glad submission to his kingship. It marks their turn from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13; Acts 26:18). Notice also that baptism must be done in the “name” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which means that the church, like Old Testament Israel, now bears God’s name and represents him among the nations.
Furthermore, since becoming a disciple involves embracing a new way of life, Jesus’s new followers must be taught to observe all he commands. His cosmic authority is to be expressed in every detail of their lives, and so discipling includes careful instruction in this new way of life.
Depth and Maturity
This process of teaching is comprehensive. Jesus’s command to teach new believers “all that I have commanded” requires more than initial conversion and instruction. New disciples must be carefully taught to obey all of Jesus’s teachings so they grow to full maturity in him. Just as the words “all (panta) nations” point to the breadth of the mission, the words “all (panta) that I have commanded” point to the depth of the mission. Depth is just as important as breadth.
Obeying all that Jesus commanded is a tall order, and a disciple’s growth takes time and commitment. Following Pentecost, the early believers “devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching” (Acts 2:42a). This teaching, enabled by Jesus’s “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13), expounded and applied Jesus’s teaching. Acts and the New Testament letters provide us with examples of this teaching.
The Apostle Paul is an excellent example of this passion to bring his converts to Christlike, obedient maturity. He believed that teaching disciples to obey all that Jesus commanded meant declaring to them “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). In Colossians, Paul describes his arduous labors to this end: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:28–29).
Full maturity and Christlike obedience was the goal of the mission—the end to which missionaries like Paul tirelessly labored.
Discipleship in Community
Making disciples was not an individualistic enterprise. The book of Acts demonstrates that making mature disciples includes gathering them into communities of disciples called “churches.” In the Old Testament, Israel gathered as God’s people under his name. Similarly, New Testament disciples, baptized in the name of the Triune God (Matt. 28:19), gather as God’s people in Christ. Therefore, establishing churches is crucial to accomplishing the mission.
These local churches, scattered throughout the Roman world, were outposts of Jesus’s ever-expanding kingdom. In and through them, the King’s commission was obeyed and the kingdom of darkness was assailed. Jesus was building an international community of obedient kingdom citizens just as he had promised: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). In them, new converts were baptized and taught to obey Jesus. These gathering disciples were able “to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). And it was from these congregations—churches like the ones in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesus—that new missionaries were raised up and sent out to the nations. Through this repeated process the mission would continue “to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
So what’s the endgame of the church’s mission? What happens when the gospel is proclaimed and rebels repent of their sin and are gathered into healthy churches where they obey Jesus and grow together into Christlike maturity?
The simple answer is worship! That’s the goal of our mission. As we’ve already seen, Jesus told his disciples that their mission to the nations was foretold in the Old Testament. When Jesus’s followers obey his marching orders, they’re fulfilling Scripture by declaring God’s “glory among the nations” (Ps. 96:3). When they preach his death and resurrection, they’re making God’s ways “known on earth” and his “saving power among all nations” (Ps. 67:2). When they proclaim “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47), they are calling rebellious sinners to “serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling” and to “kiss the Son” and “take refuge in him” (Ps. 2:11–12). Raging rebels are turned into adoring subjects (Ps. 2:1).
The glory of God and his universal worship is the inevitable end toward which the church’s mission is moving. As John Piper eloquently reminds us, “When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.”
The worship of those countless millions gathered as Christ’s glorified, triumphant church, will resound before that throne for all eternity: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! . . . To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever” (Rev. 5:12–13).
So what did Jesus send his disciples into the world to accomplish?
At Reaching and Teaching, we believe the church’s task is to bear witness to Christ’s death, resurrection, and exaltation among all nations. As the good news of his salvation and supremacy is spread, sinners turn from their rebellion, confess that he is Lord, and are transferred into his kingdom. These new followers of Jesus are then gathered into worshiping communities called local churches, where they learn his ways and are nurtured to obedient maturity. As this happens, God’s glory is displayed among the nations. And in this way “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
That is the mission of the church.
 Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad, 3 (4th Edition, 2022).
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