Rethinking 'Missional': Reconciling the Mission of God and the Mission of the Church

Desiring God 2010 National Conference

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

The following are notes taken during the session.


Main Question: What is the mission of the church? What does God expect your church to go into the world to do?

Both terms are crucial. “Mission” refers to something or someone who is sent out with a task. “Church” is the corporate body of Christ, both worldwide and the local congregation.

What about the word “missional”? It increasingly means that you’re into mission. To some, it means to get out of your holy huddle and try to engage the world. I’m for those uses of the word. However, I have a few concerns about the term:

  1. I’m concerned that good behaviors are increasingly commended using some wrong categories.
  2. I’m concerned that in a new missional zeal some Christians are putting hard “ought’s” where there should be inviting “can’s”.
  3. I’m concerned that in all our passion for renewing the city we run the risk of marginalizing the one thing that makes Christian mission, mission: namely, making disciples of Jesus Christ.

What I am not advocating:

  1. That Christians should be unconcerned about suffering in the world
  2. That Christians should only focus on evangelism
  3. That Christians should not be dreaming of creative ways to reach the world.

What I am saying is that I want the gospel to be front and center in the churches. I want Christians to be freed from false guilt, from thinking that the church is either responsible for the problems in the world or responsible for solving the problems in the world. I believe God wants the task of making disciples to be the priority of the church.

The Mission of the Church

What is the mission of the church?

The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit, gathering these disciples into churches that they may worship and obey Jesus now and into eternity to the glory of God the Father.

Potential Objections

Some biblical passages that people often use in support of missional theology:

Genesis 12:1-3
“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”

Some say that the commission to Abraham is a moral agenda for believers. It is a command to go into the world and be a community blessing station. But it doesn’t work that way in Genesis. The patriarchs were blessed despite themselves.

Genesis 12 is a glorious missions text, but if there are missiological imperatives here for us, the implication is not to go and do whatever you can to bless people, the implication is to go and tell the nations to put their faith in Christ so that they may experience blessing.

Luke 4:16-21
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

People will say that this was Jesus’ mission statement (serving the poor). Shouldn’t this be our mission?

But this misses two critical observations:

  1. It overlooks the actual verbs Jesus uses when he reads from the Isaiah scroll. They are predominantly proclamation verbs.
  2. The word for “poor” in Luke carries more of a spiritual than an economic sense.

Jesus’ mission was not primarily one of structural change, but his mission was to announce the good news.

The Great Commission

Why is it important to look at the Great Commission?

  1. It makes sense to ground our missions imperatives on Scripture’s explicit commands.
  2. It makes sense that we would look to Jesus for our missiological direction.
  3. It records Jesus’ final words on earth.
  4. The placement of the Great Commission suggests its importance.

Matthew 28:18-20
“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.’”

See also Mark 13:10; 14:9; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:21; Acts 1:8.

Summary questions to ask of the Great Commission:

Why? It is rooted in the authority and promise of Christ.
When? The mission began at Pentecost and continues as long as the promise continues.
Where? We are sent into the world.
How? We go in the power of the Spirit in submission to the Son.
What? The mission consists of preaching and teaching, announcing and testifying, making disciples and bearing witness, evangelism and edification.

If that is the mission of the church, what would you expect to see in the book of Acts? We see precisely these things happening. Throughout the book of Acts the emphasis is on the word going forth. The book ends, “[And Paul was] …proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).


The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit, gathering these disciples into churches that they may worship and obey Jesus now and into eternity to the glory of God the Father.

It is not the church’s responsibility to right every wrong or to meet every need, though by God’s grace we will do some of both. It is, however, our responsibility alone to proclaim the gospel.

(@RevKevDeYoung) is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church (PCA) in Matthews, North Carolina and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). He is the author of more than twenty books and a popular columnist, blogger, and podcaster. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have nine children. Browse all of Kevin’s articles, sermons, books, podcasts, and more at