Why does the church exist? What is the purpose of the church? Does the mission for the church change over time or among different denominations?
These questions have been the topic of entire books, but I think there is a short answer that will provide a helpful discussion here and refocus the church to its mission.
But first, where can the church find its mission? Is this something we make up? Does the church choose its own adventure?
The foundation for the mission of the church is not a program, but a person, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who spoke of the church during His earthly ministry, He the is head of the church, and so it’s only fitting that He would give the church its mission.
This is,therefore, a mission from God, a supernatural and divine task. A responsibility entrusted to the church as recorded in Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 28, verses 16-20.
The source of the church’s mission is divine. Jesus’ deity, Him being God, is evident in this passage for four reasons.
First, Jesus as God is worshipped. In verse 17 we notice the disciples respond to Jesus in worship. This indicates Jesus is God, for the disciples would not worship anyone other than God.
Second, Jesus is God because He has all authority. This authority is “in heaven and on earth” and no-one can have “all” authority unless they are God.
Third, Jesus is God by associating Himself as a member of the Trinity, thus identifying Himself as one of the persons of the Triune God with the Father and Spirit. This is why Jesus specifically commanded the disciples to baptize people in the singular, “name of” rather than “names of” in the plural.
Fourth, Jesus is God because in verse 20 He promises to be with His disciples until the end of the age. This highlights Jesus is omnipresent, being everywhere at all times and as such proves He is God.
For these reasons (and many more throughout the Bible) we can understand the church’s mission has been given from a divine source and is for a divine purpose.
The divine purpose is the command Jesus gave to the disciples on the mountain in Galilee and yet continues until the end of the age with the promise of His divine presence. Therefore, this mission wasn’t just for the early disciples, but for each and every disciple since.
So, understanding Jesus to be God and under His authority, the mission of the church is to “make disciples of all nations.” The task of the church is to “go,” “baptize,” and “teach” in order for people to become followers of Christ and more like Christ.
The idea of being followers of Christ is important to understand, because the concept of a disciple is one who follows their master. In Luke chapter 14, verses 25-33 we read Jesus’ demands for discipleship as He defines what it means to be one of His disciples.
In John Jesus also defines a disciple as one who abides in the Word of God (John 8:31), loves one another (John 13:35), and bears much spiritual fruit (John 15:8). In Acts we see disciples are equivalent to Christians.
Therefore, to be a disciple is to be a Christian, and a Christian submits to Jesus as Lord, abides in His Word, loves other believers and is bearing spiritual fruit. This definition is necessary to explain the focus of evangelism to unbelievers because it is not the task of the church to get people to raise their hands, come to the front of a church, pray a prayer, or be involved in ministry. To make disciples is to testify of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and call sinners to repent and believe, to entrust themselves to the Lord as master and saviour for sin.
However, salvation is not the end point of discipleship, rather it is the start of a journey in which believers will continually learn to obey all that Jesus has commanded. It is also the responsibility of believers to teach these same truths to obey to others.
This captures the features of making disciples which Jesus provides broadly in this passage, to “go,” “baptize,” and “teach.” This divine purpose of the church and is supported by the divine success.
The mission to make disciples of all nations may appear to be an impossible task and be both daunting and intimating, however, Jesus provides a guarantee of success.
This divine success is seen because 1) it’s with Jesus’ authority that we are commanded to go; 2) the fact we will baptize and teach infers people will be saved and grow in their faith; and 3) Jesus promises to be with us always.
Admittedly, what accomplishing Christ’s mission looks like in each church, nation, and individual life of a believer will be different, however, it is the same mission. We are to focus ourselves and organize ourselves in such a way that we strive to see people come to Christ and grow in Christ.
So, in our churches and in our lives may we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, sharing the life-changing Gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin against a holy and perfect God. And it is this same Gospel that should change the lives of believers each day as we become more like Christ.
Let’s go and make disciples!
Genevieve Wilson is Canadian. a happily married home-schooling mum of 3, whose passion is to see people come to know Jesus. She is a seminary wife to her amazing husband.