The word mission is not a biblical word, so we must define what we mean when we talk about a mission.
The word mission comes from the Latin words mitto (to send) and missio (sending). So mission implies that someone has sent something to accomplish a task. In other words, God has sent the church to accomplish a task.
So perhaps a better way to reframe this question is what has God sent the church to accomplish? While there may be many good things the church could do, what is the primary thing that God has sent us to do?
Most Christians can agree on the basics of the faith. Most would agree with Gregg R. Allison that “the church is missional. It is the body of divinely called and divinely sent ministers proclaiming the gospel and advancing the kingdom of God.”1 However, while we may agree that the church is missional (sent on a mission), there is a growing debate about what exactly we are sent to do.
The majority of the debate surrounds the church’s calling to share good news (evangelism) and do good works (social justice).
Most scholars debate the mission of the church like there is a pendulum with one side swinging toward good news and the other side toward good works. Swing too far toward good news, and the good work people fear you will lose your love for people. Swing too far toward good works, and the good news people fear you will lose the gospel.
The irony is that no pastor would stand before their congregation and say, “Do not do good works.” And no pastor would say, “Do not share the good news.” Both are good and important aspects of the church’s mission.
So what is the mission of the church then?
Is it good news, good works, some combination of both or something else entirely?
I will argue that the mission of the church is not just good news, and it is not just good works. The mission of the church is to make disciples. And disciple-making, as defined by Jesus in the Great Commission, is a combination of both good news and good works.
WHAT DID GOD SEND US TO DO?
If the church’s mission means that the church was sent by God to accomplish a specific task, then we must begin by asking, “What did God send us to do?”
The Great Commission is the primary place where we see God sending his church. We call it the Great Commission because it is where Jesus gave his disciples their mission, and this is still the church’s mission today since we are still disciples of Jesus.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he stood before his disciples and proclaimed:
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. (Matt 28:18-20).
To better understand Jesus’ commission to us, we need to walk through six parts of this commandment. It may be helpful to reframe them as six questions.