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What Does Jesus Teach About Missions?

Jesus’ last words to his disciples were to give them a mission.   “Go and make disciples of all nations,” he said. (Matt. 28:19)   “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” he said. (Acts 1:8)   So that’s hi…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Jesus’ last words to his disciples were to give them a mission.
“Go and make disciples of all nations,” he said. (Matt. 28:19)
“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” he said. (Acts 1:8)
So that’s his assignment to us his followers. We call it “missions.” In a world looking for purpose and hope, Jesus’ is looking for followers who will embrace his original mission. It hasn’t changed.
We see Jesus preparing his followers for this mission early in his ministry. We see him first sending them out in Matthew 10 and then a second time in Luke 10. He sends them in groups of two with the assignment of meeting the felt needs of the people they encounter along the way. 
I was speaking at a missions conference a number of years ago and the writer of a missions survey course called “Perspectives” was in the audience. He came up to me afterwards and said, “Matthew 10 was more about missions than it was about discipleship.”
I disagreed with him, “We don’t begin to see the Church moving out in power until the book of Acts. We have to learn tactical engagement before we begin to practice strategic action.”
He agreed to disagree. 
My point was that Jesus knew that his followers needed to see the reality of God working through them before they began engaging in his strategy to reach the world. He sent them out on limited short-term missions experiences so that they could learn to partner with God, praying for others and seeing him come through. They needed to see that the Father is good and will provide everything needed before he sends us on a more strategic long-term missions assignment.
What I have learned in 40 years of ministry is that you begin following Jesus by first hearing the Master’s call to himself. This is the work of identity formation and personal discipleship. Like the disciples, we follow him and begin to experience freedom for ourselves before we offer it to others. And while the needs are great in our culture, they are no less urgent beyond our culture.
When we have walked in freedom for a while, Jesus asks us to help set others free. In Matthew 10, we see him saying the same thing he later says in Acts 1:8. Begin ministering to those within your own culture. Then reach out to those in proximity, then to those of another culture, and then ultimately to those who are far away.
This pattern continues to work in the modern world. For example, while the ministry I work with began by training young Americans, over the last several years, we have seen the greatest fruit in south Asia where over 1000 churches have been planted. 
There is a heresy I hear from young people that “because we might make mistakes when we practice missions, we shouldn’t try. We shouldn’t go to those of another culture.” Another way of saying this is “volunteers need to be able to volunteer with excellence before they ever volunteer.” 
We also hear the heresy that “motives must be perfect or you shouldn’t try to help.” This sounds good, but it isn’t what Jesus did. Jesus’ had nothing but messy followers. He had them for three years, sent them out to practice, and at the end, his most passionate follower (Peter), still failed the final exam. The reality is that all of us make mistakes when we learn anything. Missions is no different. Of course learning to function in another culture is going to be a messy challenge, but it is one Jesus would have us embrace.
Reading about Jesus’ disciples makes it easier. Were they afraid? Yes. Did they struggle with faith? Yes. Did they have a savior complex? Well, we know that two of his best, James and John did. (Matt 10:35-45)
Jesus’ disciples were just as messy as so many young people today. But missions critics want to saddle young people with a standard they can never meet. Jesus didn’t ask for perfect motives or perfect execution. What he did do was train them by giving them experience. He gave them “all authority” and sent them out on mission. 
Those of us who call ourselves Christ followers should do the same. 

Comments (31)

  • Seth,
    It is reassuring to know that even the disciples did not get it right. Putting people on a pedestal or expecting them to live to that standard doesn’t work. We are told not to listen to the world, but to focus on God’s Word, walk in obedience, and that in due season there will be fruit.

    1Blessed is the man
    who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
    or set foot on the path of sinners,
    or sit in the seat of mockers.
    2But his delight is in the Law of the LORD,
    and on His law he meditates day and night.
    3He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    yielding its fruit in season,
    whose leaf does not wither,
    and who prospers in all he does. Psalm 1:1-3

  • Thanks for this encouragement Seth. Jesus had messy followers and yet He trusted them with all authority to engage the world around them with the power of the Holy Spirit. Excited to be continuing this mission all these years later! How cool is that!?

  • Thanks for posting this, Seth. I think the bigger challenge is how to make ourselves cross-culturally-capable so that we can reach people from all backgrounds wherever God has placed us. I find this difficult to do when only living within my socio-economic and ethnic class.

  • This is great! Stokes the Fire within for sure. Messy missions and messy missionaries definitely exist, but I couldn’t agree more that this can’t deter us in our obedience to our King to go to even the ends of the earth. I think our most powerful qualification is our yes to Him.

  • We must practice the kingdom of God to grow and mature in Christ. We must experience a living God who is leading, guiding, and correcting us as we move thru this world. Desire for right theology and right theory has paralyzed many.

