The Means of Doing Missions
In previous posts, we have thought about the basis for and the goal of doing missions. Now we turn to the next part of our Lord's Great Commission: the means of doing missions. Those means are his Word and sacraments, which are ministered in the local church.
Jesus commissioned his church to baptize and teach: “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”. It is his Word about his victory that we are called as the church to announce to the world. We are subsequently to baptize those who receive that announcement, and to nourish believers with the Lord’s Supper and continual proclamation of the gospel. Thus, it is through the ordinary ministry of Word and sacrament that disciples are made, and then spiritually nurtured and equipped for good works.
This is clear from the way in which the apostles carried out the Great Commission. After receiving the power of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), they preached Christ (2:14-36), baptized believers with their children (2:37-41), and began meeting regularly with those who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42). Thus, the first new covenant church was established.
The whole book of Acts goes on to document this pattern of planting churches that were committed to the ordinary means of grace, following Jesus’ prophecy that the Apostles would be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8). The Apostles went throughout the world preaching the gospel, baptizing believers and their households, and planting congregations where they appointed elders to oversee the new disciples (14:21–23).
The Old Covenant confined God’s covenant people to one particular nation, but the New Covenant expands Israel’s borders to the ends of the earth, making one new man between believing Jews and Gentiles. The gospel is for people of every race, tribe, and nationality.
It is because of God’s promise to Abraham that Christians are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, and more. The Christian faith is not a northern European faith, nor a Semitic faith, but an international, global faith in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). In a world that is typically segregated by our cultural identities, consumer preferences, and political affiliations, the doctrine of the Abrahamic covenant shows us that the church, as it is gathered throughout the world, is “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet 2:9a). Nothing but the gospel can create a community like this one.
To that end, true churches must continue to be planted where few or none exist. The local church is a manifestation of the people who belong to Christ, and also the place where He meets them through the means He has ordained: an ordinary ministry of Word, water, bread, and wine.
Those means do not appear spectacular to the world. There is nothing particularly exciting or novel about a ministry of preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. It is the same routine each week. We hear the Scriptures proclaimed, we come to the table, we sing, we pray, we enjoy fellowship, and then we go home. There are no halftime shows, no rock concerts, and no celebrity personalities. It is plain, ordinary, and even boring at times. Truth be told, it is about as exciting as watching a tree grow.
But then Jesus said that the coming of His kingdom is like the growing of a tree (Luke 13:18–19). A tree doesn’t grow by big and marvelous events but through the slow, steady diet of sun and rain year after year. The same is true with the kingdom of God. More often than not, it does not grow by what the world considers a mark of success: big buildings, big budgets, and big names. Instead, it grows in simple and often small services where the gospel is proclaimed. It grows where believers and their children are baptized into the covenant community. It grows where repentant sinners come to a holy meal that appears tiny and insignificant. It grows where ordinary members of a congregation love and serve one another. It grows in those late-night, unglamorous meetings of the elders as they seek to tend faithfully to Christ’s sheep.
We do not need more movements, more conferences, and more celebrities. We do not need the next big thing. What we need are more churches committed to the way disciples have been made since the Apostles planted a church in Jerusalem two thousand years ago: the slow-going, unspectacular, ordinary ministry of Word and sacrament, where God is raising dead sinners and creating a living communion of saints.
By God’s power and grace, we are growing together into a tree whose glory will not appear fully until the end of the age. Until then, the extraordinary is God’s business. Our task is to be faithful to fulfill the ministry Christ gave us, as ordinary as it is.