  • We risk missing the boat. More missionaries go out from the 3rd world today than from the 1st world. Romans 11 says God offered salvation to the Gentiles so the Jews would become jealous and come back to Him. What if God is shifting missions partly so we 1st world people become jealous of our 3rd world brothers and sisters who are obeying and going to ends of the earth?

  • Great word Seth! When logistics and difficulties get in the way of what God is calling us to do it’s easy to say no to what the Lord is doing. It’s good to remember that God’s heart is for EVERY person on Earth not just the people from where we are all from. God wants to grow/love the person who is sent, the person who is sending, and the people who we are being sent to!

  • Man, what you said about Peter really hit hard. Even he failed. We’re going to as well, but God already knows that. He doesn’t expect perfection, He wants our hearts and our obedience.

    • That’s right. We are to come to him as children. There is nothing that children learn that doesn’t involve failure. Perfectionism is the enemy of the grace that we’ve been given to share with others.

  • Hey Seth, In the context of your accompanying email where you mentioned the young missionary concerned about the “White Saviour” complex, we are finding this to be a recurring motif among former racers whom we still counsel and Gen Z in general. It’s indicative of a much deeper problem. Many claim to know Jesus and be saved. The question that few seem able to answer is, saved onto what? Maranatha

  • Whew. That’s good. It seems there is such an agenda to instill fear in everyone who isn’t up to date on correct terms, methods, etc. so that people will remain silent and inactive. Thanks for pushing us all to keep after it!

  • Seth,
    So good. If the word is true (and I believe IT IS)…He is strong in our weakness. So glad that He doesn’t require perfection but rather He desires our YES. You have stirred the YES in so many…young and old. Thank you. I just finished up a Beauty for Ashes with several young adult women and it was birthed from your “yes” as you traveled to Swazi. From that one yes, so many lives have been changed. It’s not that we do it perfectly In fact, days and hours prior to leading a B4A or short-term trip, I many times get stuck in the thought of “messing it up”. But God is so faithful to be with us and working in us. Thank you, Seth and all those who have been a part of AIM for forging the way and living out the example of Matthew 10.

  • First the gifts of the spirit, now the practice of missions. Ugh…

    I could see the family unit stepping in the gap where the church is largely stepping back

  • Stephanie Bernotas

    “Jesus had nothing but messy followers” is one of the most freeing, joy-producing sentences I’ve read as of late. Thanks Seth.

  • Reading through the comments, I’m struck by the apparent lack of appreciation of where these kids might be coming from, and how we need to hear them out for what God may be speaking to their generation. Having lived overseas and work cross-culturally for a number of years, I can see how certain ethnocentric mindsets that we all grow up with aren’t always helpful for advancing the Kingdom. I think this is an area that AIM/The World Race does try to address with their staff and participants.

  • Yes – we can’t climb out of our ethnocentric mindsets without leaving leaving the culture that we’ve allowed to define reality. To become multi-cultural in our perspective, we need the privilege of encountering multiple cultures.

  • Thank you Seth! I work with brave women who are seeking their way out of addiction. Our group is told that service and gratitude are powerful resources in recovery. When I step out and physically do something for another, no matter the state of my soul, it counters and pushes back against selfishness, unwillingness, sin and hopelessness. My physical body is taking a stand by doing something counter to isolation and darkness by reaching out to another in love. When my body does this my soul responds. A door opens up and fresh air is let in. And then there comes a point in recovery where the soul begins to motivate the body to do good. What a blessing it is to see the change in women who struggle so deeply when they understand that they actually can serve a sacred purpose in their life. I say all this to agree with you, Seth, that when Jesus said to come as you are He meant it. He knew our lives would depend on it. Service to Jesus means service to others. He said what we do to others we do to Him. What better mission is there for this life. And what I know is that when I do for others, and do for Jesus, it transforms me. Sending love and prayers for brave transformed hearts to all who seek it.

  • Yes – at some point in life we get to move beyond the basics of meeting our own needs and join the king in restoring the kingdom.

  • It’s like Ron Walburn would say about the Holy Spirit. We’ve let misuse and abuse of the Holy Spirit lead to our disuse of it.

    Now there’s a move to do the same with missions. When we do this, we let the worst of us have the final word, and that is not the Kingdom.

  • So good! May we continue to step out with courage and in faith to fulfill the greatest assignment we have: to further the Kingdom of God on earth.

  • I am thankful to be reminded of this––that the disciples were very messy. I think missions can become problematic when program is prioritized over need or passions. That’s where I’ve seen a rub. But the Lord still meets us in the midst of “errors.”

  • Another compelling reason to go out on missions is because of the truth in Mark 6:4 4 “But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” – We naturally receive more respect and honor when people don’t know us.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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